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  • Writer's pictureKora Stoynova

The NDCA Adjudicator's Exam: Interview with Diana McDonald

Recently, the NDCA came up with new regulations in order to better govern who can become NDCA adjudicators. The reasoning behind this was to make sure the NDCA can fully stand behind the quality of their judges. They clarified in their rulebook the different designations for their adjudicators, and created a final exam that anyone wishing to be a qualified NDCA adjudicator must pass. This exam is in addition to the exams already required to judge at a local level.

There were some questions regarding the way this final exam works. Therefore, the PDF decided to sit down with Diana McDonald, who is the chairman of the Credentials and Examinations Board within the NDCA, and get the information firsthand.

PDF Education Committee member Basil Issaev held the interview with Diana.


Diana, how are you doing?

Very good, how about yourself?

Good, good, good, thank you. We know that you’re involved in the business of judging credentials with the NDCA. What is your official position?

I’m the Credentials Review Board Chairman, which basically oversees all paperwork that comes in to be verified once someone applies for a judging position within the NDCA.

Alright. Can you please tell me a little bit about your background? How did you get to this position?

Well, I’ve obviously done all of my examinations, well, quite some time ago now, all the way through Fellow – with Imperial (Society of Teachers of Dancing, ie the ISTD) actually. And I was instrumental in starting Imperial in the United States, so my first connection was to the Imperial Society. Then, from that point, Brian and Kristi McDonald were very involved on the West Coast with the United States Terpsichore Association, and they had recently taken it over from Ken and Sheila Sloane [at the] point when [Ken and Sheila Sloane] had started to retire from doing that type of stuff. [Brian and Kristi McDonald] asked if we wanted to take it over since my family was very instrumental in the credentials area of our business, and I agreed!

Ok, so, let’s say I’ve decided to retire, or I’m not looking for a partner anymore, and I would like to start becoming an adjudicator. What are my steps?

Your first step would be to start training either with an examiner or in a training program that’s suited for teacher training towards examinations. There are certain people who run classes, or you can do one-on-one training. You need to pick a style to start with, and…. Say, for example, you start with International Ballroom. You’re required to have Bronze and Silver examinations (completed). So, up through Licentiate, which is what it’s called for certification purposes. And [you need this] in each style in order to judge at a Championship level. So you start with one style, at the first level, and you start to go through the process of understanding how the book is structured.

Do I have to be a Professional to do that?

You do not have to be a Professional to train for the exams or take them. You can do that, and your member organization, if they allow you to do that, can “table” your paperwork until you are ready to become a Professional, and then you can use your paperwork to apply for your judge’s license [at that time].

Are there a lot of amateurs who are taking their exams right now?

There are several under my roof that I know of. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do have some.

But what stands in the way of regular people just studying the book and taking their examinations and obtaining their licenses without being dancers? Especially if you don’t have to be a Professional to become a judge?

Well, you do have to be a Professional to become a judge.

You mean you have to register as a Professional.

Yes, you do have to register as a Professional. The teaching exams are based on two parts. The first part of the examination is all of the theory material and being able to verbalize properly each part of the process for each figure as man and as lady. And in that, you have to be able to dance those figures at a particular level in order for you to pass this exam. The second portion of the exam is the dancing portion, and it’s been my experience that if you cannot dance, you will not pass this test. It’s just not possible, because there’s too much technical information needed in order to pass in the first place; and the dance portion must also be passed as you dancing as a man, and as a lady, with a partner, in music. And also, you must dance by yourself, in music, patterns that are given to you by the examiner. So it’s unlikely that a non-dancer would be able to do very well in this examination.

So, how many steps are there for me to become a fully licensed adjudicator [with the NDCA]?

Your requirement is to take Bronze and Silver Smooth, Standard, Latin, and Rhythm; and once you’ve done that, you need to take the NDCA Adjudicating Exam. The NDCA Adjudicating Exam is a two-part exam given by the Credentials Review Board, and is based off, partially, of judge’s Code of Conduct and rules, which is a written portion of the test. The other half is a theoretical review of all of the exams that you took with your member organization ahead of time. So, you will be asked multiple questions in each style, and will be asked, possibly, to demonstrate whatever the examiner wishes to see. This is partially to verify the quality of the exams that you took with your member organizations, and just for us to make sure that each of our judges have a somewhat parallel understanding of our techniques that we’re using.

