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.
 
 

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

 

Nalla Kim on Judging and Competing

Nalla Kim has traveled the world as an instructor, competitor, and judge and is a mainstay in the booming swing dance scene of Seoul, South Korea. In 2008, Nalla met his partner and wife, Jessica Yoon and have been teaching together ever since. Nalla & Jessica have taken home several International and National Championship titles including ILHC, Boston Tea Party, Korea Swing Championships, Busan Summer Swing Festival, Korea Balboa Classic, Asia Balboa Classic and Korea Open. He runs the swing teams Sweet Heart & Lindy Blossom and brings international instructors and musicians to the thousands of Lindy Hoppers in Seoul through events like Authentic Jazz Weekend, Lindy Blossom Weekend, and SEOUL Lindyfest. Nalla made his first appearance at ILHC in 2011 with team Sweet Heart and now he’s become a regular on ILHC judging panels. He’s known around the world for his enthusiasm and passion for Lindy Hop. 
 
 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Name: Nalla Kim
Home base: Seoul, Korea
Year you started judging: 2012 
Year you started competing: 2007, at a local competition. My first international competition was in 2008 at Rhythmic Arts Festival J&J.
Approx how many competitions have you judged: 100 (local and ILHC)
Approx how many competitions have you competed in: 50
 
 **Nalla wanted me to remind the readers that English is not his native language. **

JUDGING

* Why do you judge?
When I go and teach at an event, I’ll go and judge the competition. I like watching the dance and getting to judge gives me the best view of the competition. I try to push myself beyond passively watching the show. Also, it’s an honor to be a judge, particularly at ILHC.  
 
* What do you enjoy about judging?
I can enjoy the best view of the competition. I get to see people’s art, which is really fun!
 
* What do you dislike about judging?
Sometimes I feel an internal conflict about judging, which makes it harder to truly be fair. Sometimes it’s because my friends are competing, or because how hard the competitors worked to prepare for the competition. Sometimes political things come into play. I try to disregard the personal issues, but  there is always an internal struggle when I judge. This can be really hard. Also, sometimes it’s really difficult to decide who not to put through. There have been times at ILHC where all of my favorite Followers were in a heat, and I wanted to put all of them to finals. It’s also hard to say who is the best artist because everyone’s art is so different — it’s so personal. 
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?

This is the art piece. I want to see more unique style. I want to see the reason why you do this. If it’s the similar to the others, like someone else has done it, I am not as interested. The value is what is unique about their personal voice.

* As a judge, what are you looking for, or value, in a Strictly?
Whether its improvised or planned, I want to see something natural and energetic. I don’t want to know it’s a routine. There needs to be a clarity within the partnership and a connection to the music. 
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a J&J?
I focus on the partnership dynamics: what and how do they communicate? How do they connect? How do they make something together? I’m not just interested in musicality. I don’t want to see an imbalanced partnership. I don’t like it when the Leader over-leads or the Follower just follows — maybe the Leader initiates movements and the Follower completes them. I like to see Leaders react to their Followers so we can enjoy their connection.
 
* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about Routines/Strictly’s/J&Js?
When the competitors focus only on the audience, they miss the mark. Connect to your Partner first, then the music, and THEN the audience. Prioritize. Maybe they are too nervous or too focused on the judges, but that really should be an afterthought.
 
For me, improvisation is preferred! I really feel that the dancers should care about the music, so if they are going to do choreography, then I think it should be flexible. 
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1)  Don’t worry about your placement. It’s not a big deal — It’s just an opinion of one moment. When I watch routines again, I sometimes change my mind.
 2) Be professional on stage, but not *too* professional. During a J&J or Strictly, please focus on the social dancing and less on the flash or being overly expressive.
 3) Trust yourself when you practice. That’s better than the result.  The most important thing is the process. 
 

COMPETING

* Why do you think competition is valuable/important?
I think competition is valuable because it allows you to set a target and reach something. In order to do that, you must have clear goals, clear motivation, and you must create something new. Without that motivation, it’s much harder to push yourself.
 
* What’s your personal philosophy on J&J?
I try not to think about just me, but us as a couple. I try to my best to be the same dancer I am while on the social dance floor. I don’t focus on the fact that there are judges there, but envision that this is another “normal” social night. This puts me at east, and I hope that my lead communicates that. I definitely want to to put my follow at ease.
 
* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
For sure — I still do. I’m not good at showmanship and I still get nervous. That’s why I like J&Js, but when I get spotlights or routines, I get very nervous.
 
* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
I don’t want the audience to be uncomfortable so I try my best to hide my nerves. A few years ago we took a private with Nathan Bugh, and he helped us deal with nerves.  His advice was to use one’s imagination: imagine being in a comfortable place, imagine that everyone in the audience is a close friend. I try not thinking about it as though I’m competing against anyone else, but that I’m sharing the stage with these people, as though it’s a jam circle.  It’s better that way. It reminds me that this one competition is not my last chance to showcase my skills. 
 
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
For personal reasons, my ILHC 2012 Showcase with Jessica. We did a Dean & Jewel Tribute performance to honor Jean Veloz.  When I did the showcase, I didn’t think of it as a competition. I didn’t think about placement. But Jean Veloz was apparently impressed enough by the performance that she asked me to dance afterwards. We danced a song backstage and it felt great.  Many people recognized what we did that night. At that time many dancers were doing Whitey Style, except the SoCAL dancers, so we were a rarity. 
 
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
ILHC 2011. I was there as a competitor for the Classic Division and at that time many international dancers were in the there – Skye & Frida, Kevin & Jo, etc.–  and I just wanted to get through my routine so I could get to watch the rest of the show. I was 3rd or 4th and after that I got to watch all the other routines. It was an honor to compete in the same division as my teachers. 
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Many competitors come to me and ask me for advice after their performance. I talk to them, but I am not the master. I am just another dancer, not a champ. So my advice is: just trust yourself. 
2) So many dancers make it as high as the All-Star division and then they disappear. I understand that for many of them this is just their hobby, or that they leave the scene because they start a family….but I feel sorry every time one of them disappears. So please, dancers/friends, keep dancing and come back to the stage. I miss you! Come back and keep dancing.
3) I don’t like the scoring system since it sometimes works against the dancers. Maybe we need to think more about how we are scoring the dancers. So don’t take it personally.
 
 
 
Final thoughts?
We need balance in the scene. If not enough people compete, its hard to keep pushing the dance.  We need to keep the high quality. Competition helps keep us going and it’s really good for the community. It is good advertising and helps spread the joy of Lindy Hop to others, which in turn helps motivate them. Nowadays, people say they are too tired to compete, or that it is not important, but I hope people will continue to compete. Maybe we’ll find a way to take some of the stress out of the competition. 
 
If you’re interested in hearing more from Nalla, check him out on The Track Podcast, by Ryan Swift
 
 

Annie Trudeau on Competing and Judging

Annie Trudeau’s passion for dance was first well demonstrated when she chose her career as a dance teacher and performer over her engineering physics degree’s possibilities. She also trained as a competing artistic gymnast when she was a teenager. She is a co-founder and co-owner of Studio 88-SWING in Montreal (Canada) where she teaches swing since 2001. As the artistic director, she also manages and dances in the Montreal Swinging Air Force dance performance troupe, which has been International Lindy Hop Champions in 2010-11 and 2014 and Canadian Champion 2013-14-15. She is passionate and enthusiastic as a swing dancer, teacher and competitor.  She has numerous titles in competition including 6 first place at International Lindy Hop Championships (2008 to 2013 included) in Washington in the Showcase Category and also first place at the European Championships in London in October 2013. She also danced at the Montreal Jazz Fest with the electro-swing band Caravan Palace, was hired as a choreographer for the Cirque du Soleil and lately coached artists for the TV Show ”Les Dieux de la Danse” in Canada. Annie has dedicated the last 10 years of her life full time to her dance business and to her art, and she loves to share her experience and knowledge to students of all levels and ambitions.
 

INTERVIEW

 
Name: Annie Trudeau
Home base:  Montréal, Québec, Canada
Year you started competing: 2001
approximately how many competitions have you competed in: 60 in swing, much more if you take into account gymnastic and figure skating.


Competing

* Why do you compete? 
To push the boundaries of my artistry and to contribute to the evolution of swing dancing.
 
