Bobby White on Competing and Judging

Photo by Steve Wong

Bobby teaches vintage swing dances around the world, and holds championship titles and placements in Balboa, Lindy Hop, and Solo Jazz. Over the past two years, he and his competition partner Annabel Quisao have won 8 major Balboa titles. He is the author of the popular swing dance blog Swungover, and the book “Practice Swing.”  As a dancer, he is widely recognized for his floppy hair, and as a teacher, by his sound effects. 

 

For more competition advice from this fabulous human being, be sure to check out his book, “Practice Swing!”

 

 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Name: Bobby White
Home base: NYC
Year you started judging: 2004
Year you started competing: 1999(?)
Approx how many competitions have you judged:  Hundreds at this point.
Approx how many competitions have you competed in:  No idea! Maybe hundreds, definitely more than 50.

COMPETING

 * Why do you compete? What does it do for you?
Adrenaline and peers watching can make you rise to levels in your dancing that you never have before. Reaching those moments is an amazing feeling. Sometimes you find those for a few counts, and, sometimes, you find them for an entire spotlight or song. But even if it’s just a few counts, the experience is worth it to me.

Part of the reason, I think, is because the vintage swing dances are not just social in nature, but also performative. Some people concentrate mainly on the social nature—they are happy to social dance, express themselves only as far as their partner is concerned, and never compete or enter a jam circle. A few people concentrate heavily on the performative nature, and mainly focus on putting on a show with the dance and/or on competing, and invest less in the social aspects. (This is something obvious in corporate gigs in Manhattan, by the way—when dancing for one of these gigs, our job is simply to show onlookers with hors d’oeuvres the visual power of two people doing energetic movement to swing music, and that is all. There is little desire for more.) 

For me, I *love* the place where the two meet and become intertwined—the social and performative aspects. The place where competing is social dancing with the entire room. Where both showing off and trying to rise to the heights of your technical and expressive ability is done hand in hand with showing off the conversation and relationship you have with your partner, and allowing yourself to share that vulnerable, powerful, emotional, naked experience with the people watching you.

* Why do you think competition is valuable?
As I mentioned, competition is an important way I experience the spirit of the dance. It can also be a very valuable way of giving one a goal to work for—that competition happening in a few months can inspire you to work on your dancing. The stakes and situation can inspire some great dancing that we wouldn’t have otherwise.  

That said, I agree with many of my peers that competitions tend to carry too much weight with the scene in general. It reminds me of school testing: at some point in life most of us have realized standardized school tests didn’t tell you everybody who was smart in our class, they just told you who was good at taking standardized tests. It can be the same with contests. Contest placements don’t necessarily tell you everyone who are incredible dancers, they tell you who those five judges thought danced the best in the contest that day.    

* How long before you start prepping for a competition? 
Well, every contest you prepare for is helping you prepare for the next and the next and the next just by getting you better at competition dancing. So, in that sense, I feel I began prepping for every comp I will ever do from the very first comp I did in 1999. I mention that especially so that people realize how long some of their fellow competitors have been working on the skills of competing, and don’t beat themselves up if it can take a while to feel comfortable on the comp floor. 

 Sometimes I will enter a contest just for fun, and will have very little, if any, prep.

If I have a contest coming up that I am really invested in (usually a strictly) and there are some big picture goals or techniques I want to make sure I have in my dancing by then, I will start adding specific competition prep into my usual practicing about six to four months before the comp.  I wouldn’t start any closer to the comp, because that’s how long it’s going to take for especially my new technique to get refined and engrained into muscle memory.  That also plenty of time to get the creative juices flowing, and so some new moves usually come out of the process and the time allows me polish them up. Ideally I’d be practicing at least two times a week for a few hours each practice, but more or less can often happens based on my schedule.      

* How often do you train your dancing? And what does that mean to you?
It’s hard to say when you’re a full time instructor—I spend most weekends social dancing, where I’m not only having a great time experiencing the joys of social dancing, I’m also definitely working on some aspect of it. As a teacher, you’re planning classes and teaching, and helping students master their dancing, all things which are also training your own dancing. Other than that, I try to practice at least twice a week with a partner for a few hours each practice, sometimes more. But that’s the place I am currently—I’ve gone through times when I’ve practiced a lot more, and less. It’s natural, I think, for a creative dance to have periods of focus and periods of rest. If I practice too much without inspiration, it’s easy for my dancing to get stuck in a box. 

* What do you tell yourself when you get frustrated?
After I’ve thrown an appropriate amount of furniture (just kidding) I try to remind myself of a few things. How the dance felt is almost always an exaggeration of how it went—it never goes as horrible as it feels, and you can often be surprised at how unnoticeable something can be that you thought went badly.

