World Yo-Yo Artistic Performance division (AP)
A Historic Perspective on the AP Division from the Contest Director
When the AP Division was created, it was added as an antidote, or alternative, to the standard divisions of yo-yo play to encourage creative and stylistic yo-yo play.
The technical divisions, now defined by 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A and 5A, have a judging system that rewards the number and difficulty of tricks with less emphasis on rewarding style of play. It encourages speed play which in 1A it has left some players standing in one place trying to out pace the other contestants with sheer number of tricks. It is a stylized judging system that encourages players to design their freestyle in a way to take advantage of the scoring rules. The reason most players enter a contest is to win, and to increase you chance of winning you have to design your freestyle accordingly to take advantage of the scoring system. Speed and difficulty is what the current rules encourage in the technical divisions, but how could we best encourage creative and stylistic yo-yo play without changing the technical divisions?
In 2001, Yu Kawada , defending champion in the 1A-Division, did a 1A routine that I think was the most creative and artistic yo-yo play I had seen to that date. He did not win, in fact he did not even place in the top six! The scoring system was stacked against him. His moves were slow, graceful, and his play was appropriately synchronized to music in ways we had not seen before. He used the stage and filled the space with his little yo-yo. He creatively used the string as a focus point, as well as the yo-yo. While each of these elements had been done before in one form or another, Yu brought these various techniques into a complete whole. What's more, he did this knowing the rules, and knowing he probably could not win with this precise artistic routine due to the scoring system which favored speed-speed speed!
There is nothing wrong with a technical routine, heck; technical play is the back bone of yo-yo competitions. However, I felt that there should be a place for an imaginative and creative routine where speed was not the controlling factor as to how that routine would be judged.
Hence the AP Division was born, a division it seems that is often misunderstood by the contestants themselves. To help alleviate this problem, and to add some transparency to the judging process, here is what goes on behind the scenes with the AP Division, possibly the most popular division at the World Yo-Yo Contest.
Let's look at the process of the competition.
- Background: This division, unlike all of the others at the World Yo-Yo contest is pre-judged by video. There is no way to narrow down the entrants by compulsory tricks, since this is not a division based strictly on skill. We can't let everyone who wants to compete just show up in Orlando and enter this division. The now dead X -Division taught us that if we did, we would never have the time to fairly judge all the contestants. Therefore, we require contestants to send video tapes, DVDs, or digital video to the World Yo-Yo Contest HQ in Tallahassee for pre-judging.
- Pre-Judging (selecting the 5 to 10 finalists): On the day of the pre-judging, the selected judges come together in Tallahassee. Most are locals, as you can imagine, we have a lot of good yo-yo talent who live near us here. We then watch the videos in random order. The rules are specific. We watch 4 minutes of videos, and we discuss how to score them. The pre-judging is easier than the judging of the finals in Orlando. We are not trying to decide who is the best, we just need to figure out who is the worst, that will still freestyle. The best are clearly in, the hard part is figuring out who takes the last spot.
This is important. The videos are supposed to represent the routine that the contestant is entering. They should be less than 4 minutes. We only look at the first 4 minutes of the video after the act clearly starts. Now we are not terribly strict on this rule. If your tape is 4:20, we will still judge it all, but if it's 6 minutes, we only look at the first 4 minutes. Not paying attention to the length rule has cost a few people a chance to freestyle. There is a lesson here and it is read the rules for any division you intend to enter.
We start by removing from consideration those tapes that are just standard 1A-5A freestyles. We ask ourselves "Would this routine would be a typical freestyle in one of the other divisions?' If so, it is not appropriate for this division. The AP Division is not a place where you can show off your 2A routine, there is already a place for that.
We then choose the obvious best videos. It seems that there are always 5 or 6 of these. We then work on the remaining videos. We ask, is this interesting? Is this creative? If so, these videos remain in contention for selection. We also ask, is this the same or very similar routine we saw last year from that applicant? If so, we just might not choose it for this year's contest.
The finalists are then selected. People are notified of their selection. The names are announced and posted to the contest website.
- Tips for sending in a video tape.
- Get it to us in time. Early is better than late. Every year, we get a few videos after the deadline. It is sad, but we do not consider these people for the contest.
- Make sure your video is about 4 minutes. A little more will not hurt.
- If you make a mistake in your video, shoot it again, we see lots of videos that have lots of misses in them. You have a video camera, do it again until you get it correct.
- Make sure we can see your string. If you are using a white string, dress in dark clothing. If you are using dark clothing use a light colored yo-yo. If we can not see what you are doing, we can not judge you. Sadly, several contestants never made it just because we could not see what they are doing.
- This last rule goes to lighting. It's amazing how many videos were shot outside at night. If we can't see you, we can't judge you. This tape will represent you. We are not expecting anything but an amateur video, but please shoot the video so we can see it.
- What we are not looking for:
- Perfection. We realize the performance has a few more months to go before it is entered it may be a bit rough. The better and more complete the video entry is, the better chance you will have to get in. We are judging these after all, and we can't see into the future to see how good you will get.
