As an adjudicator for many years in America, I'm often asked, "What are you looking for when you judge/adjudicate a dance competition?" As each person who is assigned the role of 'judge' may have different answers for that question, here are mine.
In this world of glamorizing sports, sometimes the 'art' of what dance is all about can get lost to the highly technical and stylized dance we see today. I believe we are seeing less and less of creative artistic expression in the competition arena, and I feel a responsibility to remind teachers and choreographers that dance is art and the children are the artists. The purpose is to imagine, to create - not to copy and conform.
A good performance depends on the dancer's ability to draw attention to the dance. The spirit of the dancer needs to be at the centre of his/her work. This is what must captivate the judge and the audience to draw them into the piece. No matter what style of dance, the dancer should never work mechanically or hollow on stage.
The choreographer needs to select music that inspires the dancer. They should listen to the lyrics and the mood of the music until they start to develop a plot or outline of what they want to present. As in writing a story, there should be a beginning, middle and an end to the dance. There should be a common thread or theme throughout. Movements should match the music and the dancers should not hide behind their technique. Clean technique is important, however, technique should serve the performance and the performance should serve the technique. I would much rather see a dancer walk across the stage well than execute a whole series of tricks that have absolutely nothing to do with the mood.
When selecting music, the choreographer should find music that brings out the personality and energy of the dancer. Listening carefully to the dynamics and accents in the music to help develop ideas to build the choreography upon. The goal is always to enhance the music with the dance, not compete with it. The choreographer should never select music that could offend someone (or cause a distraction).
Variety in movement and use of space should be considered when judging. Did the choreographer explore different patterns (circular, diagonal, zigzag)? Did the dancers use the space around them well? The choreographer should use steps that the dancers are comfortable with and can execute with ease and a smile - keeping in mind that you don't want to distract from the dance by executing a step that may be more difficult than the dancer is ready to handle. I love to see expressive and creative ways of working the arms into the choreography.
Most importantly, however, originality and composition is what really jumps out at me. Not the same old steps over and over. Dance should never become cliche or predictable.
The choice of costuming should enhance the idea and style of the piece. The costume should be flattering to all the dancers and fit comfortably. Accessories should be fastened securely.
My biggest pet peeve, as a judge, is when the choreographer feels that each second of the music needs to be filled with movement. In other words, too much choreography going on. The dancer needs time to breathe and connect with the piece, and the audience needs time to absorb what they see.
Each dancer's body moves in a way unique to her/his body type. There is no way you can say 'this' dancer is better than 'that' dancer. A dancer could be technically correct, yet have no true feeling for the dance. A dancer who can connect with the audience may be far less 'able' than another dancer, but she/he has connected to the soul of the dance, and can share this with the audience.
George Balanchine called this type of dancing, "Deep dancing" - the world where there are no names for things. Not performing a fouette, a pirouette or a pas de bourree, but simply dancing.
A dancer who lifts your soul...now that is a dancer!