Annie Trudeau on Competing and Judging

Annie Trudeau’s passion for dance was first well demonstrated when she chose her career as a dance teacher and performer over her engineering physics degree’s possibilities. She also trained as a competing artistic gymnast when she was a teenager. She is a co-founder and co-owner of Studio 88-SWING in Montreal (Canada) where she teaches swing since 2001. As the artistic director, she also manages and dances in the Montreal Swinging Air Force dance performance troupe, which has been International Lindy Hop Champions in 2010-11 and 2014 and Canadian Champion 2013-14-15. She is passionate and enthusiastic as a swing dancer, teacher and competitor.  She has numerous titles in competition including 6 first place at International Lindy Hop Championships (2008 to 2013 included) in Washington in the Showcase Category and also first place at the European Championships in London in October 2013. She also danced at the Montreal Jazz Fest with the electro-swing band Caravan Palace, was hired as a choreographer for the Cirque du Soleil and lately coached artists for the TV Show ”Les Dieux de la Danse” in Canada. Annie has dedicated the last 10 years of her life full time to her dance business and to her art, and she loves to share her experience and knowledge to students of all levels and ambitions.
 

INTERVIEW

 
Name: Annie Trudeau
Home base:  Montréal, Québec, Canada
Year you started competing: 2001
approximately how many competitions have you competed in: 60 in swing, much more if you take into account gymnastic and figure skating.


Competing

* Why do you compete? 
To push the boundaries of my artistry and to contribute to the evolution of swing dancing.
 
* Why do you think competition is valuable?
I think competition gives a goal to any individual, couple or team who want to create a piece and perform it. Having a goal that has a specific time restriction helps gather the ressources in order to accomplish a certain amount of smaller goals, or to achieve a new skill, or to get to a certain level that one (or a group) can decide prior to the project. If it’s improv category, it provides a platform and a goal to work up to as well because improv skills can be worked on in the studio or on the social dance floor before going to a comp. I think the more competition is something you do as a way to improve, the most healthy and positive it is. The more one consider competition as a way to compare to other people, the more it *can* have more of a negative or depressing impact on the participants.
 
* What’s your personal philosophy on Jack and Jills? 
I try to create the best dancing moment possible. How I go about this is first of all on a personal level. With my partner, I try to create a connection that makes it so we feel we can trust each other in being ourselves, and it’s ok to make ”mistakes”. When that atmosphere is established, then both partners can be at their best precision wise, musicality wise and risk-taking wise. I think JnJ should be about finding a way to make your partner give the best performance of its life, and pretend like the music is your favorite one even if you don’t especially appreciate it.
 
* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
The more I spend time preparing a piece, the more I am. It’s not about the importance of the competition, of the amount of people in the crowd, it’s about how much work I’ve put to get to that point and how a mistake can have an impact on my potential disappointment.
I always have to remind myself that being zen and simply happy to be healthy and able to inspire people is a gift not everyone can say they have been given, and any amount of unnecessary stress will hinder my performance so I push away the clouds of doubt before I go on stage as much as I can.
 
* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
See above answer. Plus making mental runs of what would be for me a perfect show. 
 
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why? 
Disclaimer: I will mention Max Pitruzzella in those lines, because I have been his partner for many years and it is part of my past. I will repeat again how it is saddening for me to know now that he selfishly chose a path in life that hurt deeply so many people. I will not share videos of us for a while ; it is a bit sad for me to erase such an important part of my past, but it is not as important than to be part of a movement where there is zero-tolerance for people who are so careless about the other people’s well-being that they will take advantage of their position of power to exploit, manipulate, assault sexually etc. Zero-tolerance. With hope of a brighter future, I will now go on in sharing a bit of my past.
 
ALHC 2001 
The first time my team Swinging Air Force dared going to the USA to do a competition. We were the first Canadians to do that! Got 3rd place with a routine where we were nurses and soldiers. 🙂 We were super nervous because we admired so much American dancers. Watching the tape cassettes at home and all that. 😉 We even had to go to NESDC a month before to ‘simply perform’ our routine to get feedback by the judges to let us know if we were going to be ridicule or not participating in a ‘real’ competition. Haha. So I get it when beginners are afraid. It is a scary world of star dancers out there. But in the end – 16 years later – I can assure you that we are all human and nothing replaces a good work ethic and countless hours on the dance floor to get better and perfect your art!
 
