Anthony Chen on Competing

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

Website: www.saltlakeswing.com

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

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

Competing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Learn Choreo off of Video

Originally posted on Jo & Kevin!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Honolulu at Jump Session

EEEEk!!! I did it! WE did it!! Thank you Atomic Cherry Bombs for working so hard to get this number together. Nikki, thank you for all the extra time you dedicated to this number for me. This number wouldn’t have been half as good as it was if I didn’t have you and your girls. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Two notes about the video: this is not high quality footage, but it is footage nonetheless. The lighting made filming this number rather tricky.

Jump Session Show 2010 – Honolulu from Jo Hoffberg.

I am so very pleased with how this turned out. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some high quality footage of this number. Let me know if you find anything!

The story behind Honolulu:

I’ve had the idea in my head for the last year or so that I wanted to do a tribute to Eleanor Powell by recreating her Honolulu number. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tap and didn’t have the choreography broken down. About 3 months ago I finally started breaking down the first third of the routine and even though it was difficult, I had such a great time doing it. The routine is broken down into three parts: jazz, hula, and tap. I performed the jazz section at Swingin’ in Spring in Gotenborg, Sweden. The following week, the Icelandic Volcano erupted and I got stuck in Sweden for another 10 days. In that time, I managed to break down the tap section.

Mind you, I still don’t really tap and I am not a trained dancer – two very important pieces that would have made my life significantly easier. I downloaded the clip off of youtube and then frame-by-frame went though the entire routine and tried to learn the shapes as best as I could. I first learned the general outline of the leg movement (for the tap section), then added arms, and then tried to add in the actual taps. Luckily for me, the wildly talented Nathan Bugh helped break down some of the tap for me months ago and I used that as a starting point.

Relatively, the choreography wasn’t that difficult, but refining the details of my movement was (and still is). Eleanor Powell has technique up the wazoo and trying to learn her signature mannerism was very challenging. The way she holds her shoulders, her hand shapes, her arm positioning, her natural body movement, and her ability to spin are things that I have to constantly keep an eye on when I am running the routine. I often record my rehearsals and then go through them frame-by-frame and look for the missing details. Talk about tedious (but oh-so necessary)!

The greatest challenge for me has been learning how to spot. Before working on this routine, I could basically spot my partner, but in general, I’ve always had a pretty good awareness of where my partner was in relation to me and didn’t use spotting all that often. Eleanor Powell, on the other hand, spots like her life depends on it! Just check out this clip (fast fw to 5:05 and watch from there)!! So needless to say, I wasn’t going to be able to learn how to spin and spot like that in a month (in heels no less), but I certainly tried my best.

All the while I was working on the jazz and tap portion of the routine, I had to break down the choreography for the supporting dancers. This is where the amazing Nikki Marvin and her Atomic Cherry Bombs come into play. I sent Nikki some crappy videos of me trying my best to break down the supporting part, and nothing about that process was easy; from breaking it down, to emailing; from music cutting to uploading, all if it was a hassel. I’d send videos (which were filmed in mirror image – thank you MacBook camera) and emails trying to explain what I wanted, but really, Nikki watched the clip just like I did and broke the stuff down. She did such a great job and so did all of her ladies. To top it off, the Monday before Camp Jitterbug, I flew down to OC and rehearsed with the girls. Dang….I am sooooooo glad I did that.

I am thrilled with how it came out. Now I just need to find us more places to perform it!

On a final note, I must give a shout out to Claire Pedroza for doing my hair. I wouldn’t have looked that gorgeous (* toot toot) if it wasn’t for you. Thank you for making this (*running hands up and down body) look good!

Training Week

It slowly feels like the Killer Dillers might really come together. Nathan Bugh from NY came out to train with the boys and it was really amazing to have him around.

Since the end of January 2009, videos of cane work and tap steps have been emailed across continents to make sure everyone was learning “Fascinating Rhythm.” At the time Kevin and I were in Australia and we didn’t really have a rehearsal studio we had access to, so Kevin would go outside and practice at the bus stations when necessary. All three of them put their heart & soul and hands & feet into getting this number together and this weekend was the first weekend they’d finally all be together.

Kevin and Juan had an advantage over Nathan in that they’ve spent the last year or so training together. They know each others’ timing, lines, and rhythm, whereas Nathan had his own unique rhythm and way that he did what he did. However, after a few days working together the boys synced up rather nicely. Friday night is the bi-monthly lindy hop dance in Pittsburgh and they revealed their number for the first time for our local crowd. Sharon and I performed “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in our new red costumes, wig, fascinator, and gloves and found out rather quickly that gloves make cartwheels a bit harder to manage :-). The boys weren’t terribly pleased with their run through, however it was exactly what they needed in order to continue their motivation to push.

Luckily they got another opportunity to perform before we would head to The Big Apple. On Sunday night they performed at Lisa’s birthday bash and did an excellent job. Their hard work was visible and the changes they made to their routine really helped their flow.

Needless to say, they trained their asses off and are as ready as they’ve ever been. It sounds like they’ll perform on Wednesday night at Dance Manhattan, so head on out to see them if you’re in NY.

Preparing for ILHC

OMG OMG OMG! There is sooooooooooooo much to do!!!!

Kev and I are trying to finish our Classic Routine and just started on our Showcase Routine. This is super stressful because we need to finish both, and polish them by this weekend, and I don’t know if we can get all the work done that we’d like to have done.

We’ve been doing 2 hours on and 2 hours off at our dance studio. In the 2 hours off, Juan and Sharon are polishing their Classic and finishing their Showcase. OMG, there is so much going on in the house too. So so so…. in our “down time” we are still coming up with ideas so when we have the space, we can actually dance it.

There is not enough time in the day to choreograph 2 routines, watch the Olympics, prepare material for classes, teach group classes, and privates. And spend time with your significant other. Oh my word.

Well, that’s the rant for the day. More after ILHC. I am sure we are going to pull something together.

Cheers.