- Location. Some of the best videos we have seen have been shot in a garage, or in someone's living-room. While it does not help or hurt, it is very interesting to see the insides of living-rooms and bedrooms around the world. Occasional accidental shots of peoples yo-yo collections, or furniture is amusing to us. Mind you this will not affect you getting in at all.
- Sound. While we need to hear the music or audio if you are using sound in your act, a stereo playing into the camera, even if distorted is ok. Mind you if you expect us to hear lyrics, please make sure we can understand them.
- Music - We have had contestants compete with a live band, we have had contestants compete with a voice track, we have had contestants talk to the audience, in theory you can even perform in silence. We care less about the type of music you use, than if it is appropriate to the contestants performance.
- Camera angles. We don't care about the camera angles, except that we can see what you are doing. If your video has your walking from the camera after you turned it on to start your routine, it's ok. That will not be counted as part of your time.
- At the event:
Performance order - The contestants will perform in an order that is drawn randomly Judges: Judges are invited to judge based on a balance that I want to achieve. I want to have some industry insiders, I want to have judges from around the world, and I want to have some past contestants. This way we have a balance of people who know the industry, who all have experience with play in different countries, and who have been on stage and know what it is like. The judges vary from year to year, especially with the former contestants, as many of them choose to compete again, and can not judge themselves. Remember, if we do not have judges that come from around the world, it is not a World Yo-Yo Contest.
Judging: Since this division is not a score based division, scores per se` are not kept, but it is common for the judges to take notes during each contestant's performance. After the last contestant has performed, the judges adjourn together to a room and talk about what they have just seen. It is the only division that the judges debate the outcome.
In this case, the first contestants that removed from consideration are the ones who messed up. This is a yo-yo contest after all, and what counts is the performance on the day of the contest. While a small mistake will not destroy a chance for someone to place, every year, the order of the contestants seems to be effected by mistakes. But then again, this seems to be the case for every division.
At this point in the judging we are trying to figure out the top three contestants, we are not worried about their order yet. The battle here is who gets into the finals, which means the battle is typically for third place. Not everyone agrees, and a vote is taken. If there is a winner, we have a third place winner, and we then look at first and second place. Once again, a vote is taken, and the final top three order is given.
This takes at least 20 minutes, and in some years it has taken hours. It is a hard decision. It is a judgment call. It is not an exact science. We do not have instant replays, and no matter who we choose, someone will disagree.
What we are looking at to make our decision. (And please don't think every one of these needs to be in every freestyle, none will have them all, and frankly if you did, your routine would probably not be focused enough to win.)
- Unity of the routine. Does the routine have a start a middle and an end? Does it seem to be one routine, or several that were snapped together?
- Did we understand it? It does not matter what you want to say, do or try to convey, if it can not be understood. We can't judge what we don't understand. This takes two parts, Could we understand the words, and could we understand what you might be trying to say? All of the judges speak English, but not all of them may speak it well. We have had contestants with spoken word routines; provide translations to the non-English speaking judges in advance. It helped. We also need to understand what you are trying to do. Some routines have been so way out there, we just did not know what was going on.
- Is the routine performed well? - Having a good routine does not matter, if on the day of the event you can not do it. Was the recorded music a good recording? Were the costumes (if any) appropriate? (We do not expect a costume, be we do expect anything you bring into the act to be done well). If you used a microphone that you provided, could we understand you? In short, make sure what you do is done well. It is possible to make an act so complex, or so dependent on things outside of your control, your very routine can work against you.
- How difficult was the routine to do? What was its skill level? - This question is answered on several levels. One is the level of yo-yo play. We do not expect the routine to be only tricks, but it is still a yo-yo contest, and we do look at the yo-yoing. But there are all the other elements. Dance, skill, in the case of one routine in 2005, martial arts figured into it, and another juggling figured into to it. But it's not all skill toys type skills. We also can look at acting and dancing. Nothing is off limits. And since the range is so wide, it is why it's hard to give clear instructions on this division.
- What else did the contestant do? We look at what we probably incorrectly call layers. We look at what are they doing at once. Are they yo-yoing, dancing and telling a story? Are they doing mime, yo-yoing, and story telling? Are they dancing with the yo-yo as a partner? Are they doing something new and creative, like working with variations of a theme? Are they singing, rapping, or whatever. Does the performance have a beginning, a middle and an end? The question is how many elements have they brought into the performance. Do not use this as a check list for success. This is not a list telling you what to do, but it is an acknowledgment that we do see the difficulty of having multiple levels of performance, and if done well, it can only help.
- Now that I am done, take everything I have said as guidelines and not rules, because if you see these as rules, someone will come up who is creative, and redefine this division again, and who will change how we look at the AP Division, and how we judge it. It only takes one. It only took Yu Kawada to make us look at yo-yo contests again, and then to have us try and re-invent them. I'm sure one of your will make this happen again.