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. 

 

Hat Trick Shim Sham at Lindy Focus X

Unfortunately, I was in rehearsal during this amazing feat of Hat Tricking, but it was sooooooooo freaking awesome I had to post it. About a year ago, Tips and Tops had a dream were planning on performing the Hat Trick Shim Sham while at Lindy Focus this year, but when they realized that all their buddies were there, they knew it was time to take the performance to the next level. Here the eight of them are in all their hat tricking glory!!


From left to right the performers: Tin Tin, Taps, Tips, Toodles, Tops, Toes, Targoff, and Tubs.

How awesome was that?!!! This tip-top team tricked their way into the hearts of many this past weekend. What I enjoyed most about this performance was seeing the individuality of each performer and how well they all worked together. On top of that, I really liked how the choreography was modified to best use the number of performers. Neato Gang!!

In case you want to learn how to hat trick shim sham, you are in luck!! Here are the first two (of twelve) videos to get you started:

Word on the street is if you want to be initiated into the group and get your own terrific nickname, you need to learn the routine and perform it at an event (make sure to have video to prove it). I can’t confirm this, but that’s what a little birdy told me!!

Camp Jitterbug 2011 Contest Results

The results are in and videos are up!! Congratulations to all the competitors!

Solo Charleston


Winner: Joanna Lucero

Jack & Jill

1) Davis Thurber and Kelly Arsenault
2) Andrew Hsi and Maéva Truntzer
3) Juan Villafañe and Gabby Cook

Strictly Lindy

This year, the Strictly was done in a new format. Two couples at a time were given one chorus to battle for their life and then the 5 judges decided who lived, and who died (sounds very Roman the way I’m explaining it). After the four rounds of battle, the four remaining couples jammed.

Battle:

Jam:

1) William Mauvais & Maéva Truntzer
2) Juan Villafañe & Sharon Davis
3) Nick Williams & Jo Hoffberg

 

Lone Star Championship 2011 – Invitational Competition

Invitational Strictly – Spotlight 1

Invitational Strictly – Spotlight 2

You might notice that I dressed differently than I typically do. Lisa Casper (New Orleans) outfitted me from head to toe. That is her yellow bandanna, yellow top, and skirt. The fun thing about that skirt is that she made that herself! I think this might be the making of a new clothing designer in our scene!! (And and and, in a very short while I’ll be selling hair accessories handmade by her!!)

RESULTS

1) Nick Williams and Laura Keat
2) Peter Strom and Naomi Uyama
3) Todd Yannacone and Jo Hoffberg

Jack and Jill!!!!!!

What set this competition apart from all the others was the music. We danced to a lindy hop song and then something that fell into the karaoke/soul category. Nick Williams and I were brave enough to choose Karaoke Grab Bag, and to be honest, I think it was a great choice. 🙂

FAVORITE MOMENTS:
1) Sucking on the lindy hop portion and then finding total redemption with a Star Lift. To top that off, Nick’s “fork in the garbage disposal” moment. And I have to give Chia-Wen Lin a shout out for being such an awesome team player as well as Carla for continuing to play along.
2) Andrew Thigpen and Carla Heiney dancing to “Summer Nights” from Greece (14:41). She made such a great Sandra Dee and they both acted the crap out the song!! Hahha, and getting to be backup singers….man… I’ll never forget that.
3) Peter Strom and Mia Goldsmith’s dance was……so many things (21:39)!! One way to describe it is “not work appropriate”. Another: daaaaaaaaannng! Just watch everyone’s reaction in the background. Funny stuff. 🙂
4) Nikki Marvin swivel moment (28:30) shortly followed up by Jeremy Otth’s circle slide (28:35) and finger point (just to make sure you saw it dancing to Footloose (28:56). When he undid his suspenders….we all nearly lost it! He made such a great Kevin Bacon….it was ridiculous!

Naomi Uyama also did a fantastic job picking out the music!! People we so well suited to the music they chose. Love it!

