World-renowned Lindy Hop Teacher, Performer, & Competitor
Alice Mei on Competing and Judging
Photo by Tim Gee
We have all read/watched or at least heard of “Alice in Wonderland”. There is something really special about this heroine with her specific charm and fascinating personality. Alice Meï is that adventurer, but with dancing shoes.
Alice started dancing at the age of 4. By the time she turned 14 she had the honor of interpreting almost every single Disney character from “Dopey” to “Tinker-Bell”. She eventually joined a national dance school for another 4 years where she practiced ballet, contemporary and jazz dance daily. Slowly tiring of these dance styles, she began to look for something new. After a few unsuccessful attempts at African dancing, Flamenco, and kick boxing she eventually met her true love – Lindy Hop!
Alice is fascinated by the art of improvisation and has spread the joy of Lindy Hop and authentic jazz in more than 30 countries through teaching, performing, competing and social dancing. She love the diversity of movement and the freedom of expression that Lindy Hop brings to the world.
Name: Alice Mei
Home base: Montpellier, France
Year you started competing: 2005
Approx how many competitions have you competed in: 7 a year
What styles of dance have you competed in: ballet (’94), Lindy Hop, solo jazz, Balboa, Slow dancing, solo blues
* Why do you compete?
I compete to kick my own butt! Competition gives me something to practice for.
A fun plus: it’s also a great way to get a video album of my dancing at various points in time. I like to see how my dancing evolves over the years.
* Why do you think competition is valuable?
Competition can help you get over your fears, give you something to work for, and helps you practice dancing under stress which helps with your performing. I think videos of competitions also promote our art form and I believe it’s important.
To be honest, I never feel like competitions results should be taken too seriously because Lindy Hop is an art form and depending on who is judging, your scores can be so different. Over the years I have disagreed numerous times with competitions results. There has been people inspiring a great deal who didn’t make it to the podium, but those scores didn’t change what they represent for me or the joy they brought me.
I usually stress quite a lot about competition because it taps into my fear of not being good enough and it can seem sometimes like it isn’t a lot of fun. But when I compare it to the competition I experienced in ballet, I feel like the vibe in Lindy hop is very positive and healthy.
* What’s your personal philosophy on J&Js?
Dance with your partner first (connect with the human being holding your hand), listen to the music, and let that inspire you! I am usually turned off by people doing a lot of flashy things for no reason because I prefer when a partnership is connected to the music.
What I look for in a J&J as a judge is good timing, good body movement, and musicality. I want to see people taking care of each other and enjoying moving for themselves more than for the crowd.
* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
Yes, always. Very.
* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
Haha, I don’t really deal with it too well. I think doing it over and over makes it a bit less stressful every time. I have been trying to fix my self-confidence for years now, but it’s not an quick and easy fix. Sometimes I drink a bit to relax (not that I’m advocating for other people to do that), but it’s only if it’s a social comp. I would be too scared to forget my choreography otherwise.
If it is a routine/choreography, I have been trying this thing lately before I go out onto the floor. I try to stand tall (I mean as tall as I can) and take up space because it apparently produces some good chemicals and makes you feel more powerful/confidant – it’s a mind trick (and it’s supposedly scientifically proven)! Lastly, I try to think of the routine only up until a certain point and then I have to trust my muscle memory instead of my mental memory. I trust that my body will remember because I have trained the same moves many times… the body is smart.
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
I don’t know if I should say it, but I was really proud of how I did in the 2015 Strictly at Snowball because I got 1st place (below) and 3rd place with different partners, and neither of them were my regular partner. So maybe it means that I had something to do with the success ?!?! I feel like I am not a great competitor so I usually thank my partner for any good outcome.
This was also shortly after I stopped a long partnership and as a Follower I wanted to feel like I contributed to the dance for who I was as a dancer and I wanted to feel like I could stand on my own. I didn’t want to be an extension of the Leader anymore.
