The Importance of Invigilation

by Pamela Licht


In order to understand why invigilation is essential, one must first understand a little about what makes up the dances we do. Each ballroom dance is made up of components that are significant in displaying that dance and its characteristics. When we teach, we refer to these components as figures or steps. The figures used in each dance are compiled into a grouping of levels allowing for a natural progression (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Open). It’s best to think of these groupings the same way we think of college-level courses (100, 200, 300, 400, etc).

Now, if you were to register for a 400-level course it would have prerequisites. You would have to have taken certain level 100, 200, and 300 courses. Sure, it would be fun to take that Science 401 Lab, but without the prerequisites you may blow up the lab from lack of information and experience. This is obviously an extreme example, but it gives an idea of why we have levels in dancing, just like college courses.

So what does any of this have to do with invigilation? Well, as invigilators our job is to make sure that all dancers are using the correct level figures so that the competitive playing field is even and fair. We want to make sure that Bronze dancers are using Bronze figures against other Bronze dancers. It wouldn’t be fair to put someone dancing 400-level (Open) figures against newbies dancing 100-level (Bronze) figures.

Each collegiate competition uses an official step list by either the National Dance Council of America (NDCA) or USA Dance. During the competition the Chairman of Judges or an assigned Adjudicator will use this step list to oversee, or invigilate, the dancers, making sure everyone is in the correct category.

When the Chairman or Invigilator finds someone dancing out of category, they will call the couple up to the podium or dais. They will explain to the couple what the infraction is and that it needs to be taken out or changed before the next round. If the couple is unsure of what to do, they should not hesitate to ask for help. As invigilators, we don’t have time to give the couple a full lesson in that moment, but we do want to help educate everyone with suggestions if needed. If the infraction is not corrected before the next round and especially before the final round, the Chairman does have the authority to drop the couple in placement.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: “I go to competitions all the time and people don’t get invigilated,” or “Well, I saw someone do something out of category at the last competition so I’m going to do it at the next one.” We also all speed while driving and don’t always get pulled over. Remember that an invigilator is one person looking at a sea of dancers. Something may get missed one time, but it may be found the next.

How does one know which figures one must use for each level? Get educated. First, each team should acquire the step list that will be recognized for the competition. The team’s coaches should know those steps. Be careful when using YouTube as a reference guide: just because a video looks professionally done doesn’t always mean it’s a professional doing it. The NDCA has a YouTube page where you can find Bronze American Style figures as well as Bronze, Silver and Gold figures of the International Styles. In addition to the NDCA videos, there are manuals out there. For the International Style, the ISTD (Imperial Society of Teaching Dancing) manuals are the most popular. The USISTD (United States Society of Teaching Dancing) also makes manuals with DVDs for the American Style steps.

If you and your team are still unsure, hire a certified professional coach to help. Professionals who have taken their Teaching Certification Exams have studied the figures on the step lists extensively. They can help make sure the routines you are dancing can be performed without any concerns.


Pamela Licht is a Licensed Adjudicator with the NDCA holding her Fellowships in the International Styles and Memberships in American Styles with the United States Terpsichore Association.  She is a former United States Professional Rising Star Rhythm Finalist and United States Professional 9-Dance Finalist.

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