Felix Berghäll on Competing and Training


Felix is a swing dance instructor, performer, and choreographer based in Stockholm, Sweden. Like any other Swedish dancer he started in the Swedish Competition Scene at the age of nine with “bugg” as his main style. One year later he took his first basic six count step in Boogie Woogie and has never stopped. 

At the age of 16 he made his first visit to Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden and fell in love with the African American social dances of the swing era such as Lindy hop, Vernacular Jazz, Charleston and Tap. Since then, he has tried to learn everything he can in order to develop his dancing, music, and teaching skills. He wants to pass on this knowledge to people all over the world. He is a strong believer of the freedom and the authentic style of the dance and the connection you create with your partner and the music. 

He sees swing dancing as a way to bring people together and bring happiness in to their life. Because when he dances that’s is all he can think about and express: pure happiness!
 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

 
Name: Felix Kim Alexander Berghäll
Home base: Stockholm, Sweden
Year you started competing: 2001
Approx how many competitions have you competed in: I went in to a page where we can check how many competitions I’ve entered in our community in Sweden, and it said over 500. And then I’m not including any of the Boogie Woogie International Competitions I’ve done. Or any of the competitions I’ve entered at international events such as Snowball, ESDC, ILHC, Savoy Cup, Harlem, etc. I think I’ve entered at least a 1000 competitions/divisions  
What styles of dance have you competed in: Bugg, Double Bugg, Boogie Woogie, Lindy Hop, Rock’n’Roll, Authentic Jazz, Blues/Slow drag, Collegiate Shag.
 
 

COMPETITION

 
* Why do you compete?
I think, at the beginning, I just really enjoyed the idea of dancing, and this was how I could do it. That’s how it was possible. That’s how kids did it. After some time, I realized that I most enjoyed the performance, and enjoyed giving something to the audience. I like giving people a show and, let’s face it, everyone loves to make an audience go crazy!
 
* Why do you think competition is valuable?
It motivates people by giving them a great goal to work towards. Even if you don’t think you’ll get to the podium, you still have to go out knowing that you will get watched and judged, and at the end you’ll get feedback on your performance. I get extremely excited about the feedback because it shows me how I can improve.
 
Competition teaches you how to be serious about what you’re doing. It gives you time to think about what you can do with the dance. I used to think of the dance as a sport, but through competition, I’ve learn to see how I can create an art form out of it.Competition also increases the exposure of the dance. It helps populate the world with amazing dance clips that excite people and builds up enthusiasm for Lindy Hop. If you ask someone on the streets of Stockholm, they know what Lindy Hop is and that’s super cool!  
 
I also think the emphasis on competition is one of the reasons young Swedes get so good so early — the competition drives them to put in hours and hours of practice. One of the problems this has created is that there’s not a good enough connection between the competition and the social scene in Sweden. But that’s up to us dancers and teachers to change that!
 
* What’s your personal philosophy on J&Js? 
I always have this idea when I dance with a person, I am dancing for that person. That’s everything: make them look good, don’t show off your ability to lead complicated moves, give them space for variations, try to be connected to the person in front of you, and try to hear the music together. Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes we are on a different page. That doesn’t mean I stop dancing myself, but my priority is showcasing my Follower.
 

“At the competition, you can’t do anything more than you already have trained.” 

 
* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
Not really, because I’m so focused. But maybe that’s just a way of taking care of the nervousness. I rely on the training that I’ve done (in the sports scene). At the competition, you can’t do anything more than you already have trained. You can’t do anything extra. You have the routine and you aren’t going to do it much better than at the last practice.
 

The only time I got nervous was for Wilma last year in the Pro/Am at ILHC. I wanted to make sure that she got to shine. I didn’t want to ruin her experience because I messed up!  When we rehearsed, we kept missing things, but we knew that we’d fix it out on the floor.

 
* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
Generally, I’m relying on the work I’ve already done. If it’s not a choreography, then I try to rely on myself.I might get nervous because of the other people on the floor – I want to show my best for them – so I focus on being the best version of myself. That can help calm my nerves.
 
* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
The Team at ILHC 2016. We had a really tough year building the choreo and making it work. The first time we choreographed as a team, we decided that we weren’t going to go to ILHC as a team if we couldn’t win. There were rumors circulating that we were going to come, and we wanted to get something great together, but it wasn’t until we finished the choreography that I felt like we had something really successful.
 