Also, the Solo Jazz at the 2016 International Lindy Hop Championships because I was in such a panic about doing it. When I realized I had made it to the finals I was surprised, happy, and terrified. I had promised Mikaela I would do the competition to face by biggest fears, but then it all became way too real! It took me 2 months after the competition to watch that video – my best friend had to make me 😀 I really don’t like my dancing there, but it’s a start … there is a lot of room for improvement and that’s a plus.
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
I used to like watching competitions more when I wasn’t at the top level because there were more things to look up to. When I was younger, really all the ULHS videos from 2005/2006 were incredibly exciting to me. I couldn’t sleep, they were so good! Oh, and The Silver Shadows – they just were…amazing.
Now I like to watch Classic Routines a lot. It’s like watching people’s new born or something.
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Be yourself. Just dance like yourself.Your dancing won’t change that day, so it pretty much depends on who you’re up against.
2) Listen to the music
3) Try to stay cool. Nobody likes to watch people freaking out.
Photo Credit: For Dancers Only (http://d.pr/1fEEY)
* What do you enjoy about judging?
I appreciate when I get to implement my value system and give credit to what’s important to me in the dance; it’s one more way in which I get to shape the dance scene into something I like, beside teaching and performing.
* What do you dislike about judging?
Well, it’s nice to get a seat and not have to fight for a spot on the floor, but I don’t enjoy it as much as when I’m merely watching because I have to compare instead of just focusing on what I like. Sometimes it’s a challenge to watch everyone dance when really you’d love to continue watching a particular dancer/couple rocking out. The other thing that I find difficult is when there are two people/couples who are equally as good but represent the dance in a different way. It makes me struggle to rank them when they are to me equally as good but just different. Like comparing apple and strawberries.
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?
Good body movement, clear rhythms, maintaining connection with their partner because it makes the movement look better, and see something that I don’t see while social dancing. I really enjoy seeing solo choreography and partnered choreography blend into each other. I like to see two people dance in and out of partnering.
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
Good body movement, good rhythms, and I am not necessarily expecting to see choreography. I like to see two dancers listening to each other and reacting to one another. To be more explicit, elements of choreo are ok, but I put more emphasis on the spotlights being a great social dance with a few tricks specific to that partnership.
As much as I would like to see faster dancing in general. I think people tend to play music that’s way too fast for people’s skills in competitions. I think we need to overall play faster music (in classes and in parties) before we make competitors do crazy stuff to a speed that they can’t handle.
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a J&J?
Please take care of your partner! I want to see an exchange between two people and see what they each have to say. I regret that often times a strong Leader with a weaker Follower is placed higher than a strong Follower with a weaker Leader. I am trying to change that mentality in my judging. Followers, I can see you when you make it work and when you are being musical despite bad choices on the Leader side and I value it highly 🙂
I value good choices.
* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about routines/Strictly’s/J&Js?
think in routines, people think it’s just choreography and they overlook the technique at times. The technical skills are still essential to making a dance look good even when it’s choreographed. It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it!
For a Strictly, I think the biggest misconceptions are that they think they need to do choreography and I just don’t think that’s true. I think it is good to be prepared and to have little sequences but it’s also important to know when to actually do it, if it fits the feel of the music or not and if it matches the format of the tune . I would say, if you are going for a choreography, keep it simple enough so that you can dance it and embellish it on the spot to fit the music.
For J&Js, misconception is that you have to shine really hard instead of connecting to your partner. Honestly, good body movements and good rhythms go a long way. There is a bit of luck involved too, on who you’re get as a partner.
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Keep working on your dancing all year and remember that to some extend, the result of the competition says more about the judges than it does about your dancing.
2) Dancing is an art so you can’t take the result too seriously. We all have different tastes and preferences, so please dance “you.”
3) Winning doesn’t always mean you’re the best – it just means that you were the best at that moment in time, for the judges. Remember, it’s not a sport , so make it personal and enjoyable and let the music inspire you.