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!

Heartland Swing Festival 2011

I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d end up in Des Moines, IA (pronounced duh-Moyne), but this past weekend I got to visit a new state. As per usual, I didn’t see much of the city, but I did have a great time at the event. Here’s the run down.

Housing

We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel and had a pimp room. Not only did we have our own bed (yes, that is something to brag about) but we each had our own bathrooms!! That has never happened before. I’m guessing it was because we were at the very back corner of the hotel with the stunning view of two parking lots. 😀

The hotel restaurant and bar were also pretty good. In the mornings, Kev and I went down for breakfast and grabbed food from the buffet. Yeah for fresh fruit!! I only ate dinner at the restaurant one night but mmmm-mmmm it was really, really good. On Sunday night, a bunch of us got together and grabbed drinks at the bar before saying goodbye and again, they had some nice drinks.

Bonus: the hotel was a 5 minute drive away from the dance.

Double bonus: one of the classrooms was on the second floor of the hotel so Kev and I got to roll up to our room and hang out during lunch. Again, that was another first for us.

Noteworthy:  Fastest elevator I’ve ever been in. Hahha, I clearly just got back from Europe where the elevators are small and slow. The Renaissance also had a free airport shuttle. I’m pretty sure Michael was pretty pleased come 7am on Monday morning. :p

Fellow Instructors

We kicked it with Peter & Naomi and Tiff & Kenny this past weekend. I’m starting to see Peter and Naomi more regularly and I have to say, it’s really nice to see familiar faces while on the road. It’s like I get to see my friends at work!! Ah, the small luxuries in life.

Other fab people who were there teaching: Jon Tigert and Mandy Spencer (2010 CJC Champion), Mikey Brafford and Eve Johnson, Jenna Stworzyjanek, Oscar Hampton, Dee Daniels-Locke, and Kenna Sarge & Voice of Culture.

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Temple For Performing Arts – Grand Hall

Uh, yeah. GLORRRRRRRRIOUS.

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Performance

Kenna Sarge & Voice of Culture (Minneapolis, MN) performance on Friday night blew me out of the water. It was incredible. Their drumming and dancing was super hot and their rhythms were incredible. I hope someone posts a video of it!!

I’d also like to note that Kevin and I didn’t perform this weekend. It’s a rare occasion that we don’t perform and I will admit, I enjoyed getting to watch performances all weekend long. That being said, I’m a little sad I didn’t get to perform because I enjoy it so much, but the kids in class got to see me do my thing just a little bit during demos. *smile

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Classes

The upper-level class was impressively good. I wasn’t expecting such a high level. 🙂 Kevin and I got to talk about the difference between rock steps and syncopated rock steps, walking and triple stepping, and bouncing & pulsing. Even more impressive was the fact that people stayed in class even though we had African Drumming going on in the room next door. That was above and beyond the noisiest class I’ve ever been in. Hahah, and I have to apologize, again, to the class for my tourette-like outburst in class. I did think it was funny though.

In our 2-part aerial class, wee covered the Fundamentals of Basing and Flying, a Flying Baby Doll, and finally The Cupcake. We wanted to teach the cupcake unless we had a few students who already learned it. We did have a couple in there that already knew how to do it, so we gave them specific pointer while everyone else learned the pieces. We also showed drags at the end of the flying baby doll and the cupcake, but didn’t have time to go over them. Here’s a rundown on how to do drags/lunges.

For the ladies who asked me a number of questions about turns, here are some more tutorials on the details of turning. The guys worked on spinning on one foot and more info about that can be found here.

A little secret for you: I LOVE teaching in the US. Why? Because people speak American (yes, I said it!) and, more importantly, they know the same cultural references that I do!! I’m hilarious (if I do say so myself) in class, but often times only a few pop-culture junkies fully understand me when I’m abroad. Iowa, thank you for understanding my humor and laughing WITH me. I really, really appreciated it.

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Staff

A big THANK YOU to all the DJs, Bands, and volunteers. Without you guys, an event just wouldn’t run!! Thank you for grabbing us hot chocolate, chai lattes, lunch and bottles of wine. Ooh, and thank you for the rides!

Contest Results

Any Swing Goes – Christian Frommelt & Jenny Shirar
Same Gender – Anthony Chen & Jeremy Russell Nelson Fischer
Team – Swing Dings
Vintage Jazz – Morgan Kestner
Jack & Jill – Anthony Chen & Cassie Stoa
Slow Lindy – Anthony Chen & Chelsea Dvorchak
And congratulations to Rae Mullica for winning Miss Heartland Vintage Pin-up Contest!! To see all the contestants, click here to be redirected to facebook.

Video coming soon!!!

A Flickr photostream from the event!

Photos on Facebook from the event.

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