Judgment Day

The more popular and competitive DERT becomes, the more difficult it is to achieve fair and effective judging. SDU Secretary, Phil Heaton, has been considering the problem...

The style of DERT has obviously changed over the last few years. The last One Dance / One Set of Judges was held in the remarkable marquee inside the Kelham Island Museum in 2002.

Originally though the Newcastle, Darlington, Whitby and other competitions were overseen by an Adjudicator. In the early years, Cecil Sharp himself was on duty. Later, Douglas Kennedy, Violet Orde, Kenworthy Schofield et al. were given the honour.

The one team of judges versus the dancers has been in existence since the first DERT in 1983 held in Derby where it remained for a few years. The judges were chosen from the ‘just and the good’ and were usually well known names and faces from the then very small Rapper and Longsword world.

Ivor Allsop, Chris Cawte, Fred Forster, Tony Foxworthy, Dave Pearson and other such worthies were drawn into this new fangled competition. In 1985, one of the bench asked if he could have some protection after the competition. He'd given the women's team more marks than a well known set of chaps. I forget now who he was looking over his shoulder at.

When DERT began to move there were those who thought that it was time for the ‘worthies’ to be replaced by “One's peers and fellow dancers who knew more about current rapper than the panels we’ve been judged by” Teams were invited to send a tame judge along, ie one who knew a bit but was short of wind and spavined in the hocks, making him an embarrassment to those who had to pick the teams. The one dance in one place situation still held sway... And so it was for a few years until the Kelham Island finale. Since then the competition has changed to the multi-dance multi-judge system that is used now.

The Glasgow crowd, led by Ranko Vrcelj and Kev Theaker in 2003 used a massive range of opinions and developed the first pub competition.

Many of the older and more established teams looked on with interest and some even came to dance. Of course it was a great success and the pattern was set... A pub tour, admittedly pre arranged, but with the added frisson of having to cope with the usual problems... Dance space, where to face up. The best place for the music and so on. The intention was to reconstruct the Buzz that teams get when arriving at a pub, dancing and clearing off having wowed an audience...

Part of the idea was to encourage some off the wall moments especially when Tommy and Betty have to deal with awkward customers, apathetic bar staff, hecklers and juke boxes or worse, muzak. And overarching the whole process was the imposition of JUDGES...

Bath followed the idea in 2004. Bath was famous for the biggest hall so far, the first double entry (Black Swan with 9 dancers - Togs pedalled on a wobbly bike all over Bath to dance with both teams) There was also a new judging feature - that of Virgin Judges who Martin Hanley had found all by himself, to add to the small panel in each pub. Basically they had never seen rapper and were required to record their impression. Preston in 2005 had a different feature - Dancing outside and being ‘judged’ by Morris teams at the stand. Preston was the first venue that the Great Meadows Teams visited. The evening show which was part of the judging set up ran very late.

The ‘formula’ or judging criteria appeared at York in 2006 and a lot of thought had gone into it. This was probably the oddest judging set up with one judge completely misinterpreting the criteria. A very famous onlooker was heard to remark “I don’t use the guidelines I only judge on impressions.” His scores were later shown to match the averages/mean almost exactly. Two judges together looking at different criteria was a good idea.

Nottingham's revised criteria, in 2007 tightened some of the anomalies. The two judges system worked well.

Southport in 2008 were not confident about how the judging system worked and although the published criteria were used, the task was not split, giving the judges a complete set of seven aspects to consider. This was a hard task.

As always the judging has come under scrutiny. There are some teams who feel that they should have been awarded a penalty and others claimed that the linesman's flag wasn’t up.

The pages of the NUT, the SDU discussion list and many bar rooms have been the vehicles for airing different views on the subject.

Here are some ideas from various sources

  • That a ONE DANCE competition would be much better if it was accompanied by plenty of informal dancing round pubs and socialising without pressure for the rest of the weekend.
  • That there needs to be some reflection in the marks for the difficulty of the dance and new figures. Ice skating and diving have difficulty ratings that reflect on the scores. Why not have say Saturday morning set aside to do compulsory figures and then off to the pubs for a tour.
  • Why not make all teams have to do the same set figure or figures to really compare them. This happens in clog competitions where competitors have to finish with a set of double shuffles.
  • Teams want to see everyone, there ends up being a ‘show’ dance anyway on top of the judged dances. Teams have moaned for a few years now about hanging around for too long.
  • Reflecting on the ONE JUDGED DANCE style again. It does make it exciting if you only have one chance. I know people have said that it is clinical and false, but it can be great to watch.
  • People think that the Buzz factor is the most important thing, but what if the Buzz factor allows a team to win even though they lost on all the other categories.
  • I had a couple of ideas about DERT scoring particularly the Buzz weighting. It was introduced mainly, to give the rather sterile one-dance competition format some atmosphere, and to reward teams that pushed that upwards. But with the ‘new’ format, I don't think it quite works perfectly. There have been instances where we have been left on our own in a pub with just us and two judges - not much buzz there! Also, to some extent, as in the 2008 format, it depends who you are following / is following you, which is the luck of the draw. And also where you are - I’m glad we didn't have to do the Everyman Bistro side room! So while I think it’s still very important, I don't think it warrants the 25 per cent any longer.
  • How about not being judged against other teams but being examined and given a certificate of merit ie 2nd class. 1st class, with honours, or with a distinction.
  • A judged tour of say three pubs but with a static point where all teams have to dance during the day and there is a static audience and a big set of judges….mix up the two methods... a team could opt for just one judged dance.
  • What about Judges going with a team as they set up their own tour? Has been mentioned before.

DERT continues to evolve. Come to Newcastle in 2009 for the next round of changes.