And just to clarify, you don’t do this with your member organization, you do this with the NDCA.

Yes, that’s correct. It’s a neutral party exam. In fact, the examiners that are on the committee that I chair come from each [Full] member organization. I have one from Terpsichore (USTA), from Imperial (USISTD), from Fred’s (Fred Astaire), from Murray’s (Arthur Murray’s), from NADTA, and from DVIDA. I have a full panel of examiners that work under me, and our protocol for the NDCA Adjudicator’s Exam is that if you are a member of Imperial, for example, your exam cannot be administered by the Imperial member. It will be administered by an examiner of one of the other member organizations. We’re just trying to keep it as platonic as possible.

This is a fairly new exam. I think I was one of the first people to pass it, three years ago. Do you think it serves a purpose? Do you think this system is more fair as it is applied?

I definitely think it’s more fair! …It makes people reinforce things that they may have learned a long time ago or perhaps didn’t really study very much in the first place. And now we have a set bar that is, you know – maybe it’s not the maximum of what you can know, but at least we know to a certain point that our judges are on a level that [can be] verified by doing this exam.

There are a few member organizations that provide judging credentials. At this point, would you accept exams from all of the member organizations who officially can provide them?


Would you recommend certain organizations with whom to study and take your exams?

In my position, I tend not to do that, as far as the fact that I am on the NDCA [Credentials Review Board]. I do wear many hats, though, and I am the Vice President of Terpsichore (USTA), and I can certainly speak for my member organization that we’re very strong in our ethics and we have very good examiners and our examiners are very good trainers. So, I’ve had my examiners train people that have even taken their examinations with other member organizations. For me, that’s fine. Within Terpsichore, that’s fine. As long as the information is getting absorbed and there’s good quality training and a good quality judge at the end of it.

And all of the [Full Member] organizations have been recently provided new information on how [the NDCA] runs the exam? And you are satisfied with the content of all of [the exams]?

…. In the last couple of years, we have done a lot of extra work and communication with all of the [Full] member organizations. And with the knowledge that we have given out, the advice that we’ve given out, on how to conduct their examinations is what we hope they are doing. When, unfortunately, sometimes it has fallen short to meet our requirements when it got to the NDCA [Adjudicator’s] Exam, then we contact that member organization and let them know that, maybe, those exams were not given with all the protocol intact. We have no way to know for sure. That’s why we have this exam in place, in order to keep the system truthful.

You mean the NDCA [Adjudicator’s] Exam, right?

Yes, the NDCA Exam. That is the last stop before you can become a judge, and it’s there to make sure everybody does the proper work.

I know a lot of people find themselves in the position where they realize they should have been taking all of their exams years before. What would be your advice to those competing amateur and Professional now, with regards to those exams? How to make it easier for their career, so that by the time they retire, they don’t have that pressure of suddenly having to take 8 exams?

Right, well, they are teaching exams. And pretty much all of our amateurs now, even what I call our children amateurs, are teaching now. So, to me, no time like the present to start taking those examinations. And then you can take your time and do it as you go while you’re still competing; which is what I was made to do, while I was competing, I was made to take my exam while I was dancing, because they’re teaching exams. Their primary purpose is to educate you on the clarity and the structure of the book, and how to understand better how to formulate routines, so that [competitors] don’t get in trouble when they go to competitions [and dance] figures out of category and things like that. The teachers, if they are teaching in any capacity, they should be taking and working toward taking those exams now. Because when you are ready to be done with your competitive career, it’s going to take two or more years if you really remain diligent and work hard and try to do those exams before you have passed everything. And that’s if you’re really shutting up and studying! And so, two to two-and-a-half years after you retire would then be the time when you can start trying to get on judging panels, and start the next part of your life. Rather than working towards that while you’re competing! It’s only going to help your teaching. It’s going to help your dancing in many cases. So it’s more than worth doing ahead of time.

Thank you so much, Diana, from the PDF-Education Department. We hope to work closely with you and the NDCA officials, so thank you very much!

Thank you!


We hope you enjoyed this interview with Diana McDonald and that you found it educational and inspiring! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to any of the Education Committee members, we would love to hear from you!

Education Committee Members:

Robert Nardozza:

Maria Hansen:

Basil Issaev:

Kora Stoynova:

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