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.
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. **
* 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.
* 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.
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.