Invigilation - What Is It & Why Should I Care?

This is a Q and A with Donna Edelstein, coach, championship adjudicator and invigilator. This issue centers on the importance of basics. Donna will be invigilating the United States Dance Championships in Orlando for the second time. We thought we’d catch up with her to find out more about invigilation.

Anne: First off, what is an invigilator?

Donna: An invigilator is a judge who is hired to ensure that competitors dancing in closed syllabus events – bronze, silver and gold, stay within category.

Anne: Don’t judges invigilate while they are judging?

Donna: Actually the judge’s job is to determine the most excellent dancers on the floor. It’s a very fast comparison and we don’t have time to analyze the actual steps that are being danced. Occasionally some huge infraction will jump out and we will note it on the judging sheet. The invigilator is there to watch what is being danced so that there is a level playing field for all competitors.

Anne: Is invigilation relatively new? There seems to be more talk about it lately.

Donna: It’s not new, but as of January 2011 the NDCA made a rule that all NDCA competitions will be invigilated. There are also now judges with the ‘invigilation’ qualification listed on the NDCA website.

Anne: If a student is learning a syllabus from their school – doesn’t that make them automatically in category?

Donna: No, and that has been the issue. A lot of teachers assumed that their syllabus was acceptable in its entirety. Both the NDCA and USA Dance publish acceptable steps and elements on their web sites. Some figures, for example those incorporating fallways in bronze smooth are not allowed.

Anne: What happens if a dancer is out of category?

Donna: First, they receive a warning. The invigilator goes up to them and tells them what they need to change or eliminate. If they do the same infraction a second time they can be dropped one place. If they perform the same infraction a third time they can be dropped to last place.

Anne: So how does someone know if they are in or out of category before they go to a competition and are told?

Donna: They can carefully review the list of approved steps and elements. A step is OK as long as it conforms to the list of approved elements. Some schools choose to have an invigilator come in and look at their student’s routines in advance.

Anne: What are some of the most common complaints that you hear when invigilating?

Donna: Number one would be, ‘such and such famous person gave me this routine so it must be OK’. Sadly, many coaches are great dancers, but not the best people to choreograph a good closed routine that is within category. It takes a lot of work to stay on top of what is allowed. Number two would be, “We’ve been dancing this material for years and nobody has ever called us on it before!” That may be true, but as the rules for invigilation have become more clearly defined the likelihood is that infractions that were overlooked in the past will be noticed now.

Anne: Is there a benefit to invigilation?

Donna: Yes. Ultimately I think it encourages a higher quality of dancing in the syllabus levels by letting the focus be on technique rather than finding ways to add flash and trash. It will also encourage students to move into the next level when they are ready for that challenge, rather than dance silver that is really open gold.