Quality, excellence and community are amongst just some of the values we hold true at Dance Vision. We seek out qualified professionals to bring our teachers and students credible information. We create outstanding learning experiences with our curriculum, certifications and examinations. Most importantly though, we work to curate a community of dancers and professionals that aid one another in their journeys.
With these values, visions and goals in mind, we are excited to welcome dancesport industry icon, Judi Hatton, to our team. Judi Hatton is the current vice president of the NDCA (National Dance Council of America) and is returning to Dance Vision as an official Examiner. Judi Hatton’s mission is to be of service in guiding the ballroom industry further into the future, and now, ensuring that Dance Vision Certified Professionals remain true to the values of quality and excellence in education.
Learn more about Judi’s background, personal inspirations and goals, to help emphasize the excitement we share having her as part of our community.
Natalie: Hello Judi, it is wonderful to sit down and talk with you. I would love to start at the very beginning. Where and when did your dance journey begin?
Judi: I’m happy to discuss with you as well. My very first dance class was at 3 years old and my first recital performance was at 4 years old in London, England at the Bush-Davies School for Stage Arts. There I studied ballet, tap and jazz. I took medal tests for each style all the way through to Gold Star. I then began Ballroom & Latin and followed the same test and examinations.
Natalie: What really inspired you to start dancing?
Judi: My teacher at Bush-Davies School for Stage Arts was quite famous for producing ‘stars’ who returned to the school for various fundraisers and events and so I saw them perform in person, spoke to them, and became completely starstruck. I then met the world renown Prima Ballerina, Margo Fonteyne, who was at the end of her career by then but she was so beautiful, kind and gracious that I was “toast” after that, forever a fan and completely inspired.
Natalie: I would have to say the ballet was also a big inspiration of mine when I began dancing. So, when did ballroom become your main focus then?
Judi: As I grew, I became tall, 5ft 8 inches to be exact, a bit too tall for ballet plus my feet were not optimally shaped, and so it was at this time I switched over primarily to Latin, and eventually included Ballroom. I competed as an amateur while still in school and college in London, happily receiving some excellent results.
Natalie: How interesting! I feel ballroom dance is a more inclusive type of dance style for different individuals and body types. Who were some of your most prominent coaches and influences during your ballroom dance journey?
Judi: Living in London, I had all the great coaches available to me, and I was lucky enough to be taught by some of the world’s “Old Greats,” both in Latin and Ballroom. Primarily in Latin I trained with Walter Laird and the absolutely-legendary-to-this-day Lorraine Rhodin, who became a great personal friend. For Latin and Showdance, the Great Rebel himself from New Zealand, John Delroy coached me. In the Ballroom field I trained with Len Scrivener, Bill & Bobbie Irvine but my “Dance Guru,” since childhood, was the Grand Master, Peter Eggleton. Peter taught me how to think, how to analyze, how to move, and how two bodies worked together. He made me the excellent teacher I am today. Another great and dear friend, I was devastated when he recently passed away.
Natalie: Wow, you have worked with so many legends, and have become one yourself! Was there an achievement in your professional dance career that stands out as your “greatest” or “defining moment”?
Judi: I am not sure that I can characterize any achievements by best or greatest. Of course, I could write a long list of championship titles and certainly they were a gratifying way of measuring improvement and understanding of the dance. I guess, I could say dancing to represent the USA at the World Championships, was exciting and certainly representative of my competitive career at that time. There were so many other things along the way though. When I took all my professional teaching examinations in London with the English ISTD, and achieved High Honors while still competing was also another big highlight for me. Also, representing the USA as a judge and judging many World Championship events all over the world are wonderful achievements.
I would have to say, the biggest thrill of all though, was to walk onto the floor as the USA’s World Championship judge in the amazingly beautiful, hallowed hall at Blackpool Winter Gardens, where I had spent so many years as a competitor. So few professionals get to stand in front of that wonderful orchestra and stage, together with 10 world famous judges from different countries, it was certainly the greatest feeling of having ‘made it’. I was able to judge twice, once for the Professional European Championships and once for the Professional World Championships.
