Felix Berghäll on Competing and Training

Felix is a swing dance instructor, performer, and choreographer based in Stockholm, Sweden. Like any other Swedish dancer he started in the Swedish Competition Scene at the age of nine with “bugg” as his main style. One year later he took his first basic six count step in Boogie Woogie and has never stopped. 

At the age of 16 he made his first visit to Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden and fell in love with the African American social dances of the swing era such as Lindy hop, Vernacular Jazz, Charleston and Tap. Since then, he has tried to learn everything he can in order to develop his dancing, music, and teaching skills. He wants to pass on this knowledge to people all over the world. He is a strong believer of the freedom and the authentic style of the dance and the connection you create with your partner and the music. 

He sees swing dancing as a way to bring people together and bring happiness in to their life. Because when he dances that’s is all he can think about and express: pure happiness!


Name: Felix Kim Alexander Berghäll
Home base: Stockholm, Sweden
Year you started competing: 2001
Approx how many competitions have you competed in: I went in to a page where we can check how many competitions I’ve entered in our community in Sweden, and it said over 500. And then I’m not including any of the Boogie Woogie International Competitions I’ve done. Or any of the competitions I’ve entered at international events such as Snowball, ESDC, ILHC, Savoy Cup, Harlem, etc. I think I’ve entered at least a 1000 competitions/divisions  
What styles of dance have you competed in: Bugg, Double Bugg, Boogie Woogie, Lindy Hop, Rock’n’Roll, Authentic Jazz, Blues/Slow drag, Collegiate Shag.


* Why do you compete?
I think, at the beginning, I just really enjoyed the idea of dancing, and this was how I could do it. That’s how it was possible. That’s how kids did it. After some time, I realized that I most enjoyed the performance, and enjoyed giving something to the audience. I like giving people a show and, let’s face it, everyone loves to make an audience go crazy!
* Why do you think competition is valuable?
It motivates people by giving them a great goal to work towards. Even if you don’t think you’ll get to the podium, you still have to go out knowing that you will get watched and judged, and at the end you’ll get feedback on your performance. I get extremely excited about the feedback because it shows me how I can improve.
Competition teaches you how to be serious about what you’re doing. It gives you time to think about what you can do with the dance. I used to think of the dance as a sport, but through competition, I’ve learn to see how I can create an art form out of it.Competition also increases the exposure of the dance. It helps populate the world with amazing dance clips that excite people and builds up enthusiasm for Lindy Hop. If you ask someone on the streets of Stockholm, they know what Lindy Hop is and that’s super cool!  
I also think the emphasis on competition is one of the reasons young Swedes get so good so early — the competition drives them to put in hours and hours of practice. One of the problems this has created is that there’s not a good enough connection between the competition and the social scene in Sweden. But that’s up to us dancers and teachers to change that!
* What’s your personal philosophy on J&Js? 
I always have this idea when I dance with a person, I am dancing for that person. That’s everything: make them look good, don’t show off your ability to lead complicated moves, give them space for variations, try to be connected to the person in front of you, and try to hear the music together. Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes we are on a different page. That doesn’t mean I stop dancing myself, but my priority is showcasing my Follower.

“At the competition, you can’t do anything more than you already have trained.” 

* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
Not really, because I’m so focused. But maybe that’s just a way of taking care of the nervousness. I rely on the training that I’ve done (in the sports scene). At the competition, you can’t do anything more than you already have trained. You can’t do anything extra. You have the routine and you aren’t going to do it much better than at the last practice.

The only time I got nervous was for Wilma last year in the Pro/Am at ILHC. I wanted to make sure that she got to shine. I didn’t want to ruin her experience because I messed up!  When we rehearsed, we kept missing things, but we knew that we’d fix it out on the floor.

* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
Generally, I’m relying on the work I’ve already done. If it’s not a choreography, then I try to rely on myself.I might get nervous because of the other people on the floor – I want to show my best for them – so I focus on being the best version of myself. That can help calm my nerves.
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
The Team at ILHC 2016. We had a really tough year building the choreo and making it work. The first time we choreographed as a team, we decided that we weren’t going to go to ILHC as a team if we couldn’t win. There were rumors circulating that we were going to come, and we wanted to get something great together, but it wasn’t until we finished the choreography that I felt like we had something really successful.
It was a lot of work, too. We met four separate weekends (Friday afternoon, all day Saturday & Sunday) to get the choreography together. In between, we made videos and sent them to each other. We had David Dalmo with us for 2 of the weekends (which was amazing) so we didn’t have that much time together. And we did one full day at Snowball last year.
We hadn’t actually done the choreography all the way through until we performed it on the competition floor at ILHC. We always had a challenge: people weren’t around, injuries, it was too fast, etc. But we made sure that we rehearsed ourselves and we made our own parts and could rehearse solo.  So at ILHC during the morning run-throughs, we did the full choreo without aerials, but not all the way through. That was insane.