It was a lot of work, too. We met four separate weekends (Friday afternoon, all day Saturday & Sunday) to get the choreography together. In between, we made videos and sent them to each other. We had David Dalmo with us for 2 of the weekends (which was amazing) so we didn’t have that much time together. And we did one full day at Snowball last year.
 
We hadn’t actually done the choreography all the way through until we performed it on the competition floor at ILHC. We always had a challenge: people weren’t around, injuries, it was too fast, etc. But we made sure that we rehearsed ourselves and we made our own parts and could rehearse solo.  So at ILHC during the morning run-throughs, we did the full choreo without aerials, but not all the way through. That was insane.
 

And then when we won, it brought the group closer to each other.  That will always be a memory that we can carry forever.
 
* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
I think the favourite one will always be the main Boogie Woogie Finals at the Swedish Championship. That’s always something special, and I can’t explain why. It’s something that you have to experience.In the social scene I would say J&Js or Pro Classic. And now in the last two years, it’s been amazing to watch the  comps at Savoy Cup (Montpellier, France) and taking part in it as well: Vintage Routine, Cabaret, Chorus line, etc. … so many different things that really shows the true spirit of the dance.
 
* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
     1) Practice. Train. Practice hard if you want to succeed. Train your body – do lots of cardio.
     2) Enjoy yourself. Take it seriously, but it needs to be fun, otherwise what’s the point?
     3) Patience – don’t think you’ll succeed immediately; it will take time to get good, so allow yourself the space to do it. It takes years to get there. 
 
* How do you prep for a Strictly? How far in advance do you start your preparation?
My partner and I would learn the format and try to create choreo that would fit. Some years the choreography just wouldn’t fit. Now I do more social dancing to lots of different tempos with my partner. I don’t get stuck trying to pair things together. I’ll have a small piece of choreo, but I don’t rely on it. It’s really important to dance at higher tempos so you don’t fumble when the music gets fast.
 
At the most, my partner and I would train 4 times a week for at least 2 hours per session. Maybe one of them would be social dancing. The other hour would be a showcase, depending on where we were in the competition season.
 
We didn’t have coaches, but sometimes we would have people help us with aerials. We’d set what we wanted to get done when we arrived, and we’d begin with some kind of warmup like running and stretching.
 
* How do you prep for a Showcase/Classic? How far in advance do you start your preparation?
For the Showcase: Usually for the Swedish Championships, we start with the idea of a song about 6 months in advance, and then about 5 months before the competition we’d start organizing it. Before we listened to your podcast, we would try to map out the song (what we like, small details, hits, instruments, sounds we like), but after we listened to your podcast, we filmed ourselves social dancing, decided to cut our music, figure out the theme AND THEN map out our song. By filming ourselves social dancing,  ideas came spontaneously, which made creating choreo so much easier!
 
To me, a showcase has a theme, a story we want to tell with a beginning and an end. Depending on the song, we might be super inspired (in which case, we can do the choreography quickly) or not (in which case it goes very slowly).
 
For Classics: we start during the summer at Herrang. We’d have a more regular set of time where we’d meet up and rehearse. It could take as little as 3 days, or a week, or as much as a couple of months.  It all depends. It’s all easier now because we’ve done so many shows together, but if we gave ourselves more time, we could do something even cooler.
 
* Do you compete in other dances? If yes, what is training like?
Boogie Woogie. In terms of practice, it’s even harder than Lindy Hop. It’s a lot of time and entails a lot of high tempo work: social dancing at high tempos and performing at high tempos. We do 3-4 rehearsal set like that. When were done with rehearsal, we are exhausted.
 
It’s tough. We have to train a lot of things other than dancing– we have to go out running together, do intervals, and strength training. My partner and I had to make a schedule – a shared calendar – and we’d rehearse and workout together.
 
So it is said, I did this before I started traveling for Lindy Hop. From 2011-2014, I had a full-time job (7am-4pm), but after that I got done with work, I’d drive an hour to rehearsal and train from 6-10pm, and then I’d drive back home. Sometimes my partner would come up to where I was living.  We didn’t do anything else. Every weekend we’d travel to compete. We only worked, danced, and rehearsed because we wanted to go to the World Championships.
 