Secondly, I remind myself (both before and after the comp) that a contest is just a point on my dancing journey, not the journey’s end or goal. That mindset helps take pressure off of the comp which allows me to both have more fun dancing in it, and take it more in stride when things get frustrating.

I get the most frustrated when I don’t understand why things happened the way they did—why did I make that choice in the comp, or why did I not make finals when I thought I should have based on who did, etc. So an important way to handle that frustration is to search for answers—I ask myself, my peers, and my judges, which helps give me a direction for the future.   

* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
I do, though it’s changed over the years. Now it’s a heightened, excited feeling without any physical side-effects (for instance, no butterflies in the stomach) except perhaps that I end up pacing a lot.

And now my nerves are very rarely a negative feeling like “anxiety.” When I started thinking of contests as a chance to check-in on how my dancing goals were going, as opposed to the ultimate test of my dancing goals, I started having a lot less anxiety before contests, if that makes sense.  

* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
I love nerves. Being nervous is really, ultimately, just being excited. The adrenaline pumping through your body and brain is superfuel revving your engine. You want to embrace that. You want to focus them and steer nerves, not get rid of them. 

The two biggest things that help me do that are (1) working with mantras throughout my practicing, and (2) having a few rituals before the comp.

By mantra, I mean, a statement I say in my head that emotionally connects me to a healthy head space. “I love this dance because it is fun to do” is a simple mantra, for instance, that I might use if I find myself getting too serious and anxious about a contest. I will constantly say that mantra (and make sure it connects emotionally) throughout the preparation for the contest, so that I basically engrain that reminder just as much as I engrain whatever new move I want to show off in the comp. (Ultimately, it’s waaaay more important in showing off what the dance means to me than the cool move, anyway.)   

The second thing is contest rituals. For example, with Annabel, my Bal comp partner, we have a quiet cocktail about an hour before the comp away from the dance. That gives us a chance to breathe calmly, get perspective, and thus focus our excitement. That’s only one of many examples of rituals, but I think there’s a reason why professional athletes are notorious for their rituals—they work.      

* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
In 2015, Annabel Quisao and I did the ABW Classic Balboa Strictly (below). There’s a lot of reasons why this was the most important to me, but probably the biggest one is that, for the first time, I truly felt we danced without thought along “the edge”—The place where you’re dancing completely in the moment, right there with the music, not knowing what’s going to come next but trusting that the song and your partner will take you there.

The reason it worked so well was because of how well we work together, and the literally hundreds of hours we had put into working on our partnership, which is another reason it meant the most to me—looking back, the contest reminds me of all those great times in the studio of exploration and refinement and exhaustion and going to get hot dogs afterwards because the only place near our studio was a hot dog place, and we both love hot dogs.      

That competition reminded me that a swing dance competition exists to reflect why you dance, not be why you dance.

* What is/was your favorite competition to watch? Inspiration?
Hmmm, tough one. I watch and get inspired by so many, and the very breadth of amazing dancers and partnerships and the many different ways our dances are danced is perhaps the most inspiring part of all. I’ll have a favorite clip for one month and then the next month find a new clip to geek out about.

I will say that my inspirational clips are a combination of demos and competitions, not just competitions. Demos can often have a lot more socially relaxed experience which can be hard to find in comps, but is still valuable when preparing for comps. 

* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
Well, I’m glad you asked! It just so happens Annabel Quisao and I did a video on comp tips: 


Though one tip we didn’t mention that I think would be great for up-and-coming competitors is this:

Make it a goal in a contest to show what swing dancing means to *you.* If you don’t like a certain move, then don’t do it, even if it’s trendy and people do it in contests. If you have a weird thing you like that other people don’t do, do it. If you do something from an authentic place of joy and the music and your partner, it’s never wrong. Who got first place will be irrelevant pretty quickly, but who inspired people will not be easily forgotten.

Judging

* Why do you judge?
Because someone has to, and I’ve got some pretty strong opinions about how it should be done correctly.

That said, I think I might be perfectly happy if the finals of some swing contests ceased having judging. I think at that point, the placements can often detract from the inspiration that the contest dancing gives the audience. If I run an event with a contest again, I think I would try to have all finals be unjudged and unplaced, not even audience judging, and see how it went down. I think the dancers would be more themselves, the natural competitive energy would be there anyway, but the removal of the fear of being ranked would make the dancing be even more inspiring. So, yeah, the more I think of it the more I think that it could be the perfect competition format for an artistic dance. I’d love to try it. Maybe I can get an event I work at to allow me to host one.

(You heard it here first, folks.)  