RESULTS:

1) Chance Bushman and Karen Turman (6:00)
2) Nick Williams and Jo Hoffberg (9:47)
3) Peter Strom and Mia Goldsmith (19:56)

ILHC 2010 – Charleston and Classic

ILHC 2010 – Charleston Solo – Finals – Spotlights

ILHC 2010 – Charleston Solo – Finals – All Skate

COMPETITION RESULTS

1. Kevin St. Laurent
2. Max Pitruzzella
2. Bobby Bonsey

CLASSIC DIVISION

Tommy Blacharz & Alice Mei

Mikey Pedroza and Nikki Marvin

Mike Roberts and Laura Glaess

Kevin St. Laurent & Jo Hoffberg

Oskar Markusson & Mikaela Hellsten

Nick Williams & Laura Keat

Joshua Welter & Mélanie Huot-Lavoie

RESULTS FROM CLASSIC:

1. Thomas Blacharz & Alice Mei
2. Kevin St. Laurent & Jo Hoffberg
3. Nick Williams & Laura Keat

Travel Days

What an impressive set of Travel Days I have had in the last two and a half weeks!

Here’s the run down on what it takes to be me (*tooting my horn):

May 17, Monday: 9:25am flight from Berlin to JFK. Arrive into Pittsburgh at 6:30pm.
Finally coming home from Europe! Can’t freaking wait! I’m basically coming home so I can rehearse for Camp Jitterbug and do some laundry.

May 20, Thursday: 7:00pm flight from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis. Arrive into Seattle at 11:30pm.
The idea was that I’d have time to spend with my family. Instead, I run errands for the next few days all over town.

May 24, Monday: 2:30pm flight to Orange County. Arrive 5:30pm.
Man, I love direct flights! They rarely seem to happen. It’s also fun to run into people I know, like Ben Morris. I want to rehearse with The Atomic Cherry Bombs before our performance on Friday night. Nikki was kind enough to let me work with the girls for about 2.5 hrs. We do a full dress rehearsal. I try to scare and motivate the girls 😀

May 25, Tuesday: 12:00pm flight to Seattle. Arrive 2:45pm.
Direct flights are fabulous! I rehearsed again before I left for Seattle. I continue to run errands until the day of the show.

May 28, Friday: JUMP SESSION SHOW 7:30pm
ROCKED IT. I was so very, very pleased with my ladies and myself. Sharon’s Bell Boy Routine went well and so did Stratosphere.

June 1, Tuesday: 5:00pm flight to Los Angeles. 10:30pm flight to Sydney, Australia.

June 3, Thursday: 6:30am arrival into Sydney. 9:15am flight to Perth. Arrive at 11:25am.
It’s glorious in Perth at the moment. Oh how I’ve missed the sun shining. I have class to teach from 8-10pm that night.

And there you have it. A rather crazy 2 weeks, wouldn’t you say?

What have I gleaned from my last two weeks?

  • It’s important to get your frequent flyer miles.
  • With those miles you don’t have to worry as much about over-weight luggage.
  • It’s important to pack layers.
  • Just because it’s “Spring” on the calendar doesn’t mean Mother Nature is going to play along.
  • Having gloves on you is never a bad thing.
  • “Days Off” are really just days to do all the chores I wasn’t able to do previously (translations: not really days off)
  • I must remember to schedule “Lazy Days” where I am just sitting around doing nothing. My scheduled “Days Off” aren’t working out the way I had hoped.
  • If you’re planning on performing something with a group of people, it’s worth the money, time, and effort for YOU to travel and go see them. It would have been a terrible idea to have not seen the Cherry Bombs before the show.
  • Never underestimate the power of a cupcake, especially when your best friend brings you one “just because.”
  • It’s important to run things full out. This means costume and body movement. Doing that the hour before the show does not mean you are well prepared. Remember, your building muscle memory when you’re rehearsing, so make it count AND you’d want to know if your who-ha was going to be showing before you got on stage.
  • (Ladies) Every performer should own false eyelashes and glue, bobby pins that match their hair color, hand mirror and fabulously bright lipstick.
  • Be gracious and understanding. It goes a long way.
  • Keep pushing. You’ll get to rest eventually.
  • Claire Pedroza might be a Vintage Hair Genius. She did my hair for CJ and it was in great shape until I left for Oz. Tons of compliments. She rocks.
  • Empty flights are a godsend.
  • Getting to sleep horizontally is awesome.
  • Too many bobby pins set off security alarms.
  • Nick Williams travels more than I do.

