General Effect

by Mike Mastandrea

What do purpose, method, and emotional response have in common? They are the chief considerations when approaching choreography for any routine and make up the elements of a relatively new contest scoresheet caption entitled, “General Effect”. For many, this caption has been sub-listed under Choreography but really deserves its own identity. It is what separates a great routine from a good routine. It is the secret ingredient in Coca-Cola or the Colonel’s Kentucky Fried Chicken or your mother’s chicken and dumplings.

Have you ever prepared a recipe following the directions in the cookbook to the letter and not being too impressed with the results. Hospital food would be a great example of dietary excellence and savory blandness. In the dance world, so many performances contain the ingredients of good choreography–musical phrasing is good, usage of the floor and formations are good, variety and difficulty of dance movement are good, but the “total impact” that creates some type of emotional response from your audience is lacking. How often have you seen a routine in which there was just “something missing that you could not put your finger on”? That something was probably General Effect.

As a caption on a scoresheet, “General Effect” is that overall aspect of the routine that must evoke some emotional response from your audience albeit, elation, sadness, surprise, sympathy, excitement, etc. Elements that will lead to this response include musical selection, the pacing of the piece through movement, staging, and mood, and the presentation ability of your performers.

The first step in achieving great “General Effect” is the selection of the musical piece. In choosing your music, select one which “has direction”–goes somewhere”. Sometimes choice of music is given the least attention yet this is the key to creating an dynamic impact. When choreographing, one usually breaks the music down into 8 count groups and pays attention to the musical phrasing. Be cognizant of the “message” the music sends. What is the purpose of selecting this particular piece of music? Could other songs work just as well or does this provide a unique quality to your performance? Can you visualize a beginning, middle, and ending in the music that will achieve your purpose? Will your audience understand, appreciate, and become engrossed in your performance? Are all of the choreographed movements and transitions necessary to accomplish your purpose and overall effectiveness? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, the chances are great that your G.E. score will be high.

General Effect is likely to become the caption that directors will utilize as their gauge of success. It is certainly a category that the judges will use to distinguish among many outstanding routines. A good judge will be able to disassociate himself/herself from personal preferences and be able to reward the fact that a particular routine set out to make a certain impact and achieved that purpose. General Effect is the caption that allows an adjudicator to evaluate the entertainment value of a routine. Elaborate props and backdrops may or may not contribute to the overall effect of a performance. A judge may be disappointed that so much effort was spent on the production of the “set” and not enough thought into the integration of the staging pieces into the dance.

The fact is that you can define and analyze the elements of good General Effect ad nauseam. However, as a rule of thumb, you can utilize a lay audience (your school population and community members) as an excellent gauge of the General Effect of your routine. If you receive more than “obligatory applause”, the chances are great that you have accomplished your purpose– bringing the audience into your performance and providing them with a high degree of entertainment. If this is not the case, you might want to rethink aspects of your routine. Remember, if it doesn’t “play well in Peoria”, why should it be any different at a competition?

Mike Mastandrea
Executive Director for Marching Auxiliaries
Over 25 years experience in the Pep Arts Industry
Past speaker and writer for DTDA