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.

Inspiration Weekend 2012

Some favorite moments from this truly inspiring weekend.

Performances

Kevin and I kicked off our weekend with a little bit of “Shake that Thang!”

The Atomic Cherry Bombs were sexy as hell! I think it’s a great video of the performance, which means it must have been that much more incredible in person.

Hat Trick Initiation

James Bianco & Irina Amzashvilli were initiated into the Hat Trick Club this weekend. They are now members of the League of Extraordinary Hat-trickers.

This is one of the best versions of this routine I’ve seen them do. Sure, there were a few little flubs, but honestly, they freaking hit it. The crowd was awesome and Tips & Tops were men of legend. Well done men!!!

Saturday Competitions

1st Place – Augie Freeman & Irina Amzashvilli
2nd Place – Conrad Friesen & Sarah Stembridge
3rd Place – Andrew Jose & Alice Pye

Yeah!!! Lindy Hop has a future!! I was so impressed by how good everyone was in Orange County. Good heavens, those cats swing! The quality of their movement and swing outs assures me that lindy hop will continue to grow and thrive. Thank you to all the competitors; all of you won over my heart.

1st Place – Peter Kertzner & Irina Amzashvilli
2nd Place – Stephen Sayer & Chandrae Roettig
3rd Place – Jack Chen & Brittany Calavatti

I freaking LOVE the concept of 30-Second Showcase! And seriously, check out what people came up with. Love it.

Sunday Pro-Am

1st Place – Conrad Friesen
2nd Place – Matt Richey
3rd Place – Sam Chan

Hahah, this one looks a little bit like a Jo Hoffberg show reel, but really, I just got lucky that the top three leads in the competition picked me as their follower. Fabulous job everyone!!

ESCD Classic – new choreography

Earlier this evening, Kevin and I performed our new Classic routine at the European Swing Dance Championships in Barcelona, Spain. We were the openers for the Classic Division. Take a look!!!!

Yes, the video went up incredibly quickly. Just goes to show what an amazing event ESDC is!

So we didn’t hit it, and there are a couple of bobbles, but we’re happy with it. The lighter was a colossal failure; I pulled it out facing the wrong direction and couldn’t get it to light. Arg!! But we kept going and were able to leave the floor smiling. All in all, I’m pleased with how we did. We’ll definitely use this routine a few more times and then really see how we feel about it.

Did you recognize the ending? Can you name what video that is from?