* Why do you think competition is valuable?
I think competition gives a goal to any individual, couple or team who want to create a piece and perform it. Having a goal that has a specific time restriction helps gather the ressources in order to accomplish a certain amount of smaller goals, or to achieve a new skill, or to get to a certain level that one (or a group) can decide prior to the project. If it’s improv category, it provides a platform and a goal to work up to as well because improv skills can be worked on in the studio or on the social dance floor before going to a comp. I think the more competition is something you do as a way to improve, the most healthy and positive it is. The more one consider competition as a way to compare to other people, the more it *can* have more of a negative or depressing impact on the participants.
 
* What’s your personal philosophy on Jack and Jills? 
I try to create the best dancing moment possible. How I go about this is first of all on a personal level. With my partner, I try to create a connection that makes it so we feel we can trust each other in being ourselves, and it’s ok to make ”mistakes”. When that atmosphere is established, then both partners can be at their best precision wise, musicality wise and risk-taking wise. I think JnJ should be about finding a way to make your partner give the best performance of its life, and pretend like the music is your favorite one even if you don’t especially appreciate it.
 
* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
The more I spend time preparing a piece, the more I am. It’s not about the importance of the competition, of the amount of people in the crowd, it’s about how much work I’ve put to get to that point and how a mistake can have an impact on my potential disappointment.
I always have to remind myself that being zen and simply happy to be healthy and able to inspire people is a gift not everyone can say they have been given, and any amount of unnecessary stress will hinder my performance so I push away the clouds of doubt before I go on stage as much as I can.
 
* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
See above answer. Plus making mental runs of what would be for me a perfect show. 
 
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why? 
Disclaimer: I will mention Max Pitruzzella in those lines, because I have been his partner for many years and it is part of my past. I will repeat again how it is saddening for me to know now that he selfishly chose a path in life that hurt deeply so many people. I will not share videos of us for a while ; it is a bit sad for me to erase such an important part of my past, but it is not as important than to be part of a movement where there is zero-tolerance for people who are so careless about the other people’s well-being that they will take advantage of their position of power to exploit, manipulate, assault sexually etc. Zero-tolerance. With hope of a brighter future, I will now go on in sharing a bit of my past.
 
ALHC 2001 
The first time my team Swinging Air Force dared going to the USA to do a competition. We were the first Canadians to do that! Got 3rd place with a routine where we were nurses and soldiers. 🙂 We were super nervous because we admired so much American dancers. Watching the tape cassettes at home and all that. 😉 We even had to go to NESDC a month before to ‘simply perform’ our routine to get feedback by the judges to let us know if we were going to be ridicule or not participating in a ‘real’ competition. Haha. So I get it when beginners are afraid. It is a scary world of star dancers out there. But in the end – 16 years later – I can assure you that we are all human and nothing replaces a good work ethic and countless hours on the dance floor to get better and perfect your art!
 
ULHS 2007
The first time I got a 1st place at an international event. Fast division. Woah!
 
Frankie 95 in 2009
We worked so much to prepare for that event! Every day, many hours a day, preparing to perform Hellzapoppin as well in the show. I learned that Frankie passed away while being in Montpellier at an event. We were so extremely sad, I remember a jam we did right away on Hellzapoppin music giving our everything in honour of Frankie. I mourned, I went to his funeral in NYC, drove early in the morning from Montreal… A lot of emotions around that event! So when Max and I participated in the really big Strictly and got the old timers recognition by winning, we were extremely proud. 
 
ILHC 2012 (video above)
The first time after many years that I showcased a routine with a different partner other than Max. I did it with Thomas Blacharz. We spent every evening for a week in Herrang (after my full teaching day) to create the piece and I met him in Denver for 3 days later that summer. It was exciting and I was very proud of what we did together. We won the Showcase category. It proved to me that I was not a good dancer only because of Max, although I knew he contributed a lot in my development, just like I contributed to his.  I was working on my individuality as a dancer, and this made a big difference in my journey.
 
