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.

 

 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

 
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
 

Competing

* 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.
 
 

Judging

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.
 
 

How to Learn Choreo off of Video

Originally posted on Jo & Kevin!

It’s that time of year again, when many of the instructors at Lindy Focus are working on choreography either for an evening performance or the grand New Years Eve show. Since I, too, am working on learning choreography, I figured I’d share my process with you.

Truth be told, I’d much prefer to learn choreography in person, however, most often that is not an option. I’ve had the priveledge of working with other talented, international travelers such as: Nikki and Shesha MarvinMikey PedrozaLaura KeatNick WilliamsSharon DavisAlice MeiThomas Blacharz, and Sarah Breck – to name a few – and more often than not, someone sends a video across the WWW and hopes the person on the receiving end can learn the choreography in full. In my last performance with Alice, I sent her my notes (I will give an example later), a few breakdown videos, and a link to me performing the routine.


Check us out! Alice was a freaking champ at learning all of the details! We probably got 4-5 hours of rehearsal time in together before our performance, but that is rather unusual. Honestly, if you can get a full hour with your partner before performance time, it’s a blessing!

So moving along. The wonderful, marvelous, and effervescent Evita Arce sent me a piece of choreography to learn and it’s a really fun number. The song is New Orleans Bump by Wynton Marsalis and the dancers in the video are trained, New-York-dancers. What this means is that I have my work cut out for me!

To be specific, I have been sent a rehearsal video that is done to music; I didn’t get any prior notes or counts or explanations or anything of the sort. The reason this might be on interest is that I’m going to learn exactly what’s on the video, including any mistakes the dancers made in the video. Since I don’t have confirmation on the movement, I sometimes have to find the common denominator between the dancers when their timing isn’t together. Fun times!

I’m going to give a rundown of my process learning choreography. This isn’t the only way to do it, but it’s how I am best able to learn/visualize the choreo on a number of different levels.

  1. Download the video so I can watch it forwards and backwards. This helps me break down transitions, tricky timing, or something much-too-fancy to see at realtime. I’m on a mac and I prefer using Quicktime over a different player because I can comb through the video second by second. Suuuuuuuuuper important!
  2. Get a hold of the song. Check Spotify, buy it on Itunes, check your personal music library, or get it from the choreographer.
  3. Breakdown the song. I first break it down into eight-counts so I can see how long it is. I go through it again and put in time codes. I go through it one more time and put in musical cues that can help me identify what is where. Here’s a screenshot of what that might look like.

    So what are we looking at?
    I have my downloaded Quicktime video (upper left), I’m playing the song off of Spotify (lower left), and I’m writing my choreo down in Evernote (righthand side).
  4. Now here comes the (potentially) difficult part: breaking down the movement 8-count by 8-count. What is helpful for me to know is what foot my weight is on (if you’ve taken classes from me you know how important this is), what my arms are doing, and what count something happens on. I don’t need all of that information on every 8ct, but I need at least one of those three things.
  5. After I annotate a few phrases, I’ll go back through the video and do the choreography with my body. I go through the sections slowly. First I need to know where my body is going, and then I need to learn to string it together with the movement on either side of it.
  6. Once I have a decent idea of where my body is going, I then put the video on and try to dance that section with the music at full tempo.
  7. Next, I break down a few more phrases, dance it, and put it to music. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but something that looks similar to the video :D
  8. Once I make it to the end of the choreography, I then try to run the routine while watching the video. I’m not worried if it’s a disaster. Again, I just want to be able to get through it.
  9. DAY TWO: Yup, this takes me more than one day if I’m really going to perform it. I put the video on and try dancing it again. This shows me what solidified and what didn’t.
  10. Go back to the sections that I can’t remember or suck at. I go through them slowly to build the muscle memory I am lacking. When I do this, I take my time.
  11. Once I can do it all the way through (again, it doesn’t need to be perfect), I turn off the video and do it just to music. When I find the next set of glitches I work through those (I’m always surprised how many visual cues I’m taking). This is helpful in order to attach the movement to the music. Again, I rework the sections I can’t remember or suck at.
  12. Almost there! Now I need to try it facing the other way! What?? Yes-sir-ree! I have found I can learn choreography faster when I keep myself positioned in one direction in a room. I know at certain points in the music I should be facing a certain direction. If you can get through your piece of choreo while doing the routine facing a different direction, you should be fiiiiiiine.
  13. Last step!! Dancing it in costume!! Perhaps that seems silly, but it makes a HUGE different. Every – do you hear me? – everyprofessional knows they should run their routines in the costume before taking the stage. If you learn the routine in flats but have to perform in heels, you’ll probably be surprised with where you balance is. If you’ve been practicing in one skirt but performing in another, you might not know how slippery the material is (that’s terrifying while doing aerials). That fun thing you’re planning on wearing in your hair? Yeah, that might get knocked off, stab you in the eye, or stab your partner in the eye. The thing is, you’ll never know unless you’ve had at least one run. So do it. Full costume. Underwear and hair pieces. Do it.