ULHS 2007
The first time I got a 1st place at an international event. Fast division. Woah!
 
Frankie 95 in 2009
We worked so much to prepare for that event! Every day, many hours a day, preparing to perform Hellzapoppin as well in the show. I learned that Frankie passed away while being in Montpellier at an event. We were so extremely sad, I remember a jam we did right away on Hellzapoppin music giving our everything in honour of Frankie. I mourned, I went to his funeral in NYC, drove early in the morning from Montreal… A lot of emotions around that event! So when Max and I participated in the really big Strictly and got the old timers recognition by winning, we were extremely proud. 
 
ILHC 2012 (video above)
The first time after many years that I showcased a routine with a different partner other than Max. I did it with Thomas Blacharz. We spent every evening for a week in Herrang (after my full teaching day) to create the piece and I met him in Denver for 3 days later that summer. It was exciting and I was very proud of what we did together. We won the Showcase category. It proved to me that I was not a good dancer only because of Max, although I knew he contributed a lot in my development, just like I contributed to his.  I was working on my individuality as a dancer, and this made a big difference in my journey.
 
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
Juniors at ILHC! Those kids are the biggest inspiration when it comes to giving your everything. <3
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) Figure out why you want to compete so you are aware of your ambitions and select carefully where you assign your (probably) limited time in terms of dancing.
     2) Give your absolute best because that’s how the experience is worth it
     3) Find courage to express yourself while being inspired by others instead of trying to move like someone else (bonus: discover who you are it in the process).  Be patient if you are looking for results. Persevere as it will eventually be rewarded internally and externally. Spread your joy, always!
 

Judging

* What do you enjoy about judging?
Getting to witness talent and ideas on a privileged seat.
 
* What do you dislike about judging?
Having to rank people when the values I hold dear don’t guide me to a clear ranking.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?

I won’t be looking for the same things in a showcase, a classic or a team routine so here are the differences in my opinion:

    In all routines, I will favour a lot new ideas and risk-taking and personality over pure technique. I am a fervent of the evolution of the dance, while keeping solid roots.  If I see a couple that feel like a breath of fresh air, that dare go out there with there new ideas giving their heart out, I will take this into strong consideration over a renowned more experienced couple doing a more conservative routine even though overall technique might be better. Obviously, precision, rich movement, intricate rhythms and musicality all matter a lot, just as organic, elastic and efficient connection, even in a choreography context.
 
    That being said, in a showcase division, a piece has to be especially extrovert and entertaining in its style and in the choice of content and execution. There is value to a routine which would entertain a general public crowd (public of non-Lindy Hoppers, neophytes). Often times, showcases will involve air steps. Although in order to add value to a routine, those air steps have to feel like any other movement ; the couple should execute them with the same precision, the same ease as other on-the-ground movement of their routine. I make small exceptions when I see a very daring and unusual air step being performed, because I want to encourage new ideas and risk-taking although if I feel like any of the partners are unsafe performing it, I will try to mention it to them and I will penalize them for trying something they were not ready for and putting their physical integrity at risk.
 
    In a classic, I think we can trade pure entertainment to a more refined, deeply-felt, more intricate interpretation of a swing piece.  Usually, a more experienced eye will appreciate more the value of a good classic routine.  The social dancing feeling should be top priority, quality of movement and connection are also super important. Movement interpretation of music as to aim to be as good as the music itself.
 
In a team division, group execution (including individual dancing) and synchronisation, precision of group effects and formations and overall choreography are my main guidelines.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
A strictly competition in my opinion should highlight the exceptional abilities of a specific leader dancing with a specific follower.  A perfect balance should be aimed between improvising and using already rehearsed material such as combos and sequences.  I think different events might have different traditions or preferences in what they are trying to promote and participants should try to get what that feel is in order to best prepare.
 
* How about in a Jack & Jill?
As I mentioned before, a JnJ should be a blissful moment where two dancers make the best of a given dancing situation. Take the best qualities of a follower, and the best qualities of a leader and try to make them operate at the same time! I want to be invited in sharing this moment with the competing couples, and I want to see respect and support in each others attempt at risk-taking, crazy musicality or variations. In all this magic, do not forget to showcase your best technique though, because I might be charmed by your instant connection, but it won’t make me close my technique eye! 😉
 
* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about Routines/Strictly’s/Jack & Jills?