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
Juniors at ILHC! Those kids are the biggest inspiration when it comes to giving your everything. <3
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) Figure out why you want to compete so you are aware of your ambitions and select carefully where you assign your (probably) limited time in terms of dancing.
     2) Give your absolute best because that’s how the experience is worth it
     3) Find courage to express yourself while being inspired by others instead of trying to move like someone else (bonus: discover who you are it in the process).  Be patient if you are looking for results. Persevere as it will eventually be rewarded internally and externally. Spread your joy, always!
 

Judging

* What do you enjoy about judging?
Getting to witness talent and ideas on a privileged seat.
 
* What do you dislike about judging?
Having to rank people when the values I hold dear don’t guide me to a clear ranking.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?

I won’t be looking for the same things in a showcase, a classic or a team routine so here are the differences in my opinion:

    In all routines, I will favour a lot new ideas and risk-taking and personality over pure technique. I am a fervent of the evolution of the dance, while keeping solid roots.  If I see a couple that feel like a breath of fresh air, that dare go out there with there new ideas giving their heart out, I will take this into strong consideration over a renowned more experienced couple doing a more conservative routine even though overall technique might be better. Obviously, precision, rich movement, intricate rhythms and musicality all matter a lot, just as organic, elastic and efficient connection, even in a choreography context.
 
    That being said, in a showcase division, a piece has to be especially extrovert and entertaining in its style and in the choice of content and execution. There is value to a routine which would entertain a general public crowd (public of non-Lindy Hoppers, neophytes). Often times, showcases will involve air steps. Although in order to add value to a routine, those air steps have to feel like any other movement ; the couple should execute them with the same precision, the same ease as other on-the-ground movement of their routine. I make small exceptions when I see a very daring and unusual air step being performed, because I want to encourage new ideas and risk-taking although if I feel like any of the partners are unsafe performing it, I will try to mention it to them and I will penalize them for trying something they were not ready for and putting their physical integrity at risk.
 
    In a classic, I think we can trade pure entertainment to a more refined, deeply-felt, more intricate interpretation of a swing piece.  Usually, a more experienced eye will appreciate more the value of a good classic routine.  The social dancing feeling should be top priority, quality of movement and connection are also super important. Movement interpretation of music as to aim to be as good as the music itself.
 
In a team division, group execution (including individual dancing) and synchronisation, precision of group effects and formations and overall choreography are my main guidelines.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
A strictly competition in my opinion should highlight the exceptional abilities of a specific leader dancing with a specific follower.  A perfect balance should be aimed between improvising and using already rehearsed material such as combos and sequences.  I think different events might have different traditions or preferences in what they are trying to promote and participants should try to get what that feel is in order to best prepare.
 
* How about in a Jack & Jill?
As I mentioned before, a JnJ should be a blissful moment where two dancers make the best of a given dancing situation. Take the best qualities of a follower, and the best qualities of a leader and try to make them operate at the same time! I want to be invited in sharing this moment with the competing couples, and I want to see respect and support in each others attempt at risk-taking, crazy musicality or variations. In all this magic, do not forget to showcase your best technique though, because I might be charmed by your instant connection, but it won’t make me close my technique eye! 😉
 
* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about Routines/Strictly’s/Jack & Jills?

”I am not ready to compete.”

Well, if you read my 2001 first competition story up here, you know that I feel you sister/brother!
That being said, 16 years and a career later, my opinion has changed so I will share it in hope to encourage you to come out of your shell if you are ready for it (but you don’t know it yet).
If you are not ready to compete because you don’t enjoy competing or the concept of competing, then do not compete. You don’t have to.
 
If you don’t compete because you think you are not good enough… but you think you would enjoy competing…then that’s where trying to find courage is only what you need to make it happen! So here is what I think. Choose an event where you have seen newcomers and beginners being warmly welcomed (insert here almost all Lindy Hop events on the planet, this community is very warm to newcomers on average). Try to go with friends and find a mentor who will encourage you to do so as well. That’s what I did with my peers, remember, we went to ‘perform’ our routine just to get an approval first… hey we were insecure, so we went to our own pace! Try to do the same. Be gentle with yourself, but don’t stop trying until you get your goal! Baby steps 🙂
Use your passion as main drive and never compromise your well-being and your happiness for dancing. Dancing should be at the service of your well-being. Not the opposite. Write me if you need a little pep talk, I’ll answer as best of my capabilities : Annietrudeau@gmail.com. 😉
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) Dance for dance sake
     2) Study hard but create as hard. Be part of history as an innovator.
     3) Be an artist growing through the practice of dance. Try to find and create beauty as much as you can!
 