So there you have it!  What do you think? Ridiculous? Amazing? Unnecessary? Fun?

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ADVICE IF YOU’RE CREATING CHOREOGRAPHY TO SEND TO OTHER PEOPLE:

  • Send the song along with the videos (yes, plural)
  • Make a video with you performing the piece full out to music (don’t mark it, do it)
  • If you’re feeling extra generous, do it again but facing away from the camera so someone doesn’t have to transpose
  • Make a video with you walking through the movement with counts. Remember to say things like “the weight is on the right”, “left arm on 7″, “move downstage starting count 5″, etc.
  • I’ve you’ve broken down the song, send that as well
Is this overkill? Yeah, maybe, but it’s almost everything someone would need in order to learn somebody else’s choreography. I don’t often have the time to put this much together when I’ve sent videos in the past, but I’m also working with other professionals and can get by with less information. That being said, if I had more videos from the back (or even side view), it would help me out :D

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Here is a short list of routines where I’ve had to do this:

Everybody’s Trucking – Choreographed by Sharon Davis
Evenin‘ – choreographed by Nathan Bugh
Blues – Choreographed by Sarah Breck
Shake that Thing – Choreographed by Hot Club Stomp
Honolulu – Originally performed by Eleanor Powell

 

‎”It turns out that the process of working toward a goal, participating in a valued and challenging activity, is as important to well-being as its attainment.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky

Honeysuckle Rose

Choreographed by the indelible Mikey Pedroza and performed by the lovely Laura Keat and myself at the SF Girl Jam.

Gaaaaah, I love this routine. It’s beautiful, simple, and classy. Mikey, thank you for choreographing something so lovely. Laura, it was a pleasure performing along side of you. SF Girl Jam organizers, thank you for creating an event where two gals can dance with their gams out!!

920 Open House – Performances

Throughout February and March, Kevin and I created two separate routines for students at Wednesday Night Hop and the 920 Special. The goal of the classes was to perform the routine at 920’s annual Open House, battle for Lindy Hop World Domination, to the cheers and adoration of hundreds of friends, family, visitors, and to inspire our dancing community. For most of the students, this was there first-ever performance. Not only that, but many of them have been dancing less than three years!!

What a fabulous job everyone did on Thursday night! To all the students: Thank you for hanging in there. Thank you for believing in yourself and sticking with you. Thank you for rehearsing and coming prepared. Thank you for your dedication, kind words, for serving as an inspiration to Kevin and me, and for adding to the lindy hop legacy.

Performances (in order of appearance)

The Careless Lindy Hoppers

The song is Viper Mad, by Rhythm Junkies, an amazing jazz band from Seattle!
http://thecarelesslovers.com/

Kevin & Jo

920 Vipers

Can you believe that these performers are ALL STUDENTS! About half of them have been Lindy Hopping for less than one year, and for most of them this is their FIRST-EVER PERFORMANCE!

The song is Viper Mad, by Rhythm Junkies, an amazing jazz band from Lithuania! http://ohsoswing.com/studio-by-the-rhythm-junkies

Teachers

Instructors and staff at The 9:20 Special perform a routine choreographed by Stefan Durham and Bethany Powell!

The song is “Swing is the Thing” by The Mills Brothers.

 

 

 

Follow-Up on Followlogie

Man, I’ve been meaning to post this for quite some time!! Sorry I was so tardy!

Followlogie has a special place in my heart. It was the first weekend I taught solo classes out of the country and was my opportunity to prove to myself that I could teach without Kevin. Nobody has said that I couldn’t, but it was something I had to prove to myself and Dominique gave me that chance. I must have done well since I’ve been invited back 3 times. 😀

This year I got to stay with Maryse Lebeau and we had lots of girl time. I got to stay in her daughter’s room and I kinda felt like a little princess. Needless to say I felt very welcomed and very well taken care of. She also made some really great muffins that I basically devoured. Yum yum yum!
I taught my group classes with Mikey Pedroza and Zack Richards. Zack did Spins and Turns with me (pictured) and I spent most of the time trying to make him laugh. Relatively I’d say I was successful. He was super easy to teach with and filled in the gaps where needed. What an awesome leader he was!

It was such a pleasure to teach with Mikey again. I think the last time we taught together was at LotR 2009. It’s been a while. In the classes we did together, I did about 30 minutes of jazz and then did 30 minutes of partner worked. Mikey did a great job listening to me make decisions on the fly and executing them flawlessly.

Can She Do the Can Can?