And there you have it! Two more things I think it’s important for you to know: how to pack for 10 Days in a Carry-On and What Happens to you crap after you’ve left if on a plane. Great reads, so check them out 😀

`

Camp Jitterbug 2010 Competitions

What an outstanding set of competitions this year!!! Holy cow.
`

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)
`

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.
`

Charleston Finals


Winner: Jessica Lennartsson (Sweden)
~

Inspiration Weekend

I can’t quite tell if Inspiration Weekend was a great weekend due to personal reasons, or because it was a great weekend, so I shall attribute it to both.

On a personal note, seeing Crystal, Nikki & Shesha (and their new baby), Mikey, and Claire was truly satisfying. As much as I felt like I never quite fit in during my time in Orange County, I managed to make some incredibly wonderful friends which made OC feel as much like home as the Bay Area and Seattle (see HOME blog).

But on to the weekend. I taught with Thomas Blacharz (Montpellier, France) and it was awesome as always.  Tommy and I go back to 2005; he invited me out to teach with him in Grenoble, France back before I was known internationally, so that among many reasons, he has a special place in my heart. I was thrilled when Shesha asked me to teach at IW, and even more so when he wanted to bring Tommy over. In life, as in the dance world, what goes around, comes around, and it was nice to get the chance to return the favor to Tommy for bringing me out.
Over the years, not only has Tommy’s English improved, but so has his abilities to explain what he was doing with his body visually and internally. He had recently finished a tour of Korea and Japan and had spent the month thinking and explaining the details of his technique, and his theories rocked my world. (NOTE: Currently my focus in my personal dancing is technique. I feel like I danced for such a long time not truly know what I was doing with my body, why I was doing it, or how to get better, and with the “formal” introduction (haha, or recognition/awareness/whatever ) of technique from Kevin, I finally saw myself change as a lindy hopper (Dax also played a roll in that). I went from being a dancer to a follow (or that was the goal….it’s still a work in progress if you ask me). I wish 5 years ago I had learned, or even heard, the stuff I am teaching now. Summary: technique makes all the difference. If you can’t get to the next level, focus on your technique!
The classes Tommy and I taught were very interesting to me as an instructor and as a follow. Now, a month later, looking back on the classes we taught, I might have taught some of them differently, but the content would have been the same. Tommy was really inspired by rhythms and stretch, and by the end of the weekend I was as well.
All of the classes we taught I enjoyed for different reasons. Our first class we knocked out of the park, if I do say so myself (toot toot). We did a fast dancing class and taught the beginning lindy section to the Ninjammerz Routine and people were loving it. Not everyone stayed for the whole class, but it was still packed by the end. I don’t recall anyone truly getting it, but the heart and spirit of each student were shinning bright. They did an awesome job. Our beginning classes were great; I think by giving the students technique from the beginning was a tad overwhelming, but oh-so-very necessary. By the end of our class, they were asking really great question about technique and leading and follow. The only unfortunate thing about that is that even with the answers we could give them, they weren’t really going to make that much sense until they had more actual time on the dance floor. (Starting to stand up on my chair) But that didn’t matter to them, (arm in the air) they were thirsty for the knowledge of lead and follow technique (now waving and shaking)!!! God the beginners were awesome (getting down from the chair now).

