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Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
2/23/2004  1:47:00 AM
Yes, I'm sure this happens in most competitions, whether collegiate, professional or pro-am but that doesn't mean as competitors we have to blindly accept this and allow it to continue.

Good luck to you. Rallying and protest are probably not your best tools to quell the problem, because much of what is perceived as unfairness or favoritism is actually just human nature. For example, as I mentioned above, your own teacher will be naturally more inclined to mark you because you will tend to exhibit the qualities that he considers a priority. All the screaming in the world won't change human nature.

Again, I don't see it as much of a problem, because in the end it tends to balance itself out. For every judge who might be biased in favor of you, there will probably be a judge biased against you. Of course, we only notice the ones who work against us, so the condition is probably greatly exaggerated.

Nonetheless, if you do want to minimize favoritism, you have to go to the source. There will always be people who break the rules, and for these people, simply having rules is not enough to deter them from temptation. The solution, in a perfect world, would be to either eliminate these kinds of people from the judging pool, or make the consequences severe enough to serve as an effective deterrent. In more concrete terms, that translates to either (1) Having rules in place that ban certain people from judging, such as teachers, competition organizers, friends, relatives, or anyone else with whom a competitor might have personal ties, or who can benefit either directly or indirectly from a competitor, or (2) holding judges fully accountable for their marks, such that if a competitor can show politically-based bias (as opposed to the more palatable "I'm not so keen on his dancing" bias), the judge can be suspended or removed from the judging pool.

Now I'm going to tell you why that will never happen...

Almost all judges in the world of ballroom dancing are former competitors, as well as teachers themselves. And they get around. Unlike a local teacher, who may have a following of 20 local students, a retired professional competitor will likely have students all over the country. They may take as little as one lesson a year each from this coach, but that's still one more lesson to add to the bias. Now at a competition, with a pool of, say, 20 judges and hundreds of competitors, how many of those judges do you think have absolutely no affilliation with any single competitor? As a competition organizer, how are you supposed to locate 25 well-qualified judges who are completely unaffiliated with any of the competition entrants? I'll tell you: You can't.

And remember, too, that the student-teacher relationship is only one of many affiliations that will have a tendency to create bias. Family members and friends would have to be banned from judging each other. In fact, you might have to disallow any relationship that may serve to cause any kind of bond or sense of "playing on the same team", such as poeple from the same studio, the same line of work, or even the same country (in the case of international competitions).

Taking it one step further, even simple recognition can often have an impact on one's marks. All things being equal, judges will tend to mark people they recognize over people they don't. Again, it's just human nature. But to prevent that, you'd have to have a rule banning anyone from judging the same person twice. Yeah, right.

You see, there are just too many factors involved and too many possibilities for ties that can create a likelihood of bias on some level, and the world (especially the dance world) is too small a place to realistically expect such luxuries. In the end, one has to expect a certain amount of bias, taking comfort in the fact that bias is somehwat self-regulating.

That's not to say that certain rules can't be put in place. Certain rules already have been. For example, family members can't judge their own at an NDCA-sanctioned event. And at international competitions, they usually have equal numbers of judges from all participating countries. But that's what I would refer to as a band-aid over cancer. It may make people feel good and think something has been done, but there are still a million other factors contributing to the bias that haven't been addressed... not because they won't, but because as I explained above, they simply can't.

As for making the punishment more severe, you'll be pleased to know that it already is severe. Problem is, the punitive system currently in place doesn't really work. The rules may state that a judge can lose his NDCA membership, but I've neer heard of anybody who actually has. The dance world is small and by nature incestuous. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone works for everyone else. You want to complain about a judge's behavior? Be my guest. Watch your marks go down even more next time. Go straight to the top brass, you say? Do what you will, but don't forget, you're complaining to the judge's best friend.

To solve this problem, the whole system would need to be overhauled. Problem is, the changes that would need to be made are severe, and would negatively impact the power and the salaries of those who decide the rules. Why would anyone in such a position want to change something if it doesn't benefit them?

To really make a difference, you'd likely have to start a union or something with some serious muscle. It's been tried before. To get it done right, you'll have to put your career on the line, because if it doesn't work out, you won't have too many friends n this business. But if you're successful, and you get the majority of dancers in this business behind you,you may finally get an unbiased result, in 4th place rather than 5th.

Any takers?

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