Festival Organizing thoughts/questions Pt 1 – Contests

As organizers, it is important to take a moment and evaluate your event goals. (Please keep your eyes out for a whole post on this) But let’s focus in on one category: Competitions.

Many of us choose to add a contest or two because, well every other festival has one. So take a moment and think, does this TRULY fit the goals of my event? Is this needed?  Once you have answered these questions, here is a list of other things to consider before making that final decision:

1) Do I have qualified Judges
2) Can I compensate those Judges
3) Do I have a Contest Coordinator
4) Can I compensate said Coordinator
5) Do I have a Tabulator
6) Do I understand contest scoring, and have I picked a method
7) Do I have prizes
8) Do I have good contest descriptions
9) Do I have guidelines for my Judges
10) Do I have volunteers to help my CC and Tabulator
11) Do I have an MC who can manage the contest, on time
12) Will it be DJs or live music
13) What are my contest formats and can I explain them to the people who need to know
14) What VALUES do I want my contest putting forward
15) What are the names of my competitions and do they match the values
16) What materials do I need (clipboard, printer, pencils, etc)
17) Do they fit into the schedule
18) How will signups be handled
19) Can people compete in multiple division
20) Is this needed


As you can see, the list gets pretty long with just logistical things. Some of these are easy to negotiate or remove if the event is small enough or the contest informal enough. There are different values in having one silly contest at late night, and a full weekend full of contests. Not every event has to have the same things (or same names). Make sure you aren’t trying to do everything, and focus on the things that make your event special.

There are a couple of items on the list I find a bit more emotionally important, but often overlooked: What values do we want the contest promoting, and what are the names of the contests and do the names match those values. I want to delve into these just a tad bit deeper. It is easy to think of some of these as “bad” but I want you to think of them as questions, starting points for discussions and things to evaluate. There are a variety of examples of this, and these are just a few:

A social couples contest but the finals are 8x8s jams at fast tempos encouraging chores: Does this eliminate people who have breathing difficulties at fast tempos? Does this showcase the dance as only chores and not social dancing? Does this limit what we see from the dance, like story, flow, ideas, etc? Does this give people an outlet for “snippets” and showcasing?

A random partner contest where some people only get to dance with 2 people in prelims:  Does this give a disadvantage to followers/leaders? Did judges have adequate time to see everyone? Could they overcome their implicit biases in that time? Did everyone get the same tempos?

Biases towards faster tempos or slower tempos: Does this focus on only one skill field of the dance? Does it create a good energy? Does it encourage people to practice/not to practice? Does this influence social dance tempos and class topics?

Unclear Names: This one gets a sliiiightly longer discussion, because it is a personal hot take right now. Slow Dance vs Blues. Both of these categories are super important and valuable. But lumping them into the same category does a great disservice to our communities, by erasing/ignoring their individual importance.

Look at these example division names (adding the classifier of partnered):
Blues Dance – Could be multiple tempos, and types of (blues) music but the goals would be Blues idioms of some form.
Blues Music –  Could be multiple tempos, and types of (blues) music but the goals would be broader dance forms that danced to these styles, now also encompassing possibly WCS, Carolina Shag, Imperial and more.
Slow Dance – Limited tempos, variety of types of music and goals being dancing slowly well (musically, connected, etc)
Slow Lindy – Limited tempos, *most likely* limited music to styles of jazz from late 20’s to early 50’s and goals being dancing Lindy slowly

That is just 4 iterations – and I am sure I could break it down even more. But you can easily see how these small changes can affect the experience of your competitors, your audience and the way people perceive your ideas in regards to these dance forms. Now, when we add in the idea of these contests being hosted at a Lindy weekend, it is easy to see why people can get so easily confused AND frustrated. I mean, does your event have a Fast Dance/Balboa contest or ONLY Balboa(Bal/BalSwing) or ONLY Fast Dance (ok, yes, don’t get me started on the fact that there are historically dances called Fas’ Dancing that now would not make sense in these divisions…. another day another post 😉

As I mentioned, these are just SOME examples. I strongly encourage you to take the time to write out and discuss these items with your team, before making your decisions and making them public. Maybe you are the festival with multiple couples divisions all focused on different tempos but any dance goes. Maybe you are the weekend with one silly contest where you focus on scenes and community building. Maybe you are the festival that doesn’t have contests. All of these are good choices.

Of course, people will always talk, and probably always misinterpret your goals, they will always complain about something. BUT, we can also start being more actively aware of what our words are saying and what values are coming across, what type of work actually goes into running quality contests, and making sure we have thoughts things through and have a plan.