While walking from the National Taiwan University (NTU) Hospital MRT station toward Kategalan Boulevard at 2:20pm on Saturday I saw the first sign of the Dream Community’s (夢想社區) impending Dream Parade.
It was not the barricades or the police officers directing traffic off Chungshan South Road and away from the Renai Road traffic circle or the complete absence of vehicles around the circle. It was the man and women clad in two-piece sky-blue and silver winged samba outfits taking off their motorcycle helmets, locking up their bike and moving toward the circle.
I walked a couple of paces behind them until they veered toward the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the starting point for the parade, while I headed west toward a white tent set up on Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道) in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to sign in and collect my judge’s ID and score sheet. Having served as a judge before, I knew the drill, so I was quickly led off by a parade worker to find my assigned spot on Renai Road before too many parade watchers took it over.
While crowds of people had massed closer to the starting point near the memorial, the sitting spots on the curbs along Renai were being snapped up fast between 2:30pm and 3pm. There were families with small children — some dressed up in costumes themselves — babies in strollers, groups of students, elderly couples and almost everyone was armed with a camera, a smartphone or a tablet, ready to capture the fun.
I took the time before the parade started to peruse the score sheet, which listed the numbers and names of the 13 drumming groups I had to look out for — eight elementary schools, four junior-high schools and Jian Shan Bao Samba Reggae group (no age given) — all from Aboriginal villages and townships around the nation.
The judges are asked to score in three categories: presentation, which counts for 20 percent of the score, drum (60 percent) and choreography (20 percent). Under the presentation category, judges are asked to consider the group’s topic, costumes and property and score between zero and 20 points. Under drum, skill is rated between zero and 20 points, rhythm from zero to 30 and body movement from one to 10. Choreography includes creativity, scored from one to 10 and passion, scored from one to 10.
It is a lot to keep in mind for the few moments the team is passing in front of you (unless there is a logjam up ahead and they have to stop for a few minutes) and the variables are complex. While several of the teams kept to an Aboriginal theme, wearing vests, headbands, leggings and skirts distinctive to their Aboriginal communities, such as Wun-Lan and Jhangshu elementary schools, Jhong Siao Elementary chose green outfits with bright orange and pink feathered headdresses, another group was outfitted in black and white zebra stripes, and the samba reggae group appeared in matching Hawaiian shirts. Some decorate their drums to match their outfits, some have parents/chaperones in matching outfits, while one team have a handful of moms in black and red flamenco dresses; the variety is endless.
How to score is always a dilemma. What if you mark the first group or two high, only to realize that later groups are actually much better? Knowing that each of the teams has also had to beat local competition to make it to Taipei means I don’t feel that I can give out few low scores, not that any of the teams deserve them. I am posted just before the midway point in the parade, so everyone should still have a lot of energy, which begs the question: How do you weigh “passion”? Other questions puzzle me. Should the cuteness factor weigh in? And what about the “Ohhhhhh” factor — the little kids struggling to march/dance with their group when their drum is hanging down below their knees or they are beating the drum so hard a drumstick flies out of their hands? Deductions or extra points? I don’t want to be too much of a softie, or a meanie — and since mine is the only score sheet in English, it will stand out from the other judges. Or do I get asked back each year because I am a liberal scorer?