Anthony Chen on Competing

Beginning with his more traditional roots, Anthony started dancing at age 8 when his parents convinced him to learn and perform Chinese Lion Dances. At age 15 he was introduced to breakdancing at a speech and debate tournament, and shortly thereafter he found his home in the local swing community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he quickly fell in love with Lindy Hop. Throughout his dancing career he has trained in several other types of styles from hip-hop to Argentine Tango to West Coast, but most of all he enjoys drawing upon them to expand upon his technique and creativity in Lindy Hop. On the social dance floor, he is known to be playful, musical, creative, and clear; sometimes people call him a “magical unicorn.” He holds first place titles from events such as Lindyfest and Lone Star Championships, Montreal Swing Riot, Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown, and International Lindy Hop Championships. His teaching style focuses on energy, technique and connection theory, and his love of both leading and following has been instrumental to making the classes that he teaches both clear and intuitive.

Website: www.saltlakeswing.com

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Name: Anthony Chen
Home base: Salt Lake City
Year you started judging: 2008
Year you started competing: 2006
Approximately how many competitions have you judged: Probably 30-40
Approximately how many competitions have you competed in: I don’t know how many I’ve competed in, but I’ve placed in about 70 competitions. 

Competing

* Why do you compete? What does it do for you?
Gosh, I think I just do it because it’s fun. I’m not someone who likes to be in the center of attention, but it’s a great feeling when you can get the crowd cheering.

* Why do you think competition is valuable?
A common answer I think would be that it drives the level up. I’m totally on board with that–it can be inspiring to yourself and to other dancers to work on the craft and for everyone to become better dancers. However, another reason that I find to be just as important, is that it teaches you to be present, to be expressive, and to step out of your comfort zone. A dancer can get by just fine by only social dancing, and they can grow to become an amazing social dancer. On the other hand, through competing, you can build upon your skills as a dancer and as person: you learn to project your energy, draw people in, and gain confidence in yourself.

* What’s your personal philosophy on Jack and Jills? 
I try to dance like how I would socially, which I know is easier said than done, when everyone is watching you. I would feel like I’m lying if I said they’re the exact same thing; my Jack and Jill dancing is not the same as my social dancing; if I’m not careful, there’s a lot more unbridled energy that can go into a competition-social dance from the adrenaline rush. At one point, I found it helpful to imagine that everyone is watching when I’m just social dancing, just to help get rid of those nerves later. In both social dancing and in Jack and Jills, my focus is always on my partner–I really just want them to have a good time. That helps me relax, and can often help them relax too. Oh, and dance to the music.

* How do you prepare for a Strictly? How far in advance do you start your preparation?
It’s actually been more than 10 years since I’ve lived in the same city as a competition partner, and for most of the time since then I actually haven’t had a regular partner. Thus, the vast majority of strictly competitions that I do are essentially Jack and Jills, with minimal preparation prior to the competition, usually at the event itself. By minimal, I mean something like figuring out the entrances and exits, so we don’t always start with a swing out (which honestly isn’t the worst thing) and don’t always end on a Minnie-dip (not a bad ending either).

* How often do you train your dancing? And what does that mean to you?
When I was on a performance team, we would train about twice a week (ramping up to 3-4 times a week about a month out from the event), several hours a day. This would entail working on choreography, peer-critiques, and repetition. But that was a while back…without a partner in my scene, I cross train a lot (I love the outdoors!) and I spend a lot of time in my head. A good friend of mine would often ask me what I’m thinking about when I get that far-off look…and it’s almost invariably dance moves. I come up with things in my head, and then try them off the dance floor with a partner or a dance friend. When I get the lead/follow down, then I might bring it onto the social dance floor. If I feel comfortable leading and following it socially for a while, you might see it in a Jack and Jill.

* What do you tell yourself when you get frustrated?
Hmm. I just don’t often get frustrated, haha. But this to me dives into a completely different topic. One thing I’m always working on is self-awareness. I try to change things that I know are in my locus of control, and focus less on things that are outside of that. This minimizes a lot of that frustration for me.

* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
Sure I do. I think the more material I’ve prepared for a competition, the more nervous I may be. So I rarely feel nervous for Jack and Jills; I just go out and enjoy the dance. Strictlys or routines can have a lot more on the line, but the more you practice choreography, the easier it is to learn and retain, and the less nervous you get.

* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
Getting more performances and competitions under your belt is the sure-fire way to help with nerves. But right before a competition, per se, I might stretch, bounce around a bit, sip some water, and put on chapstick.

* What is/was your favorite competition to watch? Inspiration?
I don’t have a specific competition that’s my favorite, but I do like watching Jack and Jills–it’s most inspiring to see how people connect and what they come up with on the spot. Strictlys and Showcases can definitely be incredible and skillful, but Jack and Jills create those magical moments that are just so much fun to witness!

* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Make sure you do it for the right reasons. Do you compete for fame or recognition? That’s fine if you do. But I would wager that people find themselves in the dance scene because it’s a fun activity, and it’s a welcoming community. If your attitude about competing makes you lose sight of the reasons why you dance, then it may be helpful to re-evaluate. Judges can also see right through this. Don’t try too hard.
2) Think you’re getting the hang of things, and your Lindy hop is feeling good? Great. Keep taking classes. Take beginner classes. Pay attention to how the instructors teach. Be humble. When you start thinking that you’re really good is when you stop improving. And no one likes an ass.
3) Smile.

** Anything else?
Yeah. One thing I tell a lot of advanced students is to not stop dancing with beginner dancers. If you just dance with peers who are the same or a higher level than you, they’ll often adapt and cover for your mistakes. Dance with lower level dancers so you learn how to adapt and cover for theirs. One of the main reasons why I continue to love dancing is because I feel that I have the capability to make a dance enjoyable for my partner; seeing her or his smile makes all the difference for me. Because of this, I’ve never stopped enjoying dancing with beginners: they smile all the time!

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