* What do you enjoy about judging?
Very little, actually. It’s not natural for me, and I have to work hard to create what I think of as a fair assessment of the competitors in comparison to each other. Then after I will discuss with judges and often they see some very different things, which means further work in updating and reevaluating my system or what I think of theirs. I do, however, enjoy learning a lot about my values and the values of others because of all the hard thought that goes into judging and competing.

This might sound strange, but one thing I really enjoy about judging is when I get to tell competitors who haven’t won that I thought they were fantastic for this and this and this reason. They can look at my scores, and they might see I put them in first or second, or whatever, and I get to prove to them that they inspired me even though they might not have walked home with a trophy.   

Contest placements don’t necessarily tell you everyone who are incredible dancers, they tell you who those five judges thought danced the best in the contest that day.  

* What do you dislike about judging?
One thing I dislike about judging is I think a lot of judges have some pretty big flaws. They judge with huge biases for certain styles/moves/techniques, or very closed-minded or even bluntly inaccurate ideas about what Lindy Hop/Bal/Shag/Solo jazz  is “supposed” to be. (And, of course, I have been one of them, especially in my early years.)  They may care more about small things like hand-misses than they do about big things like depth of partnership interaction or overall precision of rhythm. They judge by gut feeling alone, and never thoroughly explore those gut feelings to make sure those feelings are right.  

Judging well requires a lot of work exploring what the dance means and what values are more important than others. It takes constantly revisiting those values and having conversations with other judges.  I think everyone knows that teaching, dancing, and competing are their own skills that take lots of specific practice. Judging is no different.  

I encourage anyone who wants to be a judge to watch lots of videos of the history of the dance *from all eras of its history*, to have conversations with other judges both before and after a contest (during is not usually considered fair unless it’s specifically stated the judges are allowed to do so), and whenever you have a gut feeling about a placement, always take a moment before scoring to explore why you have that gut feeling.    

* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?
In routines, I rate showmanship as a high priority. It’s the very nature of a routine to know exactly what’s going to happen, and so the judgment now is on what they’ve chosen to choreograph, and how they get that vision to the audience.  

* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
Since strictlys are for people who know who their partner is, I rate partnership as a high priority. I’m looking for how they work together, how they move together in complimentary ways, how they support each other when their partner is playing, and ultimately, what they are showcasing as a partnership, be it something specific like complicated steps, mini-choreographies, or air steps, or on a much broader scale, what the dance means to them.  

* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Random Partner Contest?
In a random partner contest, I rate adaptation and conversation as a high priority. That could mean a lot of things: I’m looking for how dancers express themselves and how they support their partner’s expression, I’m looking for how they make changes to their dancing in order to keep the dance successful, and what difficult things they are so good at doing that they can make it work with a random partner. 

Final thoughts?
Being truly happy and confident as a competitor comes naturally to almost no one. It takes a lot of self-reflection, habit-changing, and time. If you did not grow up competing in things that judge you as an individual or partner, then it’s understandable that as an adult competing might throw your personality for a loop. You suddenly act differently or have surprising amounts of  anxiety.  It can even make you severely question your worth, not just as a dancer, but as a human.

With that in mind, know first off that you’re not alone. Secondly, if you really enjoy the idea of competing, I recommend making that the main goal of your next contest. Throughout your practicing, and the moments before during and after your contest, keep reminding yourself of whatever it takes to put you in a healthier headspace.

Maybe start with “I do this because it is fun” and go from there.

Photo by Wandering & Pondering

 

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.
 
 

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!
 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

 
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.
 
 

COMPETITION

 
* 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.

Pamela Gaizutyte on Competing and Judging

Pamela has been dancing since she was 5 years old. She did traditional Lithuanian folk dancing for years, until she found her passion in Lindy Hop at the age of sixteen. In 2009, she began working at Hoppers’ Dance Studio in her hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania, where she surrounds herself with rhythm on a daily basis as she practices, performs, and teaches Lindy Hop and vernacular jazz.

Pamela Gaizutyte is one of the most exciting followers to burst onto the international swing scene in recent years. Her creativity, personal style and sense of musicality are an inspiration. Pamela enjoys spreading the joy of dance and sharing her knowledge, and is excited to travel to new and faraway places to do so.

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

 
Name: Pamela Gaizutyte
Home base: Vilnius, Lithuania
Facebook: here
Year you started competing: 2009 (started dancing 2008)
Approx how many competitions have you competed in: 30-50
 
 

Competing

* Why do you compete?
Sometimes I compete just to make myself practice as it pushes me to challenge myself and work on something (anything). Other times it’s so that I have an opportunity to create something with another person. I find that in the Lindy Hop World, the average dancer doesn’t have a lot of performance opportunities in order to make a name for themselves or get recognized with a partner, so that’s where competition comes in.
 
