What is relative placement

Relative placement is a method of scoring and tabulating dance contest results based on Bucklin Voting, in which the winner of the contest is the competitor that the judges "agree" upon the fastest.

We believe it's the most fair, accurate, and reliable measure for determining the results of dance contests as judging swing dance is inherently subjective. Compare relative placement to alternate methods.

In relative placement, judges convert their opinions and raw scores into equal rankings of the competitors. Whether they score the competitors on a 1-100 scale, number of stars / pluses / minuses, or various types of smiley-faces, the judges' raw scores are converted into rankings. The rankings in prelims are generally "yeses" and "alternates", and in the finals the rankings are from 1st through the total number of contestants. Since each judge is ranking the competitors using the same measure, each judge's scores have equivalent weight.

Relative placement uses these ranks to determine the moment when a majority (more than half) of the judges "agree" on a contestant's placement. Once a contestant obtains a majority of judges, their final placement is determined. The contestant to reach majority the fastest places the highest. Because the results are based on the majority of judges, no one judge can skew the results due to favoritism or bias.

Read below for how judges, prelims, and finals work.


Number of judges

It's best to have an odd number of judges as it minimizes the number of ties. Generally, the more judges the more robust the result. At larger events we recommend seven judges; five judges is acceptable and nine is better.

In random partner divisions where leads and follows are judged separately, we recommend five judges for the leads and another five judges for the follows; three judges is acceptable and seven is better.

Head judge

At larger events, it's common to have a dedicated head judge who judges every contest. Often their scores are not included in the tabulations, unless there is a tie. In the case of a tie, their scores are then used to break the tie. Ties are most common in prelims of random partner divisions.

At smaller events, the head judge often acts like a normal judge, where their scores are included in the tabulations. And if a tie occurs, their scores are again used to break the tie.


Most commonly, prelims and semi-finals are run as "call-backs". Call-backs are where each judge selects a certain number of competitors that they think should make it to the next round and a few more as alternates. These "yeses" and "alts" are entered as 1s and 2s, respectively. After all of the judges' results are entered, they are sorted to determine who received the best results. Take this contest:

Competitor Judge1 Judge2 Judge3
Charlie & Casey 1 1 1
Parker & Elliot 1 1 1
Morgan & Jordan - 1 1
Ryan & Cameron 2 2 1
Skylar & Frankie 2 1 -
Taylor & Blake 1 - 2
Jessie & Eden 1 - -
Austin & Sam - 2 -
Reagan & Jamie - - 2
Harper & London - - -


As shown above, the competitors' scores have been sorted from highest to lowest. Charlie & Casey and Parker & Elliot were selected by all three judges for finals and are therefore ranked as the top couples from prelims. Whereas Harper & London weren't selected by any judges and are ranked the lowest.

Note that two rows are highlighted yellow: Morgan & Jordan with two selections for finals and Ryan & Cameron with one selection for finals and two alternates. Two alternates are approximately the same value as one selection for finals and one "no". However, in relative placement call-backs, competitors that received a majority of judges selecting them for finals are ranked first. Next, competitors that received a majority of judges selecting them either for finals or as alternates are ranked. And finally, competitors without a majority are ranked. Since Morgan & Jordan received two selections for finals, they are ranked in the first grouping.

Next round selection

Once the results are sorted, the next step is to determine which competitors are selected to the next round. At a minimum (in most cases), the competitors that received a majority of "yeses" are selected for finals. In the example above, at least the first three couples would be selected for finals. Since Ryan & Cameron have a similar score to Morgan & Jordan, it's recommended that they be brought to finals as well.

You'll notice that some competitors have the same results as others. Competitors with the same results have the same rank - and the difference in ranks is referred to as the "natural breaks". In the example above, the natural breaks (shown as dark underlines) are with two, three, four, six, seven, and nine competitors. As this particular contest only had ten competitors, it is likely that either four or six competitors would be selected for finals. However, this is generally up to the event organizer, head judge, and contest tabulator.

Tie breakers

There are a few instances when a different number of competitors would need to be selected than at a natural break. The most common example is in a random partner division where leads and follows are judged separately and the natural breaks may not align to easily select the same number of leads and follows for the next round. Other examples include when the natural breaks would have a very small or very large number of competitors moving to the next round, or when the next round requires an even number of competitors but the natural breaks are only on odd numbers.

In these cases, tie breakers may be needed. There are a few methods of breaking a tie, including: using the head judge's scores, asking the judges to deliberate, ranking the judges' alternates, or worst-case: randomly breaking the tie.


Relative placement in finals is where each judge ranks the competitors from first to last. Just like in prelims, these results are sorted to determine who received the best results.

Determine majority

Sorting is based on which competitor receives a majority of the judges' scores the "fastest". In the table below, the grey columns on the right show the cumulative count of the judges' scores. That is, column 1-1 shows the total number of firsts received by a competitor. Column 1-2 shows the total number of firsts and seconds received, and so on.

