How to Win an A.C.E. Award

April 29, 2015

The Capezio A.C.E. Awards are back! Choreographers, this is your chance to win up to $15,000 towards a evening-length show of your work. The first step: uploading a video clip to Fifteen entries will be selected to present a piece at the Capezio A.C.E. Awards contest during the Dance Teacher Summit, presented by our sister publication Dance Teacher magazine, in Long Beach, California, on July 28. But what kind of choreography will stand out to the judges? Since I was on last year’s panel with Broadway’s Andy Blankenbuehler, former Cedar Lake artistic director Benoit Swan-Pouffer, Capezio’s Nina Vance and jazz choreographer Ray Leeper, I can offer a few insider tips:


Figure out how you will stand out.
When your piece is just one of many, you need something to capture the judges’ attention, like an unexpected style or a unique hook. Don’t just default to the same contemporary movement everyone else is making. Consider how you can use a clever storyline, partner work or even costumes to make your choreography unlike anyone else’s. 

Follow through on any elements you introduce,
whether it’s a narrative or a prop, or else it will feel like a gimmick. Chekhov put it best: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” Follow-through is something judges in all sorts of choreography competitions discuss A LOT. It shows the difference between an amateur who’s just thrown something together and an artist with an intention. 

If you’re going for humor, make sure the jokes land!
Comedy is one of the trickiest things to pull off in dance, but if it’s done well, you can bet you’re going to get some votes. Study those who have done it best, hire dancers who can act and play with the rhythm until you get that comedic timing down. Then test it out on people who will be honest with their laughter (that might mean getting someone very young or very old into the rehearsal studio). 

Pay attention to your dynamics.
No matter what kind of music you use, play with every eight-count phrase. Draw out some steps, speed others up. And consider the overall arc of the piece—a lightning fast climax or quiet section in the middle can keep the audience engaged. A.C.E. judges are looking for a choreographer who can pull off a full-length show, so prove that you know how to play with pacing.

Take a chance.
Risks are essential in any piece of choreography, but in a competition when you’re up against 14 other dances, the gutsiest works are the ones the judges will be deciding between. I’ll never forget the spine-tingling duet about the Ferguson shooting that I saw at ACDFA national finals last year—almost all of our adjudication decisions were based around the fact that we needed to recognize this powerful choice. Create the kind of piece that people will be talking about. 




Plus, a few video submission dos and don’ts:


forget that you and your dancers will need to be available to come to Long Beach, California, on July 28 if you’re selected!


pay attention to the lighting and picture quality of your clip. If the dancers aren’t clearly defined, you’re making it harder for the selection committee to see the details of their movement. 


use any filming tricks, whether it’s zooming in or using slo-mo, that you won’t be able to repeat in a theater. The judges are looking for a choreographer who can create for a live performance onstage. While MTV-style cuts won’t necessarily get your entry discounted, why not make it easier for the selection committee to imagine how the movement will translate to the stage?


read all the rules first! This may sound simple, but you don’t want your video to get ignored because of a technicality, like submitting a solo or just uploading a reel. 


be afraid of entering again just because you weren’t chosen last time. You never know if this will be your year. 


Merde to all entrants!