* Why do you think competition is valuable?
Competing is valuable because it makes you work through a stressful situation. This is a great way to see how your body moves naturally or under pressure. You get to see your true skills, strengths, and flaws. It’s also a great place to get experience. Hmmm….what else? You could win some things like an event ticket! I used to do that: I would borrow money from my family and friends so that I could compete in the hopes that I might win a ticket to another event, and then I would only need to get myself there and find a place to stay! 
 
* What’s your personal philosophy on J&Js?
I’ll be there for my partner, for sure. It’s not only “social dancing,” so it’s not time to challenge my partner and surprised them. For example, let’s say my partner and I are dancing for the first time in a competition. I’ll try to calm down if they don’t have a lot of experience and really be there for them. But if I know what to expect because I’ve already danced with that Leader before, I don’t change my dancing – I still will style and takespace when I can.
 
Partner first, music second, self third, and audience fourth.
 
* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
Oh my goodness, I used to getnervous; I couldn’t control my limbs! So yeah, I used to, and it would make me feel ill. I finally said to myself, “If I am going to be nervous like that again, then I will not perform or compete.” I want to have a fun time, not make myself sick!
 
Hahah, I have even thrown up after a performance before! That’s how nervous I’ve been before.
 
In the past, I have done a bad job performing and that made me really upset. I had to ask myself why was I put myself in a position if it wasn’t pleasurable. And then I stopped being nervous. Now I appreciate performing and competing much more.
 
* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
I talk to myself before I head out to the competition dance floor by reminding myself the reasons why am I dancing. Mainly, I tell myself that I am sharing my experience, and that helps ground me.
 
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
ESDC Solo Jazz (2015) was the most meaningful. It was me, Tatiana Udry, and the boys. At that moment I felt like I wanted to show whatever I was feeling in that moment with my dancing. I knew that it might not be very aesthetic to watch, but that was not the most important thing to me. Dancing “me” was the most important, and I did that. I was really proud of myself.
 
On a side note, I would like to see equal or more gals compete in solo jazz competitions AND be recognized for their work! Sometimes it feels like some of the gals are not willing to push themselves when they compete and I really want them to push harder and go beyond their comfort zone.
 
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
Probably J&J because that’s where the most magic can happen!
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) Be ok with the level you’re at. Enjoy where you are.
     2) Question everything as that’s the best way to learn.
     3) Dance with confidence in yourself, and then you will leave no space to be judged.
 

Judging

* What do you enjoy about judging?
Focusing on the dancers, paying more attention to what’s happening with their bodies, connection, and rhythms.
 
* What do you dislike about judging?
Sometimes it’s tough to choose placements or criterias that guides you through what you wanna see in the dance.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?
Attitude, personality, musical choices/interpretations.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
Equality, conversation between partners, and solid connection (in the meaning that as they are partners they understand each others’ dancing).
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a J&J?
Generosity, attention to each other, move/rhythm suggestions, like a call and response.
 
* What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about routines/strictly’s/J&J?
That placement kinda guides you or reveals what kind of dancer you are. 
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) Just dance like you are social dancing or they way you do in rehearsal and try to remember that feeling.
     2) Find something you’d like to emphasize something when you perform or compete –  like slides or dancing more on rhythm section – getting inspired by your partners footwork. If that doesn’t speak to you, then maybe choose an emotion before you go out onto the stage and “be” that.
     3) Listen to the music – it has many many answers and suggestions.
 
_______
 
To me, Pamela embodies pure joy when she dances. She has that rare ability to let go of the world around her and exist in the flow of the music and the power of her movement. I don’t have a clear memory of the first time I saw her, but I always remember knowing that she had “it” and that she was going to be a force in the Lindy World, if she wanted to be. It’s been a pleasure to see how she’s matured in her career; training and teaching with multiple partners, becoming a road warrior, finding her voice, and most recently creating a shoe company.
#soproud

 

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.
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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. 

 

Camp Jitterbug 2010 Competitions

What an outstanding set of competitions this year!!! Holy cow.
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Jack & Jill Finals


Winners:
1st: Mikey Pedroza (OC) & Laura Glaess (Austin, TX)
2nd: Eric Bertrand (Montreal, CAN) & Stacia Martin (Minneapolis, MN)
3rd: Andrew Hsi (OC) & Mary Freitag (OC)
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Lindy Couple Finals


Winners:
1st place: Pontus Persson & Frida B.
2nd place: Nick Williams & Laura Keat
3rd place: Michael Darigol & Brittany Johnson

I had such a great time watching this competition! Every couple out there danced their ass off and the crowd freaking loved it! Fuck…..that was lindy hop.
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Charleston Finals


Winner: Jessica Lennartsson (Sweden)
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