Conflict of Interest

A Conflict of Interest occurs when a person, such as a judge, may personally benefit from favoring or disfavoring a participant while carrying out their duties. This benefit can be real or perceived, direct or indirect.

A real benefit refers to something that will happen if they judge a certain way, while a perceived benefit is one where they may not gain personally, but others could reasonably think they might. Both the external appearance and actual occurrences are equally important.

A direct benefit directly results from the judge’s choice, such as receiving extra money for placing someone well. On the other hand, an indirect benefit may arise from the competition but isn’t immediate, such as improving a relationship or gaining positive exposure for a new partnership.


Conflicts of interest, whether real, perceived, direct, or indirect, can negatively impact people’s perception of the ethics and fairness of competitions. The main risks associated with conflicts of interest include:

  • Public perception of biased or unfair competitions
  • Questions about a specific judge’s ethics
  • Doubts regarding the deservingness of a winner’s placement
  • Belief that a competitor performed poorly due to personal bias
  • Public arguments directed at organizers, judges, or competition coordinators

Conflicts of interest can also detract from an individual’s win, even if they genuinely deserved their placement. In some cases, judges who are aware of a conflict may overcompensate by judging the conflicted party against a higher standard, which may introduce fairness issues.

Balance in Dance Competitions

The dance community is small and tightly knit, making it challenging to define the boundaries of conflicts of interest in judging. It is crucial to establish where to draw the line in competitions. An overview of conflict of interest risks is as follows:

  • High Risk: Romantic partners/ex-partners, official dance partners/co-organizers, individuals with public disputes, organizers competing at their own events.
  • Medium Risk: Unofficial partners, protégés, close friends.
  • Lower Risk: General students, casual friends.

The above categorization may not apply the same way to self-judged divisions (All-star/Champion/Invitational) where peers judge each other, sharing a common understanding of their roles within the competition.

High-risk situations should be avoided entirely, as they raise significant concerns about the legitimacy of competition results. Medium-risk situations should be avoided where possible, and judges should be coached to identify potential issues. In preliminary rounds, judges should assess the opposite role of their conflict. In finals, if there is an available replacement judge without a conflict, it is best practice to utilize that individual instead. Lower-risk situations are less problematic on an individual scale, but in some communities, mitigating the appearance of favoritism is advisable. For instance, if three main schools’ students are competing, it is best to avoid having all judges from a single local school and consider using non-local judges whenever possible.

Judges should regularly practice self-declaration of potential conflicts as soon as they become aware of their existence. Having a conflict of interest is not inherently negative. Declaring a conflict demonstrates an awareness that the perception of a conflict can be as damaging to the competition’s reputation as an actual conflict. Ultimately, a conflict of interest is less about whether a judge can impartially evaluate performances and more about whether anyone may question their ability to do so.