”I am not ready to compete.”

Well, if you read my 2001 first competition story up here, you know that I feel you sister/brother!
That being said, 16 years and a career later, my opinion has changed so I will share it in hope to encourage you to come out of your shell if you are ready for it (but you don’t know it yet).
If you are not ready to compete because you don’t enjoy competing or the concept of competing, then do not compete. You don’t have to.
 
If you don’t compete because you think you are not good enough… but you think you would enjoy competing…then that’s where trying to find courage is only what you need to make it happen! So here is what I think. Choose an event where you have seen newcomers and beginners being warmly welcomed (insert here almost all Lindy Hop events on the planet, this community is very warm to newcomers on average). Try to go with friends and find a mentor who will encourage you to do so as well. That’s what I did with my peers, remember, we went to ‘perform’ our routine just to get an approval first… hey we were insecure, so we went to our own pace! Try to do the same. Be gentle with yourself, but don’t stop trying until you get your goal! Baby steps 🙂
Use your passion as main drive and never compromise your well-being and your happiness for dancing. Dancing should be at the service of your well-being. Not the opposite. Write me if you need a little pep talk, I’ll answer as best of my capabilities : Annietrudeau@gmail.com. 😉
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) Dance for dance sake
     2) Study hard but create as hard. Be part of history as an innovator.
     3) Be an artist growing through the practice of dance. Try to find and create beauty as much as you can!
 
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If you want to see more of Annie, check her out at the Canadian Swing Championships this year and ILHC (yup, she’s coming back)!!!
 
 

Nick Williams on Competing and Judging

Nick Williams has embodied the passion and spirit of swing dancing ever since his first lesson in 1998. The depth of his understanding of Lindy Hop, Balboa, and Collegiate Shag stems from studying with the original dancers. Nick’s desire for authenticity, combined with his passion for dance evolution, leads to a style known for precision, lightness, musicality and dynamic energy. His successes include World Lindy Hop Champion, US Open Swing Dance Champion, American Lindy Hop Champion, National Jitterbug Champion, International Lindy Hop Champion, Ultimate Lindy Hop Champion, American Classic Balboa Champion and California Balboa/Swing Champion. Nick was honored to be recognized by the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame. He is also an accomplished choreographer and has choreographed for the hit television show So You Think You Can Dance. As an instructor, he is known for his ability to break down movements and technique to create a fun and light-hearted learning environment. His true love of music and dancing will forever inspire him to learn, teach, and grow.

INTERVIEW

Name: Nick Williams
Home base: Orange County, CA
Year you started judging: around 2000
Year you started competing: 1998
Approximately how many competitions have you judged: several hundred
Approximately how many competitions have you competed in: several hundred

Competing

* Why do you compete? What does it do for you?
Personally, it gives me the opportunity to push myself and improve my dancing. Always forcing me to create and evolve. Professionally, competing an easy way to let the dance community know that I am still relevant, provides a platform for me to share my voice, and allows me to focus on the goals I set for myself.

* Why do you think competition is valuable?
i think competing allows you to take your dancing to the next level. It’s also a really great way to raise the level of dancing in a scene by providing inspiration and excitement which hopefully will inspire other dancers to do the same thing. Finally, it’s an easy way to share the energy and the spirit of Lindy Hop.

* What’s your personal philosophy on Jack and Jills? 
Simple: it’s you, your partner, and the music. A large part of a Jack & Jill is understand the strengths of your partner and finding a common ground. I don’t like when people try to out dance their partner or disconnect in order to show themselves off.

My philosophy: Focus on creating something together.

* How long before you start prepping for a competition?
As far as a routine division, I start preparing at least 2-3 months before, and depending on which competition, I might need to start the routine even earlier.

* What is your process like for creating a Showcase?
I first pick song and edit the music (if need be). I then need to clarify the direction of what I’m going to do with the routine (vision). Next, I pick out the parts of the song where I have a clear idea (flashier moments or points I want to build toward), outline the flow of the dance, create a rough draft of the entire routine, and finally polish it. This process has taken as little as 3 days and as long as 4 months.

