Often, staffs and spectators wonder how a judge’s background impacts upon his or her perspective while giving feedback to the competing units. With this in mind, NJNJ has asked one of its most respected judges. Michael Thompson, to supply its readers with his answers.
We know that you have been judging for over a decade – including six years for WGI – but how did ever get involved?
I was an enthusiastic marching band student in high school. Playing saxophone, and learning every possible instrument I could wasn’t enough. In my sophomore year a gentleman came to our school to start a winter guard. A group of us, out of curiosity, attended the initial meeting to view videos from the 1983 WGI Finals. The things we saw were inspiring! Once I started spinning rifle, like many students, I couldn’t put it down. In my senior year, I auditioned for the Millers Blackhawks of Dayton, Ohio. I had the privilege of marching three years there until my age-out year.
So, once you aged out (under the old WGI rules), how did you transition in the activity?
During the summers, Fred Miller asked if I would like to teach the Fred J. Miller clinics. That was the best training ground ever! Not only did I get to share my experiences but I also got to really learn the “how” to teach and train students in the pageantry arts.
I was also director of the Lexington high school color guard for five years. With a program that did not even previously exist, they became a two-time Scholastic A WGI finalist. I also had the opportunity to write for other programs such as Scholastic World finalist Northmont HS and BOA finalist Westerville HS.
Was there more to your dance background other than competing in winter guard that allowed you to develop such a strong dance comprehension?
While attending Ohio State University, I took dance as a minor because I loved its connection with color guard and just the whole physicality of it. It prepared the body with all the essential elements we do in the activity. I knew this was something I wanted to have more exposure to even after aging out.
After college, I took the leap and moved to New York City on a mission to experience dance on
as many levels as possible. I took the summer extension with the Alvin Ailey American dance center, getting to experience techn
iques such as Horton, Graham and Dunham, along with balloter and jazz classes. I found Dunham my favorite as it strengthens the body, and makes you a more capable dancer. I was able to showcase the works of Katherine Dunham in the off-Broadway show, “Shango.”
While auditioning in New York, I found the demand for dancers in Hip-Hop growing. I got the chance to learn from great choreographers in the music industry, and performed with MTV project and music artists at the time. I also taught master classes in Jazz and Hip-Hop along with my own choreography projects with Reebok International in Japan and Italy. I had the opportunity to spend six months in Tokyo, this gave me a great opportunity to experience the universa
l connection with dance with a different culture.
In retrospect, my favorite memory was performing at the Latin American Choice awards in Lincoln Center. Many dancers dream of performing on that stage.
So, after returning to the states, you must have returned to the pageantry arts activity. How did your experience as a professional dancer enhance your ability to judge?
It has allowed me to take my dance and choreography experiences and transition that into judging. The influence of dance in color guard has progressed faster over the recent years than any other element, and designers are training and educating their students more effectively as well.
What advice do you have for either novice or regional guards?
Write for your students. Make sure you focus on a strong fundamental program to prepare them for the choreography they will perform. Teach them “how” to execute rather than the “why.”
What are the top priorities for a designer on any level?
Know your performers and what their capabilities are. Be tuned into the compatibility of the choreography.
What aspect of movement would a performer benefit the most by achieving?
Understanding where the movement derives from. Also, a clear awareness of their center and how everything evolves from that.
What can NJNJ bring to the activity that does not exist at the moment?
Education. As we have an expectation for the designers to train their students, the same goes for judging. WGI does a lot of hands-on with judges, and in our down time, we also can share our experiences with each other. The WGI movement caption stays engaged, and we communicate regularly viewing dance videos and other examples of movement so we can share possibilities beyond color guard. This allows us to train the recognition skills essential to keep the activity growing.