Competitor J1 J2 J3 J4 J5 1-1 1-2 1-3 1-4 Place
Parker & Elliot 1 3 1 1 3 3 3 5 5 1st
Morgan & Jordan 2 1 2 3 2 1 4 5 5 2nd
Charlie & Casey 3 2 4 2 1 1 3 4 5 3rd
Ryan & Cameron 4 4 3 4 4 0 0 1 5 4th

As shown above, Parker & Elliot (highlighted yellow) received three firsts and two thirds. So three is entered into column 1-1 (firsts), three again in column 1-2 (firsts and seconds), five in column 1-3 (firsts, seconds, and thirds), and five again in column 1-4 (firsts, seconds, thirds, and fourths).

A box is placed around the first cumulative total in which the competitor obtains a majority of the judges' scores. In the example above, since there are five judges, the majority is three or more judges agreeing. Parker & Elliot received a majority of the judges at first place and therefore won the contest.

When two competitors reach majority in the same column, the competitor with a larger number of judges agreeing places higher. As shown (highlighted green), Morgan & Jordan are placed 2nd since they had four judges rank them first or second, as compared to Charlie & Casey who are placed 3rd since they had three judges rank them first or second.

Equal majority

When two competitors reach majority in the same column and those majorities are equal, then the scores that make up those majorities are first compared (Sum Totals). If still equal, then the next lowest scores are compared (Next Score(s)).

Competitor J1 J2 J3 J4 J5 1-1 1-2 1-3 1-4 1-5 Place
Parker & Elliot 3 2 1 1 4 2 3 4 4 5 5 1st
Morgan & Jordan 2 1 3 3 2 1 3 5 5 5 5 2nd
Ryan & Cameron 1 4 4 2 3 1 2 3 6 *5* 5 3rd
Charlie & Casey 5 3 2 4 1 1 2 3 6 4 5 4th
Taylor & Blake 4 5 5 5 5 0 0 0 1 5 5th

Sum total. As shown above, Parker & Elliot and Morgan & Jordan (highlighted yellow) both received a majority of three judges in column 1-2. The couple with the lowest sum total of the scores that make up that majority will place higher. Parker & Elliot received two firsts and one second, for a total of four (1 + 1 + 2). Morgan & Jordan received one first and two seconds, for a total of five (1 + 2 + 2). Therefore, Parker & Elliot place 1st and Morgan & Jordan place 2nd.

Next score(s).If the sum total of the scores that make up their majority is also equal, then the next lower score, for only the competitors concerned, is included until a majority is reached. Both Ryan & Cameron and Charlie & Casey (highlighted green) received a majority of three judges in column 1-3, and both their judges scores were comprised of a first, second, and third, for a total of six (1 + 2 + 3). The next placement is therefore included. In this case, Ryan & Cameron received two fourths, whereas Charlie & Casey only received one fourth. Therefore Ryan & Cameron place 3rd and Charlie & Casey place 4th. Had including fourths into the majority not determined the winner, fifths would be included, and so on.

Two equal scores

When two or more competitors receive the exact same judges results, the tie is broken by treating those competitors as if it was a two-competitor (or three-competitor, etc.) contest, for only the competitors concerned.

Competitor J1 J2 J3 J4 J5 1-1 1-2 1-3 1-4 Place
Parker & Elliot 1 2 1 1 3 3 4 5 5 1st
Morgan & Jordan 2 1 1 1 3 2 3 1 4 2 1 2 4 9 5 2nd
Charlie & Casey 3 2 3 2 2 1 4 2 1 1 1 2 4 9 5 3rd
Ryan & Cameron 4 4 4 2 2 0 2 2 5 4th

As shown above, Morgan & Jordan and Charlie & Casey (highlighted yellow) have the exact same results: one first, one second, two thirds, and one fourth. On first glance it appears that these two competitors tied, however by treating it as a two-competitor contest, we see that each judge ranked one competitor ahead of the other. For example, Judge 1 scored Morgan & Jordan in second, ahead of Charlie & Casey in third. In total, Morgan & Jordan received three higher scores (from Judges 1, 2 and 4) and Charlie & Casey received two higher scores (from Judges 3 and 5). Therefore Morgan & Jordan place 2nd and Charlie & Casey place 3rd. The two-competitor contest is detailed in the superscript of the table above as well as fully detailed as a two-competitor contest in the table below.

Competitor J1 J2 J3 J4 J5 1-1 1-2 Place
Morgan & Jordan 1 1 2 1 2 3 5 2nd
Charlie & Casey 2 2 1 2 1 2 5 3rd

Completely equal

In the odd event where every competitor receives the exact same results and treating it as an individual contest does not work (such as five competitors each receiving a first, second, third, fourth, and fifth from five judges), the head judge's scores may be used or the judges may be asked to deliberate. Alternatively, the event organizer may prefer to leave the result a tie.