An important note: I think it’s a mistake to just sit down and go ahead without a clear idea of direction. Not to say that routine won’t come together, but it’s far easier to create something when the vision is clear.

* What would you recommend to someone who is training for a Strictly?
For faster tempo phrase battle it’s important to create sequences that you can execute well at the assumed tempo (yes, that should be obvious, but it’s not always the case). Depending on how much time you have, I’d recommend creating spot choreo (move-lettes or something one to two 8s long) that could be polished in one week to one months time. If, however, it’s more of a “just dance” competition where choreography is not the focus (or spirit), then I would recommend spending copious amounts of time social dancing with your partner to get on the same page. Philosophically, I personally don’t want to over-choreograph – I just want to put some good, solid dancing on the competition floor.

* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
On occasion, but less than I used to. So much of competing is the mind-game and if you know how to harness the anticipation/nerves/energy, it can work in your favor or it can totally work against you. To me it ends up being like performing in theater. Once I get out onto the floor, all the anticipation melts away.

* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
I grew up playing sports – track & field and soccer – and my coaches encourage all the players to use visualization and focus the nervousness.

I think it’s important to put yourself in the right head space before hitting the floor. Before a “just dance” competition, I’ll go out and have some silly dances with my parter and remind myself that I’m here to have a good time, to feel our connection, and that I trust my partner.

* What competition have you done that meant the most to you and why?
THE competition that meant the most was the Jitterbug Contest at Camp Hollywood in 2000. I was very green, a new kid in the scene, it was my first major competition, and politically I was being bullied. Essentially, some people were trying to get me out of the scene because I was seen as a threat since I was coming up the ranks without the ass-kissing. Cassanda and I competed, took 3rd, and beat out some of the bullies. Going out there with all that the BS, showing well and placing, and getting such great positive feedback from people … that was totally my Karate Kid moment.

* What is/was your favorite competition to watch? Inspiration?
I like to go back to the old clips – the original dancers. My inspiration for how I want to dance and who i want to get my inspiration/technique from is the old stuff: Buck Privates, Hellzapoppin, Gene Kelly… that’s what makes me push.

The vintage clips I draw most from for my dancing, but find some from other dance forms. I like how bodies moves, and I don’t just mean swing dancer. I love to collect different types of movement even if I won’t directly use them in my dancing. I have been inspired by many forms, but I primarily draw from the 30s & 40s as well as the dancing of the song and dance people in musicals from 1930s-1950s.

* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Always dance and compete for yourself, never for anyone else or by anyone else’s values. Don’t look for praise. Decide what your voice is, and that’s what you put on the floor. Competing should be less about the win and more about sharing who you are.
2) Don’t let the results get to you. There is always another competition and you can always improve by the next one.
3) “Dignity. Always dignity.” – Gene Kelly

Aaaaaand, here’s a little bonus from me (Jo) to you.
.

 

Judging

* Why do you judge?
I judge because I like my value system to have a say in who wins and where the dance goes.

I spent a long time developing that system of values. It’s a combination of what the original dancers handed to me – in regards to what the dance was about (not just how it’s done) – and what is good dancing. This was a several year journey – lots of research done via compare and contrast – and I was really interested in what generally makes dancing good. Specifically, I’m talking about: quality of movement, dancing with music, musicality, and connecting to partner. Coming at the dance from this perspective also helped me while I was starting my teaching career; I was constantly searching for a better way to teach/dance Lindy Hop.

* What do you enjoy about judging?
I enjoy being apart of where this dance goes and I appreciate being able to put my stamp of approval on what I think is best performance/competitor in the moment.

* What do you dislike about judging?
The main thing is when you have to think like a judge, you don’t get to enjoy it like an audience member. You don’t get to immerse yourself in the experience because you have to be analytical.

* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?
A combination of routine construction and execution. Something danced well and well-choreographed. I look for partner relationship and interaction, the degree of difficulty of what they’ve created – not just flash or WOW factor, but the little nuances – and for a representation of the dance they are supposed to be representing. For example, if it’s a Lindy Hop Routine Division and most of the routine is solo jazz, to me that warrants less of a reward than primarily doing partnered movement.

* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
I’m looking for a dynamic partnership instead of individual dancers expressing themselves while holding someone’s hand. I want to see a partnership create something together and have something to say – something that stands out from the pack.

* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Jack & Jill?
Partner connect and interaction. The point of a J&J is to dance with someone who isn’t your partner and to create a great dance together.

* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about routines/Strictlys/Jack & Jills?
Competitors make too many choices based on what the audience cheers for. They try to go for the audience appeal and approval instead of focusing on good dancing.

* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Judges don’t exist when you dance. Don’t worry about the judges. Just dance for yourself and your partner.
2) It doesn’t matter what the judge value system is – yours matters more.
3) Don’t forget to have fun

** Anything else?
Competitions are a way to help drive, inspire, and improve the scene. In no way does this say who is the best, should dictate how you social dance, or change you because you don’t think you’re enough. Don’t forget that social dancing is about the little things and competitions is about the big things, so remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.

____

 Yup, one more video for you. This is hilarious. 

 

Sylvia Sykes on Judging and Competing

Sylvia Sykes began dancing in 1966, competing in 1970, and teaching in 1979. She has studied with many of the dance greats, including Frankie Manning, Dean Collins, Maxie Dorf, and Willie Desatoff. Her extensive studies and travels have made her an expert on regional dance styles and she is known for her expertise in, and the preservation of the older forms of Swing dance. In addition, she is credited with helping to preserve the Balboa by introducing the dance World Wide. 

In 1985 Sylvia and Jonathan Bixby co-founded the Santa Barbara Swing Dance Club, a twice-monthly live-music dance club that they continue to run. She is still teaching her weekly classes that she started teaching in 1979, plus she teaches out of town over forty weekends per year. She is the most sought-after head judge in the modern Lindy Hop & Balboa dance scenes and is now part owner and head judge of the International Lindy Hop Championships.  
 
Her dance troupe ran for fifteen years, performed with some of the great Swing bands, and nurtured other International teachers. She has been a member of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance since its inception, has taught at the University of California, and has appeared in many TV shows and in several documentaries on Swing dancing over the years.
Sylvia is actively judging and teaching various forms of Shag, Balboa, and Lindy Hop throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Asia.
 

 
 
 
INTERVIEW
 
Name: Sylvia Sykes
Homebase: Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Year you started judging: not sure, but approx. 1984
Approximately how many competitions have you judged: way too many
What other dance forms do you work in? Just pantheon of swing

What is your background or connection to the Lindy Hop Community?
Been doing it since 1965, though very poorly.

 
* Why do you judge?
Now because I sort of have to..originally to have a voice for where the dance was going – whoever wins will drive the dance – so I wanted to put my two cents worth in to keep the dance connected to the roots.
 
* What do you enjoy about judging?
Not much these days other than a bit of influence to keep the dance current and connected to roots.
 
* What are some of the challenges about judging?
Weighing innovation and great ideas, but not stellar execution against perfect execution but same old same old, as well as differentiating between several couples all performing about the same and having to include and exclude them from the “money.”
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?
Musicality – seeing the music more clearly, connection, still lead & follow not just close by execution, humor (or pathos), some sort of emotion, a story, and hopefully something danced well, with some soul.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
Great partnership, action-reaction, both listening and reacting to the music as well as their partner, modifying a movement midway in reaction to music or partner.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Jack & Jill?
Great social partnering! Dancing to the level of the partner, listening, and modifying to find a common ground.
 
* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about routines/Strictly’s/Jack & Jills?
Hmm…not sure… but a pet peeve is choreographed jam in a Strictly.
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) You have no control over whether you win or not, just how you dance. Your legacy will be the dance, not the placement.
     2) Use the process to better your skills.
     3) Have a reason to compete beyond “I want to win and be famous.”
 
* Why do you think competition is valuable?
It forces you to work on your dance skills and it brings people into the dance.
 
* Why did you compete?
I don’t.
(Note: I think what she meant to say was that she doesn’t currently, because we know she did. Just click here to check her out in 1995 at the US Open!!)
 
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
Probably the National Shag Dance Championships because it really was out of my comfort zone.
 
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
Anything with good dancing!
 
* Any recommendations on how to deal with getting nervous before a competition?
Pee and poop, beforehand.
 
* What would you like to see more of in competition?
Good dancing, not merely flashy moves
 
* What would you like to see less of in competition?
Soulless execution.
 
 If you want to hear more from Sylvia, check out interview on Ryan Swift’s podcast, The Track.