Delilah Williams on Competing

 (featured image by Steve Kim)

Delilah can be found truckin’ at dance events all over! She was classically trained in ballet since birth and bumped into swing dancing at 15. It was then in 2005 that she got the bug, the lindy bug! Delilah learned how to swing dance at the mercury cafe and started traveling to workshops. Over the years, she has performed and competed individually and with numerous teams including the CU jitterbuffs, Atomic Rhythm, Baltown Grapplers, Woodside Jumpers, and 23skidoo! She is part of Denver’s premiere girl troupe, The Diamond Dolls. The two awards that she is most proud of are the Golden Budgie and the Underground Jitterbug Championships at Camp Hollywood 2015. Her cheerful smile, playful presentation, and creative movements will put a smile on your face.

 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Name: Delilah Williams
Home base: “Welcome to Denver, CO, the mile high city!” (They say that on the train in the airport and I always speak along with it and people look at me like I’m a total nut.)
Year you started competing: My first studio competition was in 2003, and my first swing was in 2006.
Approximately how many competitions have you competed in: I tried counting, but I couldn’t remember them all. I believe over 100.
 
* What’s your dance background?
My grandma, mom, grandfather, and father had to lug me to ballet starting at 3 years old. A few years later they tried to get me into other activities (soccer, piano, etc.) but instead I started tap and jazz! I grew up in a small town where there was just one studio. My dance teacher is the only reason I am still dancing. She was always supportive of everyone, and even allowed the kids sometimes to help with pieces of choreography. Then, in high school my best friend, Kendall Roderick, and her family offered to take me to the Mercury Café to try swing dancing in 2005. I thought it sounded super lame, but I went and I was completely hooked. Their family drove us for two years down from our hometown of Evergreen, to Denver until we were able to drive ourselves down the hill. I participated in the studio until 2007, when I decided to only focus on Lindy Hop! I still enjoy doing modern dances, currently I am learning K-pop with a few friends!
 

* Why do you compete?
For me, I love the energy of competitions and performances, it allows me to lose myself and give everything to the crowd, music, and my partner. Social dancing is amazingly fun, but it is missing a component that drives people to push boundaries and try for things they normally wouldn’t on the social floor. The crowd and music drives the dancers, the dancers drive the crowd and the music. The energy can either feed into your insecurities, or feed into your badass cookie jar. I compete to lose myself in the moment, to not think and just do with my partner and the music. It is such a rush when the crowd cheers so loud that it drowns out the music, but you keep going not sure if you’re even on time.

* Why do you think competition is valuable?
Competition allows you to push boundaries of what you thought was possible in your dance, doesn’t matter the style. Because of this, I believe that competitions can help to hook new dancers in, keep veteran dancers interested, and create a platform for growth within the dance. When you see people striving to be better and better on the competition or performance floor, as a newer or veteran dancer what you’re seeing can inspire you. Whether it inspires you to try a new trick, or learn a new dance, it doesn’t matter. It peaks your interest, you look at more videos, take more classes, and grow yourself as a dancer. This intense drive to learn, change or be the best allows the scene to continue to grow. It’s awesome to see different styles showcased together, whether it be social dancing vs choreography, or smooth vs chunky, or bal vs shag, whatever!

* What’s your personal philosophy on Jack and Jills?
Jack and Jills are tough. It is easy to overthink stylizations, moves, the music, everything. I go into J&J’s trying to only focus on my partner and the music. If you can find a way to turn off your mental brain that’s telling you a billion things at once and let yourself be in the moment with your partner, you will look back at your video and be like “DAMN I didn’t even know we hit that”. One thing that helps me be in the moment is scatting and spotting my partners chest while I’m dancing.

* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
I not only get nervous, but I get extremely anxious because I absolutely love being in front of people doing my thing and I cannot wait to get out there. But at the same time, I do worry that I will fail. I cannot stop bopping around before competitions, and I can be so high strung and psyched that I hate it when people touch me before I go out!

from Wandering & Pondering

* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
The mind is a powerful thing. If I am doing aerials I always wear my hair in the same style, a one piece jumpsuit usually made by my amazing mother and grandmother (so my costume can’t distract me), and have my chapstick on hand. I always practice in costume prior to comps, as in days or weeks. Before the competition I have a warm up routine that I was taught by Gabriel Cashman in 2012 before a competition at Midwest Lindy Fest, which calms me down. For me, ritual is key. I also try to put as much positive energy out into the space as possible. If I think I will fall on a trick, I will. If I know I will nail it, then I will. Once I am out there and the music starts, I straight up check out until the end and try to be in the moment.

* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
Easily it is the Underground Jitterbug Championship in 2015 with my partner, Kenny Nelson. The UJC is a magical gathering at some Camp Hollywood’s, where anyone who wants to compete goes in the circle and throws everything they got until the end. It usually ends up being about 4-5 songs long by the end. Growing up swing dancing in Denver, it was always about fast music and tight air. I had watched the UJC when I was younger and always wished I could have the confidence to throw in such a tight competition. I was worried we would get tapped out early, or not make the finals, but, we did! That was the first night that I felt confident and free while doing called aerials in front of a crowd. I have never done very well with crowd judged contests until recently, and it felt awesome to have the crowd pick you. That being said, what took the cake for me was winning the Golden Budgie (rock the house award) for our performances over the weekend. Being recognized for what you love is an amazing feeling.

You can either watch the last 3 minutes of this epic competition, or you can check out the whole thing (below).

* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
In general, my favorite competitions to watch are the amateur divisions. Specifically, I loved this last amateur lindy comp at Camp Hollywood this year. Amateurs in general can have less preconceived notions about what they should and shouldn’t do, and also they have less pressure on their shoulders to maintain a certain level of performance that they’re already demonstrated. They go out there, ready to rock what they have, and usually it is crazy fun and different!

* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Do what you need to be comfortable. If you are not comfortable physically, or mentally, you will not look comfortable to the crowd. Do you hate dresses? Then don’t wear dresses! Not sure if you hair is going to stay? Fix it into a stable style, because otherwise your energy will be put into thinking about it falling. People always give me a hard time about how crazy my face is when I compete and dance in general, but for me what makes me feel comfortable and hit what I want to hit is scatting with the music. So, I may look insane but I still look like I LOVE what I’m doing, which means the crowd will be more likely to get on my side than if I looked unsure if my steps. Which brings me to my next point…

2) Love every single thing you do, even if it sucks. While you’re in front of a crowd, the biggest thing that matters is confidence in what you do. It’s not like YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook. They don’t get to rewind, so if you mess up keep going and turn that into something legit, they won’t be any the wiser. Sometimes it works out even better! One way to improve confidence would practicing, especially with a group so you are used to people around and watching you. I fell twice at Montreal Swing Riot, hard, but I did not mope, cry, or freak out until the competition was finished. The audience doesn’t care if you screw up, as long as you keep going. Which brings me to my final point…

3) So you screwed up? Well that sucks, but trust me every single person has not so great videos of their dancing floating around on YouTube. Watch it, cry a little bit, and move on. Watch all of your videos and other videos of competitions that you enjoy over and over, until you know when the crowd screams, when the trumpet player reaches the climax of his solo, or how you or your favorite couple nails that trick. Even if it’s one of your sucky videos, watch it until you like something about it. There is always a positive to a competition, and finding that can help your brain focus on something positive, instead of your screw up. Visualization of what you want to be and do is a huge part of competing. If you can’t think it or believe, you will not do it. I watch the videos that I like and do not like until I like something about it and can visualize how I would have approached the pieces I didn’t like in a constructive manner. Plus, it allows you to draw from other couples and see what they did that you liked!

 
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I have admired Delilah for years. To me, she’s always been around, just killin’ it. She wears fun/funky clothes, has a sweet set of swivels, a member of rad girl gang (ehhemm….the Denver Diamond Dolls), had a solid work ethic, a vibrant personality, and her Face-ography is unparalleled in the Lindy Hop Community. Not only that, but she has great hair!! As a fellow colored-hair person, I have to give a little shout out to her fabulous ‘do! #slay #ladycrush

 
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Anthony Chen on Competing

Beginning with his more traditional roots, Anthony started dancing at age 8 when his parents convinced him to learn and perform Chinese Lion Dances. At age 15 he was introduced to breakdancing at a speech and debate tournament, and shortly thereafter he found his home in the local swing community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he quickly fell in love with Lindy Hop. Throughout his dancing career he has trained in several other types of styles from hip-hop to Argentine Tango to West Coast, but most of all he enjoys drawing upon them to expand upon his technique and creativity in Lindy Hop. On the social dance floor, he is known to be playful, musical, creative, and clear; sometimes people call him a “magical unicorn.” He holds first place titles from events such as Lindyfest and Lone Star Championships, Montreal Swing Riot, Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown, and International Lindy Hop Championships. His teaching style focuses on energy, technique and connection theory, and his love of both leading and following has been instrumental to making the classes that he teaches both clear and intuitive.

Website: www.saltlakeswing.com

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Name: Anthony Chen
Home base: Salt Lake City
Year you started judging: 2008
Year you started competing: 2006
Approximately how many competitions have you judged: Probably 30-40
Approximately how many competitions have you competed in: I don’t know how many I’ve competed in, but I’ve placed in about 70 competitions. 

