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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?

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Unhappy
2/18/2004  9:59:00 AM

Thank you for your insight and honesty. I now have a much clearer understanding of judges.

Also, thanks for admitting that some "suck" and you're right, they don't get their way in the end.

You gave some wonderful advice and I appreciate your candor.

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Onlooker
2/20/2004  3:22:00 AM
I live in Australia. Our adjudicators are at the very least as bad as yours in New England. Judging ones own pupils
as far as I am concerned should not be allowed. Some people here work the system. By that I mean they know exaxctly who is going to judge the next big competition, so they load up with lessons from that person, and if they have the money it will be persons. I've sugested that the judging panel be picked at random on the day so that nobody knows who will be judging what.Or the panel could be rotated for each and every dance as has been done in S. Africa. These suggestions have gone down like a lead balloon. It would seem that the people in control are quite happy to leave things exactly as they are.
Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Janet
2/22/2004  11:46:00 AM
My husband and I have been competiting for 15+ years, so I have a few opinions on judging.

First, we work with a coach that judges throughout the US, and he judges us often. I dread when he is a judge because he knows all our weaknesses and in fact judges us harder then the other competitors. Then there is that "What the hell were you doing" after the comp is over!! There may be the perception that we have an edge as we speak with the "judge" throughout the comp...but it is just not so.

Next, you are generally dancing with 6 or 7 couples and are judged in 30 seconds. There is no way you can be fairly judged during this time. First they look at your top lines, and your foot work may be horrible, yet still come in 1st place.!
My partner(husband) and I dance for ourselves and we know when you walk off the floor that we were dancing to the best of our abiity , and improved from the last comp....This is the real test. The judging is secondary. I know it does stink to do your best, feel great and score poorly. You just need to get beyond that and always remember it was only 30 seconds of your whole dance career.

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Dragon
2/22/2004  12:42:00 PM
I appreciate your comments, and do understand everything you've said. I've been there too.

What I don't like, which has nothing to do with you, but perhaps more to do with the nature of making a complaint, is the fact that most people assume a complaint implies personal injury. I wasn't dancing, but did witness what I think was true bias. Most likely, if I had been dancing, I would have kept my disappointment to myself, since complaining reveals a bruised ego.
Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Janet
2/22/2004  6:57:00 PM
Point well taken. Hey,I always feel like I am a better judge when watching on the sidelines with no pressures. I too often wonder at times why the scores have come out a certain way.
Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
2/23/2004  1:49:00 AM
It would seem that the people in control are quite happy to leave things exactly as they are.

There inlies the real problem.

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Laura
2/23/2004  1:58:00 AM
If it were possible to create new judges, that could start to make a difference.

Whatever happened to USABDA's plan to start training and certifying amateur judges? I recall hearing about it perhaps three years ago. As far as I know only former US Amateur Standard Champion Steven Holt has been certified.
Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
2/23/2004  2:18:00 AM
Anybody can become a judge. Certifying is easy enough. The question is whether or not they'll get any work.

Re: Unfair judging
Posted by Laura
2/23/2004  3:02:00 AM
To get certified back in 2001 under that USABDA program that was being talked about you had to have been a Championship-level athelete, meaning that you've earned too many points to dance in any level except for Championship. That's not just anybody.

Even if organizers of NDCA-sanctioned competitions wouldn't hire a USABDA-certified judge, I could imagine that USABDA-sanctioned and collegiate competitions would. Of course, there was that big stink that some Canadian judge raised either last year or the year before when she found herself serving on the same panel as a certified amateur judge. Maybe that's why USABDA's amateur judges program has died a quiet death?

My point is that people have tried to change things. It hasn't succeeded because (a) enough people want to keep things the way they are and (b) no one has come up with an alternate idea yet that inspires anyone to change point (a).

People often say that coaches shouldn't judge. That's a valid point, but no one yet has figured out where to get non-coaching judges from. Also people are VERY hung up on titles in this sport. Competitors don't react well to having no-name judges who might be very impartial, very responsible, very knowledgeable, and well trained. They don't react well because if the person doesn't have a few important titles behind them, then they are considered a nobody who knows nothing -- no matter how much they really do know! Meanwhile, when someone is unhappy with their marks, they turn around and blame the judges. Someone was trashing a World Champion on a twin of this discssion being run on another bulletin board. It seems no matter what is done someone complains.

Is there any solution to this problem at all? How big is the problem anyway? I've been dancing in Pro/Am and Amateur events for 6 years and I think the problem on the lower levels (syllabus, Novice) is more of grumbling by people who don't realize what it takes to be a winner than a big problem of nepotism-like favoritism. I don't speak for the Professional or high-level amateur events, because I've never danced in these and so have no experience. But when college dancers are complaining about block judging and other political stuff I have to wonder. I've helped to organize small to medium sized amateur competitions and I must say that we try very hard to get judges who we respect and who we think the people who participate in our events respect. Some of the ones I pick I don't particularly like to dance in front of, but I know their reputation for fairness and respect so we hire them for the good of the entire competition and not to benefit anyone in particular.

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