There has been a lot on social media this week about whether Danny John- Jules should have been eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing, with dancers and the general non dancing public all having an opinion.
It has caused me to reflect deeply about how judges in dance actually come to make decisions at all. Do they all use the same criteria? Let us assume that they all care about technique. So what weight do they give to each aspect of technique? Is the footwork more, or less important than the frame? What weight do we give to the performance quality and whether the presentation is pleasing? What about rhythmic interpretation and timing? How do we feel when watching a performance?
For most judges I would argue that they are weighing up all these things but even within that premise, do they give equal weight to each component or to some judges are some things more important than the others?
The more I have thought about it the more complex the problem becomes. The best we can say is that taking into account all these things, the judgement is more subjective than we might imagine. Is the winner of a Championship the best technical dancer, or the best performer or a mixture of both? Is it possible to win if you are not the best at technique and not the best performer but a strong mixture of both?
Going back to Danny John-Jules it is difficult to say whether the judges were influenced by all the bad publicity. As judges we are all affected by bias. The skill is to understand and be aware of our bias. Only by doing this can we objectively choose to ignore it. For example if a judge had been a victim of some sort of bias in the past this would influence their decisions in the future.
In the case of Danny John-Jules, the judges were making their decisions in the dance off based on what is important to them personally in a performance. We will never know whether they were consciously or unconsciously affected by any bias.
The same problem faces examiners of dance. Years ago another examiner asked me why timing is considered by some to be the most important thing in dance? Is the footwork just as important? What weight should we put on a performance that stirs your emotions perhaps making you cry?
As you see there are more questions than answers (sounds like a song title).
The fact that Strictly Come Dancing has made people reflect on things like this is stirring stuff. I can only salute those who judge.
Now back to my examining……………………………………should we have more clearly written criteria?