Here are some photos of my latest creation. I thought it’d be super fun to perform a Can Can while in a French speaking area and with none other than the exuberant Evita Arce. I figured if there would be anyone I could talk into high kicking and wearing ruffles with me, it’d be her!

It took me hours to get this routine together. I didn’t want to use the standard music, but I was running short on time so I figured I’d take the easy road. Then I had to find a good recording of it online. Relatively easy until you realize that you can find almost anything online as long as you can figure out how to search for it! I then scoured youtube for videos of Can Can dancing and needless to say there are more than a few videos to watch. I spent hours weeding through videos and watching good ones and a lot of bad ones to find inspiration and some solid direction. Most of the videos I liked had a large ensemble of girls where as I only had Evita and myself. As you’ll see below, there was plenty to do with just two girls (see video below).

So I found videos that inspired me, cut them up into bite size pieces, learned the movement, and then went to work on my own choreography. I mapped out the song, noted where the signature chorus’ were, and then decided where I wanted some of the flashy stuff to go. All I had to do next was fill in the dancing in betweent he flash moments and I was good to go.

Oh yeah, but wait, I needed costuming for this routine. A Can Can Routine doesn’t look right in jeans and a t-shirt; only skirts with ruffle will do. I went down to the local thrift store and bought 2 wedding skirt for cheap, sent them to my costume maker (thanks Mom!!) along with video, color scheme, and ideas, and then crossed my fingers there’d be enough time to get everything done. Thank goodness I was smart enough to work on costumes first before the choreography!!

Back to the dancing! So costumes were in the works, the song was mapped out, and I still had to choreograph. I hacked out some choreo in a few hours time and then tried it in a long skirt (see pictures below). That completely changed the game. Even rehearsing in pants doesn’t give you the feel or timing for the movement you’ll actually be using. I practiced the choreo a few times and then filmed it. I needed to send Evita something so she could learn the choreo. Thank goodness I still had 3 days before the event! Yup, that’s right. Idea – 4 weeks in the making. Costumes – 2 weeks in making. Choreography – 3 days in the making.

So what does this all really mean? Evita is utterly amazing! I sent her a video on Monday, changed some of the choreography on Tuesday, she worked on it Wednesday, found material to make the head pieces out of on Thursday and we met up on Friday. Ridiculous!! We would have met up earlier but my Thursday flight to Quebec was canceled due to weather. Eesh!

Saturday afternoon I got to teach part of the choreography to the students. I think they had fun running around with me 🙂 It was a very energetic class and it was fabulous to get to see the choreography performed by a bevy of ladies. I wish I had a troupe to do a can-can number with!!! That night was the performance. Nina, bless her heart, made our head pieces for us while Evita and I blocked our number a few times on the fabulous stage. Seriously, I’ve never performed on a more amazing stage than this one. The photos are gorgeous, but I don’t really think they do the place justice. Uh, and the energy in there!!! Oh, it was truly a spectacular experience.

Can-Can with Evita:

After performing that, the stress level went way down. I missed a small piece of my own choreo, but Evita was a champ about it and kept on kicking! We then needed to get ready for Nina’s number so Evita completely changed her clothes and I just took off my skirt. Classy broad!

Here are some more photos from the evening:

Dancing with Nina and the gals:

It was a great night I must say. Hahah, after the show was done, so was I. Most of the performers grabbed a drink at the bar and headed up to the balcony to catch up and see how each other were doing. From a professional and personal stand point, the night was a smash for me! I had such a good time and I really, really needed a night just like that. It’s funny how little moments can revitalize you and remind you about how fortunate you are. That night was one of those nights.

~

And the story continues!!

Oh, how fun are late nights!! I made it a priority to try and have “cultural experiences” when I travel and apparently, this is supposed to be THE place to get bagels. Here’s how it all went down. Alain Wong took Mikey Pedroza and I to get wood-oven bagels after the show on Saturday night. We go into the tiny store and there is a guy making the dough, another guy loading the doughy spheres onto a wooden plank and sliding them into the fire, and another guy behind the counter. Since it was our first time there, the man behind the counter gave each Mikey and I a free bagel. We bought some creme cheese and scarfed them down. I needed a napkin so I went back to the counter to find one. I asked if there were napkins, got laughed at, remembered they are called “serviettes” outside of the States, and corrected myself. The cashier asked where I was from and what was I doing here. I told him I was from America and was here to dance.
C: “What kind of dance?”
Jo: “Lindy hop.”
C: “What’s that?”
Jo: “Lemme show you! Hey Mikey, come ‘ere!”
Somewhere during this dialogue, Alain gets out his phone and records this:

Yup, we got half a dozen bagels for free because of that amazing showing! Hahha, and even though we were stuffed, Mikey and I still met up with a bunch of our friends and had poutine at some place that was mega packed at 1am. Double cultural experience!!