Natalie: I really admire the way you see all your achievements as cumulative and that they are all pieces of the journey to where you are now. It’s also inspiring for many that will read this interview, that there is a true career trajectory for any dancer within the industry. So, when you retired, what was the biggest shift for you?
Judi: At first it was terrific to not have to practice for 2-3 hours each day and then go on to run the studio and teach for another 8 hours. To begin judging was a huge shift, since judging is so subjective, and everyone knows what they personally like. I made it important to be sure that it didn’t matter to me which or whose ‘style’ the couples were using, the best couples are the ones doing ‘their thing’ the best, on that day. Judging can be very difficult and, at the same time, very easy. It’s easy when a couple jump on your page and hard when no one stands out. NDCA now has an Adjudicator’s Exam before a professional can obtain a Championship License and I believe that this is a very good thing, since in preparation for it, the professional learns all about the business of judging and exactly what is required outside of your opinion. This was not available when I became a judge and so you found out for yourself what a “judge” meant. The biggest shift and huge shock though, was realizing I was no longer ‘talent,’ I had become a ‘suit’.
Natalie: It sounds like a mental shift more than anything, and almost, like “taking your place” within the industry. Beyond judging, what inspired you to get involved within the governing bodies and business side of the industry?
Judi: In addition to dance, I had a very healthy interest in politics, which was developed by my family as I grew up, and for several years I wanted to be the next Mrs. Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, and the only female one too! Then one day, an English coach named Eric Hancox sat me down in my studio office and said, “I want you to run for election to the USISTD Committee.” My answer was “No way, I am much too busy with shows, coaching, teaching in our ballet/tap/jazz school to take on another responsibility.” He sat there and refused to give up and eventually I said, “All right, already!” I ran, was elected, and that was the start of it all. I found myself on a board of 7 people who ran the dance organization and three major championships each year. It was a terrific experience and I ended up becoming the President of the Organization. Everything flowed from there. I became a delegate to the NDCA meetings and was ultimately elected to the NDCA Executive Committee as its First Vice President. When DVIDA was formed I had the honor of being invited to be an Examiner, a role that I very much enjoy!
Natalie: It’s so interesting how your childhood interest in politics eventually made its way back around. With the positions you are in now, there is certainly a lot of influence. In what way do you hope to navigate your influence within the ballroom dance community?
Judi: During my time in office, I have seen the United States as a whole become much more aware of ballroom dance and competitions, and we have developed a healthy and thriving competition and championship business here. Additionally, our National Council has become one of, if not the strongest dance councils in the world today. This was achieved by hard work and a team of dedicated people, plus the support of all the Member Organizations, of which DVIDA is one. The NDCA deals with standards and practices for competitive events ensuring that our business is well guarded, well-educated, and as honest as we can make it. I would like to continue that work. It is my sincerest hope that I, and all the others that sit around the NDCA meeting room table, can diligently work together to help our teachers and dancers enjoy their world and their dancing, while the suits are keeping the business growing and husbanding the calendar, the USA is going from strength to strength.
Natalie: Thank you for sharing that. It has been so wonderful hearing about your background, achievement and inspirations. I would love to end our time together with two more questions. First, what is the greatest piece of advice you ever received from a coach, peer, mentor or teacher?
Judi: Almost immediately following my retirement from competition, I started judging for the first time at La Classique du Quebec, a very prestigious event in Montreal, Canada and one that my partner and I had previously won. At that time the very best dancers in the world attended this event. I was very nervous to judge and did not want to mess up. So I spoke to the Chairman of Judges, Eric Hancox, who happened to be one of my early teachers, and asked him to keep an eye on my judging. I also asked him if he had any advice? His response to me was just three words which were absolutely golden, “NEVER LOOK BACK.” The longer I judged, the more I realized just how right he was.
Natalie: I love that! Last question, so now that you have years of your own experience, what is a piece of advice you would give to someone involved in the ballroom dance community?
Judi: Be kind, don’t gossip and work hard, because everyone else is. Enjoy it, don’t make it work, and most importantly, everything begins with the feet!
Natalie: Thank you so much for your time Judi. We are all very excited to have you as an Examiner here at Dance Vision and look forward to watching your already iconic career become even more legendary.