USA IBC Viewer’s Guide: How to Become an Amateur Juror

The USA International Ballet Competition (USA IBC) is one of the year’s most anticipated events in the world of performing arts. Among Bulgaria, Russia, and Finland serving as host-countries to the world-renowned competition, America’s official international ballet competition is held in the Deep South, in Jackson, Mississippi. In mid-June, dancers will gather from 19 nations to participate in the World Cup of ballet, competing in classical, contemporary, and combined categories, with the hopes of stunning jurors and audience members alike.

It can be difficult, as an average viewer, to decide what the judges (known as “jurors” in the world of dance) actually look for when assessing a competitor’s performance, as dance is an art form and not a sport. Spectators who know little about ballet may not recognize the degrees of difficulty in the dancers’ pirouettes and cabrioles as jurors and experienced dancers will.

So, what is it that makes a dancer stand out, and what advice is useful to those who have little familiarity with the finer points of ballet? John Meehan, 2018 jury chair of the USA IBC and professor of dance at Vassar College in New York, offered a few tips to those who may be attending the competition for the first time.

  1. Look for passion within technique. Meehan encourages the idea that a dancer’s passion and technique go hand-in-hand.“Good technique shows up at competitions, as there are many wonderful dancers with high levels of technique; but then, along comes somebody with this ‘other dimension’—something that somehow speaks to you in a deeper place,” said Meehan. “There has to be something that stays with you, the viewer, when you leave the performance; it has to touch you. That is the difference between a good and a great dancer.”
  2. Details matter. The same variations of dance that serve as the repertoire for the USA IBC have existed for hundreds of years. With that in mind, Meehan encourages viewers to recognize the small details incorporated into a performance that deviate from the norm. These eccentricities allow a dancer to stand out.“Many jurors are looking to see what freshness is brought to the competition; it’s always fascinating to see the details.”
  3. Trust yourself. According to Meehan, spectators should not feel that there is one “right or wrong” element when it comes to ballet. He encourages viewers to be confident in appreciating what speaks to them personally.“There is something special about the humanity of ballet, and if a viewer is moved or touched by the dancer, there is a good chance that the jurors are as well. You have to let the performance wash over you, and maintain, or exceed, that feeling in the second and third rounds, as well.”

About the USA International Ballet Competition

The USA IBC is a two-week, “Olympic”-style competition where tomorrow’s ballet stars vie for medals, cash awards, company contracts, and scholarships. The event is designated as the official international ballet competition in the United States by a Joint Resolution of the Congress. Presented under the auspices of the International Dance Committee, International Theatre Institute of UNESCO, the USA IBC is held every four years in Jackson, Mississippi, in the tradition of sister competitions in Varna, Bulgaria, and Moscow, Russia. The USA IBC is a member of the Council of International Dance and the International Federation of Ballet Competitions. Both the USA IBC and its founder, Thalia Mara, are designated “American Masterpieces” through a National Endowment for the Arts initiative.




USA International Ballet Competition

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