———
 
If you want to see more of Annie, check her out at the Canadian Swing Championships this year and ILHC (yup, she’s coming back)!!!
 
 

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.
.

 

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. 

 

Sylvia Sykes on Judging and Competing

Sylvia Sykes began dancing in 1966, competing in 1970, and teaching in 1979. She has studied with many of the dance greats, including Frankie Manning, Dean Collins, Maxie Dorf, and Willie Desatoff. Her extensive studies and travels have made her an expert on regional dance styles and she is known for her expertise in, and the preservation of the older forms of Swing dance. In addition, she is credited with helping to preserve the Balboa by introducing the dance World Wide. 

In 1985 Sylvia and Jonathan Bixby co-founded the Santa Barbara Swing Dance Club, a twice-monthly live-music dance club that they continue to run. She is still teaching her weekly classes that she started teaching in 1979, plus she teaches out of town over forty weekends per year. She is the most sought-after head judge in the modern Lindy Hop & Balboa dance scenes and is now part owner and head judge of the International Lindy Hop Championships.  
 
Her dance troupe ran for fifteen years, performed with some of the great Swing bands, and nurtured other International teachers. She has been a member of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance since its inception, has taught at the University of California, and has appeared in many TV shows and in several documentaries on Swing dancing over the years.
Sylvia is actively judging and teaching various forms of Shag, Balboa, and Lindy Hop throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Asia.
 

 
 
INTERVIEW
 
Name: Sylvia Sykes
Homebase: Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Year you started judging: not sure, but approx. 1984
Approximately how many competitions have you judged: way too many
What other dance forms do you work in? Just pantheon of swing

What is your background or connection to the Lindy Hop Community?
Been doing it since 1965, though very poorly.

Team USA — with Mario Robau, Valerie LaFemina, Lance Shermoen, Lynn Vogen, Jonathan Bixby, Sylvia Sykes, Jackie McGee and Charlie Womble.

* Why do you judge?
Now because I sort of have to…originally to have a voice for where the dance was going – whoever wins will drive the dance – so I wanted to put my two cents worth in to keep the dance connected to the roots.
 
* What do you enjoy about judging?
Not much these days other than a bit of influence to keep the dance current and connected to roots.
 
* What are some of the challenges about judging?
Weighing innovation and great ideas, but not stellar execution against perfect execution but same old same old, as well as differentiating between several couples all performing about the same and having to include and exclude them from the “money.”
 
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Routine?
Musicality – seeing the music more clearly, connection, still lead & follow not just close by execution, humor (or pathos), some sort of emotion, a story, and hopefully something danced well, with some soul.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Strictly?
Great partnership, action-reaction, both listening and reacting to the music as well as their partner, modifying a movement midway in reaction to music or partner.
 
* As a judge, what are you looking for in a Jack & Jill?
Great social partnering! Dancing to the level of the partner, listening, and modifying to find a common ground.
 
* What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about routines/Strictly’s/Jack & Jills?
Hmm…not sure… but a pet peeve is choreographed jam in a Strictly.
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) You have no control over whether you win or not, just how you dance. Your legacy will be the dance, not the placement.
     2) Use the process to better your skills.
     3) Have a reason to compete beyond “I want to win and be famous.”
 

Photo by David Holmes

* Why do you think competition is valuable?
It forces you to work on your dance skills and it brings people into the dance.
 
* Why did you compete?
I don’t.
 
(Note: I think what she meant to say was that she doesn’t currently, because we know she did. Just click here to check her out in 1995 at the US Open!!)
 
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
Probably the National Shag Dance Championships because it really was out of my comfort zone.
 
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
Anything with good dancing!
 
* Any recommendations on how to deal with getting nervous before a competition?
Pee and poop, beforehand.
 
* What would you like to see more of in competition?
Good dancing, not merely flashy moves
 
* What would you like to see less of in competition?
Soulless execution.
 
 If you want to hear more from Sylvia, check out interview on Ryan Swift’s podcast, The Track.