For the Inspiration Class, Tommy and I taught the Slip Slop Shim Sham. We didn’t get through the whole thing, but the class did an awesome job sliding around the floor. I think we got Shesha in trouble with the owner of the place because we used baby powder and should not have. Sorry Shesha!! But the class was awesome; seeing that many students sliding around on the floor was quite the sight.
And last, but not least, Tommy taught a class on rhythm (and I just say Tommy because they were all his ideas) and it was on of the highlights of teaching that weekend. We started with something that looked like a tap exercise: walks, hops, jumps, triples, four-ples (quadruples….you had to be there), and quintuplets. After having the class learn to move throughout five different rhythms, they had to the lead and follow them. Near the end of the class, Tommy whipped out 8 cards number 1-8 and then used his shoes to represent the beats in between beat, and then he had to lead me through the beats he set up. Haha, honestly it was a little stressful because I didn’t know if I was going to get them, but when I remembered that he had to lead me through them, I let it go and just followed what I was told to do. It was truly a show of how amazing Tommy is as a leader and his use of rhythm.

Not only did I have the privilege of teaching with Tommy, but I also got to teach two classes with Mikey Pedroza. For his Inspiration Class, he used a clip of Gene Kelly to show his movement, body control, and grace. To the song “September in the Rain”, Mikey choreographed a really lovely pieces that was rather romantic. We also taught a beginners class and helped them with their body movement and swingout.

The night dances were a blast. The music was awesome, the floor was slick, but not too slick, and there was plenty of water. The contest were fun to watch and difficult to judge. One in particular was the 30 second showcase because almost every couple had music troubles. The volume on the music needed to be all the way up for the start of the music, and instead it faded in, and most people missed their start. Once we (the judges) finally caught on to what was happening, we had a few of the couples go again.

Now to a personal favorite, performances! All the teachers performed in a group number or doing solo numbers. I unfortunately missed Stefan & Bethany and Mike & Casey’s performance (so if you have it, please send me a link), but from what I heard from some of the students, it rocked. Tommy and I performed a piece that he and Alice had choreographed, Dax & Alice made a guest appearance and performed their ILHC Classic Routine, Max and Annie did their winning ILHC Showcase piece, and the Ninjammerz performed.

Shout out time:

* Shesha did an awesome job as a host for the weekend. We stayed in a great hotel not too far away from the event, had a BEVY of people who were ready to give the instructors rides to and from their hotel.  We were also well fed and watered. Shesha had stocked a bunch of waters for us at our hotel and snack bars and chocolates so that we never went hungry – so thoughtful. He also took us all out to eat at an awesome Thai restaurant and had some awesome fucking food. (On a personal note, he and Nikki took very good care of me after the weekend was over. Yeah for friends).
* Nick Williams did an awesome job of skipping me like a rock against the floor. That man is strong, so watch out!

* The line-up of instructors was just as the weekend promised: Inspiring.
* Max and Annie were there, and they dance with more of themselves than any other couple I know. During their performance, Annie knocked Max over with one of their signature moves, and without missing a beat Max popped up off the floor and continued through the choreo as if nothing had happened. It was awesome because I’ve never seen that happen before, and even though it came to a surprise to both of the them, the continued to dance as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. True professional; true performers.
* Mike and Casey were darling as always even though they are a relatively new partnership, they are a classic couple for me. I think they balance each other very nicely and both bring a wide variety of information to the classroom and dance floor. They incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the dance, and Casey has the cutest little hands that are so expressive when she dances!!
* Mikey Pedroza is my supero hero.
* Stefan and Bethany have some of the best movement I’ve ever seen. They have been favorites of mine for quite some time and bring something to the floor that no other couple can. For me they are kind of an underground couple; they don’t have a website, but they do have a following and the people in the know, KNOW (shaking my head YES). I picture that when people write books about the Lindy Hop revival of year 2000 (and beyond!) that S&B with be dancers that are often referenced, but there is limited media of them. I picture them being super respect among the respected. Oh yeah, and their body control and choreography genius make me go “Wooohooooo!”

So the long of the short of it is that as an Instructor I was inspired; as a follow I was inspired; as a performer I was inspired; and as a dancer I was inspired. Shesha delivered exactly as he promised and I had an awesome time.