Competing

* Why do you compete? What does it do for you?
Gosh, I think I just do it because it’s fun. I’m not someone who likes to be in the center of attention, but it’s a great feeling when you can get the crowd cheering.

* Why do you think competition is valuable?
A common answer I think would be that it drives the level up. I’m totally on board with that–it can be inspiring to yourself and to other dancers to work on the craft and for everyone to become better dancers. However, another reason that I find to be just as important, is that it teaches you to be present, to be expressive, and to step out of your comfort zone. A dancer can get by just fine by only social dancing, and they can grow to become an amazing social dancer. On the other hand, through competing, you can build upon your skills as a dancer and as person: you learn to project your energy, draw people in, and gain confidence in yourself.

* What’s your personal philosophy on Jack and Jills? 
I try to dance like how I would socially, which I know is easier said than done, when everyone is watching you. I would feel like I’m lying if I said they’re the exact same thing; my Jack and Jill dancing is not the same as my social dancing; if I’m not careful, there’s a lot more unbridled energy that can go into a competition-social dance from the adrenaline rush. At one point, I found it helpful to imagine that everyone is watching when I’m just social dancing, just to help get rid of those nerves later. In both social dancing and in Jack and Jills, my focus is always on my partner–I really just want them to have a good time. That helps me relax, and can often help them relax too. Oh, and dance to the music.

* How do you prepare for a Strictly? How far in advance do you start your preparation?
It’s actually been more than 10 years since I’ve lived in the same city as a competition partner, and for most of the time since then I actually haven’t had a regular partner. Thus, the vast majority of strictly competitions that I do are essentially Jack and Jills, with minimal preparation prior to the competition, usually at the event itself. By minimal, I mean something like figuring out the entrances and exits, so we don’t always start with a swing out (which honestly isn’t the worst thing) and don’t always end on a Minnie-dip (not a bad ending either).

* How often do you train your dancing? And what does that mean to you?
When I was on a performance team, we would train about twice a week (ramping up to 3-4 times a week about a month out from the event), several hours a day. This would entail working on choreography, peer-critiques, and repetition. But that was a while back…without a partner in my scene, I cross train a lot (I love the outdoors!) and I spend a lot of time in my head. A good friend of mine would often ask me what I’m thinking about when I get that far-off look…and it’s almost invariably dance moves. I come up with things in my head, and then try them off the dance floor with a partner or a dance friend. When I get the lead/follow down, then I might bring it onto the social dance floor. If I feel comfortable leading and following it socially for a while, you might see it in a Jack and Jill.

* What do you tell yourself when you get frustrated?
Hmm. I just don’t often get frustrated, haha. But this to me dives into a completely different topic. One thing I’m always working on is self-awareness. I try to change things that I know are in my locus of control, and focus less on things that are outside of that. This minimizes a lot of that frustration for me.

* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
Sure I do. I think the more material I’ve prepared for a competition, the more nervous I may be. So I rarely feel nervous for Jack and Jills; I just go out and enjoy the dance. Strictlys or routines can have a lot more on the line, but the more you practice choreography, the easier it is to learn and retain, and the less nervous you get.

* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
Getting more performances and competitions under your belt is the sure-fire way to help with nerves. But right before a competition, per se, I might stretch, bounce around a bit, sip some water, and put on chapstick.

* What is/was your favorite competition to watch? Inspiration?
I don’t have a specific competition that’s my favorite, but I do like watching Jack and Jills–it’s most inspiring to see how people connect and what they come up with on the spot. Strictlys and Showcases can definitely be incredible and skillful, but Jack and Jills create those magical moments that are just so much fun to witness!

* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Make sure you do it for the right reasons. Do you compete for fame or recognition? That’s fine if you do. But I would wager that people find themselves in the dance scene because it’s a fun activity, and it’s a welcoming community. If your attitude about competing makes you lose sight of the reasons why you dance, then it may be helpful to re-evaluate. Judges can also see right through this. Don’t try too hard.
2) Think you’re getting the hang of things, and your Lindy hop is feeling good? Great. Keep taking classes. Take beginner classes. Pay attention to how the instructors teach. Be humble. When you start thinking that you’re really good is when you stop improving. And no one likes an ass.
3) Smile.

** Anything else?
Yeah. One thing I tell a lot of advanced students is to not stop dancing with beginner dancers. If you just dance with peers who are the same or a higher level than you, they’ll often adapt and cover for your mistakes. Dance with lower level dancers so you learn how to adapt and cover for theirs. One of the main reasons why I continue to love dancing is because I feel that I have the capability to make a dance enjoyable for my partner; seeing her or his smile makes all the difference for me. Because of this, I’ve never stopped enjoying dancing with beginners: they smile all the time!