Pacific island dance rubrics

In 2011 I was asked to be a judge for the College of Micronesia-FSM Founding Day celebrations. Back in 2009 I had felt that the groups were not sufficiently recognized for their attire – what I would later term costumes for want of a better word. In 2009 the Pohnpei national team, Yapese, and Kosraeans all made strong efforts on attire that I felt went unrecognized. The result was a rubric in 2011 that recognized attire as a component of the scoring. That rubric would be modified and redeployed in 2013 when I was selected to coordinate the judging for Founding Day 2013.

This past weekend I was asked to be a judge at a dance competition which sought to encourage the development of dance troupes of the sort that might perform at a dinner show. I was unclear whether a rubric had been developed, but had heard that the rubric should be simple, thus I dropped the five column, four point rubric for a four column, three point rubric. I was keenly aware that this might narrow the score differences substantially, which could be problematic. The 2013 rubric for Founding Day resulted in some very small separations in scores as noted in a blog on that day’s judging. There was a tie at third place and one group took second by only one point above that tie. The rubric is not resulting in the score separations one might like to see if one is trying to pick “medalists”. And while I am not a huge fan of medals, the students are – they are competing for first place and nothing less.

The scoring would have been three for strongly exhibited, two for moderately, one for weakly exhibited, and zero for not exhibited.

Variety: Dance exhibits a variety of dance positions and movements as appropriate to the dance form
Difficulty: Difficulty and continuity of the movement combinations
Timing: Dance movements are synchronized, coordinated, coherent, dancers are on the beat
Posture, position: Dancers posture and positions are aligned, smooth transitions between movement and postures, postures are uniform where appropriate

Costumes Culturally, traditionally authentic, add to performance

Projection, participation: Vocalizations include good projection, can be clearly heard, where the vocalization is a song/chant sung/chanted by all the dancers, everyone is singing/chanting

Team spirit: Dancers show confidence, stamina, energy, stage presence, the dance is impressive and entertaining

Once I arrived at the venue, South Park Hotel, I learned that Kenny Omura had developed a rubric we would be using. I felt a sense of relief that I would not have to put my narrowed scale to a test. The rubric was simpler and the instructions were to deduct points against a ten point scale for five metrics. The score sheets were in both English and Japanese.

1. Performance as a group
2. Movement. (Late movement, Turn the other way, keep looking at the partner, etc.)
3. Music choice (different from Tevaka, Fenua, etc.)
4. Always smile? Ashamed? No singing with the music?
5. Well practice?
Chewing gum and chewing betelnut and spitting: 10 point deduction.

I clarified that singing with the music was a deduction, the dancers were to dance to the music, not lip synch nor sing. The judges were also instructed to ignore for now the choice of music. The judges, however, still scored this metric. I was guided by the advice that the production should be appropriate to Pacific Island dinner show dancing.

Yolanie Lucky
Kapinga pride dancer

Although I knew some of the dancers, I had connections of one sort or another to all of the groups. Being a professor on a small island means always means dealing with evaluating – in one form or another – those who you know and care about.

Many of the groups, and all of the all male groups, missed the point that the dance was to be appropriate to an evening dinner dance show that show cases Pacific island dance forms. The male groups invariably chose gangsta rap or gangsta influenced hip hop, rather poorly mimicking Jabberwocky or the latest video that they had seen. Not a single male dance group attempted a Pacific island dance – and there are some excellent ones out there. The Samoan and Maori men all have fantastic dances that celebrate strength, virility, and the protecting role of the male in the family.

With little guidance on scoring, the judges were left to their own devices in terms of deciding how to score. None of the judges intentionally looked at the other judges scoring choices, nor did the judges see the other judge’s scoring choices until all ten groups had danced. Thus I was interested in what correlations, if any, might exist among the three judges. One judge was from Pohnpei, one from Japan, and myself from the United States. Although we were operating without any particular training or referencing, the correlations suggest that the judges were reasonably well correlated. We were able to use the rubric in a manner wherein our scores generally agreed.

Leilani Dana Kiyoshi Sum
1 Gangsta meitik 29 30 23 82
2 Gangsta 2nd group 24 20 21 65
3 Bring it on girls Pohnlik 37 43 46 126
4 G-Babes Meitik 35 42 25 102
5 Gangsta (5 boys) 28 27 25 80
6 Young roses Paliais 35 43 35 113
7 Sista sista Ohmine 34 38 33 105
8 Beauty Cousins Madolehnihmw 34 37 30 101
9 Kapinga pride 30 44 29 103
10 Onohnlong Wone 28 41 30 99
Young roses
Young roses

In terms of basic statistics, on average I made the fewest deductions while Kiyoshi made the most deductions. My coefficient of variation, however, was just under that of Kiyoshi, so we both scored across a relative broad range. Leilani scored in a narrower range with an average between Kiyoshi and I. The upshot is that while our standards might have been slightly different, the differences were not substantial nor significant.

Statistic Leilani Dana Kiyoshi
Mean 31.4 36.5 29.7
Median 32 39.5 29.5
Mode 35 43 25
Standard Deviation 4.17 8.15 7.23
Coefficient of variation 0.13 0.22 0.24
Range 13 24 25
Minimum 24 20 21
Maximum 37 44 46

The scoring sheet used by Kenny gives me ideas on how to potentially evolve the rubric in use for Founding Day and increase the spread. Maybe a ten point per category maximum score would improve the spread. Mathematically, the transformation is likely to be linear and not have any actual mathematical meaning, but the increased numeric spread would make a close finish look less controversial, make the margin look bigger.

On a personal note, knowing the judges and your music is probably useful. One group attempted to do a Tahitian style dance to Azonto music from Ghana. In that attempt they missed the song’s movement cues and the Azonto style, in fact, the result was an odd clash because Azonto does not have the same beat structures as Tahitian/Polynesian dance styles. As someone who lived in Ghana for two years I found I had to fight back a desire to mark down the dancers for not understanding the meanings and movements of Azonto. Dance to any music you want, but know that genre, know the style, know the meanings, know the motions. Know that culture and be able to connect to the music, make sure the music fits who you are and what you are about. I suspect that is the problem I have with some of the gangsta rap – a music and a musical culture completely disconnected from the life experience of a Micronesian on Pohnpei. The boys in the hood would simply pop a cap in you if you walked down their street. Even if your pants are falling off, you are not a gangsta nor does your society want you to be one.

The top seven groups advanced to the final where five judges will be deployed. I asked that costumes be included in the scoring, Leilani asked that eye contact be added to the score sheet. Although eye contact is both a cultural variable and may or may not be a requirement of some dance forms (Yapese stick dances for example), in an evening dinner dance setting there is a Fantasy Island expectation of “Smiles, everyone, smiles!”


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