And then when we won, it brought the group closer to each other.  That will always be a memory that we can carry forever.
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
I think the favourite one will always be the main Boogie Woogie Finals at the Swedish Championship. That’s always something special, and I can’t explain why. It’s something that you have to experience.In the social scene I would say J&Js or Pro Classic. And now in the last two years, it’s been amazing to watch the  comps at Savoy Cup (Montpellier, France) and taking part in it as well: Vintage Routine, Cabaret, Chorus line, etc. … so many different things that really shows the true spirit of the dance.
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) Practice. Train. Practice hard if you want to succeed. Train your body – do lots of cardio.
     2) Enjoy yourself. Take it seriously, but it needs to be fun, otherwise what’s the point?
     3) Patience – don’t think you’ll succeed immediately; it will take time to get good, so allow yourself the space to do it. It takes years to get there. 
* How do you prep for a Strictly? How far in advance do you start your preparation?
My partner and I would learn the format and try to create choreo that would fit. Some years the choreography just wouldn’t fit. Now I do more social dancing to lots of different tempos with my partner. I don’t get stuck trying to pair things together. I’ll have a small piece of choreo, but I don’t rely on it. It’s really important to dance at higher tempos so you don’t fumble when the music gets fast.
At the most, my partner and I would train 4 times a week for at least 2 hours per session. Maybe one of them would be social dancing. The other hour would be a showcase, depending on where we were in the competition season.
We didn’t have coaches, but sometimes we would have people help us with aerials. We’d set what we wanted to get done when we arrived, and we’d begin with some kind of warmup like running and stretching.
* How do you prep for a Showcase/Classic? How far in advance do you start your preparation?
For the Showcase: Usually for the Swedish Championships, we start with the idea of a song about 6 months in advance, and then about 5 months before the competition we’d start organizing it. Before we listened to your podcast, we would try to map out the song (what we like, small details, hits, instruments, sounds we like), but after we listened to your podcast, we filmed ourselves social dancing, decided to cut our music, figure out the theme AND THEN map out our song. By filming ourselves social dancing,  ideas came spontaneously, which made creating choreo so much easier!
To me, a showcase has a theme, a story we want to tell with a beginning and an end. Depending on the song, we might be super inspired (in which case, we can do the choreography quickly) or not (in which case it goes very slowly).
For Classics: we start during the summer at Herrang. We’d have a more regular set of time where we’d meet up and rehearse. It could take as little as 3 days, or a week, or as much as a couple of months.  It all depends. It’s all easier now because we’ve done so many shows together, but if we gave ourselves more time, we could do something even cooler.
* Do you compete in other dances? If yes, what is training like?
Boogie Woogie. In terms of practice, it’s even harder than Lindy Hop. It’s a lot of time and entails a lot of high tempo work: social dancing at high tempos and performing at high tempos. We do 3-4 rehearsal set like that. When were done with rehearsal, we are exhausted.
It’s tough. We have to train a lot of things other than dancing– we have to go out running together, do intervals, and strength training. My partner and I had to make a schedule – a shared calendar – and we’d rehearse and workout together.
So it is said, I did this before I started traveling for Lindy Hop. From 2011-2014, I had a full-time job (7am-4pm), but after that I got done with work, I’d drive an hour to rehearsal and train from 6-10pm, and then I’d drive back home. Sometimes my partner would come up to where I was living.  We didn’t do anything else. Every weekend we’d travel to compete. We only worked, danced, and rehearsed because we wanted to go to the World Championships.
* How often do you train your dancing? And what does that mean to you?
In the last 3 weeks, I traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania to work with Egle Regelskis (Thurs-Mon) and we rehearsed every day from 11am-6pm to make a Classic for Savoy Cup. It was super fun. The week before that I was in NY rehearsing with Michael Jagger to do something at Jazz Roots. 

Normally, if I’m at home for a week, I’ll train my dancing every day. Maybe do a show with Hannah and Mattias, a rehearsal with Mikaela or Anders on Boogie, Lindy, Tap, Jazz, or whatever we feel like. We train body work. It all depends on what the week/weekend has in store. Life for me is only about dancing!

My body is still young, so I’m doing what I can with what I have. And there are so many good dancers in Stockholm who want to rehearse!  The only downside for other dancers in Stockholm is that there is a great divide between the us and the students, and we are extremely busy training with each other — so its difficult to break into that world. That being said, this last year and a half I’ve starting traveling more and more and it’s been harder to keep the standards up regarding training every week. And I miss that a lot! So I need to start planning that better and so I can do something about it!

If you want to go somewhere new and find people to rehearse with, I think the best place is either Vilnius, Barcelona, or Seoul. In all of these places there are a lot of dedicated dancers!

* What do you tell yourself when you get frustrated?
I’ve always told myself: “one more time.” I just run these things and over again. Again. Again. Again. I would say I rehearse a lot.
© Light eX Machina 2017, all other rights reserved.