* How often do you train your dancing? And what does that mean to you?
In the last 3 weeks, I traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania to work with Egle Regelskis (Thurs-Mon) and we rehearsed every day from 11am-6pm to make a Classic for Savoy Cup. It was super fun. The week before that I was in NY rehearsing with Michael Jagger to do something at Jazz Roots. 

Normally, if I’m at home for a week, I’ll train my dancing every day. Maybe do a show with Hannah and Mattias, a rehearsal with Mikaela or Anders on Boogie, Lindy, Tap, Jazz, or whatever we feel like. We train body work. It all depends on what the week/weekend has in store. Life for me is only about dancing!

My body is still young, so I’m doing what I can with what I have. And there are so many good dancers in Stockholm who want to rehearse!  The only downside for other dancers in Stockholm is that there is a great divide between the us and the students, and we are extremely busy training with each other — so its difficult to break into that world. That being said, this last year and a half I’ve starting traveling more and more and it’s been harder to keep the standards up regarding training every week. And I miss that a lot! So I need to start planning that better and so I can do something about it!

If you want to go somewhere new and find people to rehearse with, I think the best place is either Vilnius, Barcelona, or Seoul. In all of these places there are a lot of dedicated dancers!

 
* What do you tell yourself when you get frustrated?
I’ve always told myself: “one more time.” I just run these things and over again. Again. Again. Again. I would say I rehearse a lot.
 
© Light eX Machina 2017, all other rights reserved.

Delilah Williams on Competing

 (featured image by Steve Kim)

Delilah can be found truckin’ at dance events all over! She was classically trained in ballet since birth and bumped into swing dancing at 15. It was then in 2005 that she got the bug, the lindy bug! Delilah learned how to swing dance at the mercury cafe and started traveling to workshops. Over the years, she has performed and competed individually and with numerous teams including the CU jitterbuffs, Atomic Rhythm, Baltown Grapplers, Woodside Jumpers, and 23skidoo! She is part of Denver’s premiere girl troupe, The Diamond Dolls. The two awards that she is most proud of are the Golden Budgie and the Underground Jitterbug Championships at Camp Hollywood 2015. Her cheerful smile, playful presentation, and creative movements will put a smile on your face.

 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Name: Delilah Williams
Home base: “Welcome to Denver, CO, the mile high city!” (They say that on the train in the airport and I always speak along with it and people look at me like I’m a total nut.)
Year you started competing: My first studio competition was in 2003, and my first swing was in 2006.
Approximately how many competitions have you competed in: I tried counting, but I couldn’t remember them all. I believe over 100.
 
* What’s your dance background?
My grandma, mom, grandfather, and father had to lug me to ballet starting at 3 years old. A few years later they tried to get me into other activities (soccer, piano, etc.) but instead I started tap and jazz! I grew up in a small town where there was just one studio. My dance teacher is the only reason I am still dancing. She was always supportive of everyone, and even allowed the kids sometimes to help with pieces of choreography. Then, in high school my best friend, Kendall Roderick, and her family offered to take me to the Mercury Café to try swing dancing in 2005. I thought it sounded super lame, but I went and I was completely hooked. Their family drove us for two years down from our hometown of Evergreen, to Denver until we were able to drive ourselves down the hill. I participated in the studio until 2007, when I decided to only focus on Lindy Hop! I still enjoy doing modern dances, currently I am learning K-pop with a few friends!
 

* Why do you compete?
For me, I love the energy of competitions and performances, it allows me to lose myself and give everything to the crowd, music, and my partner. Social dancing is amazingly fun, but it is missing a component that drives people to push boundaries and try for things they normally wouldn’t on the social floor. The crowd and music drives the dancers, the dancers drive the crowd and the music. The energy can either feed into your insecurities, or feed into your badass cookie jar. I compete to lose myself in the moment, to not think and just do with my partner and the music. It is such a rush when the crowd cheers so loud that it drowns out the music, but you keep going not sure if you’re even on time.

* Why do you think competition is valuable?
Competition allows you to push boundaries of what you thought was possible in your dance, doesn’t matter the style. Because of this, I believe that competitions can help to hook new dancers in, keep veteran dancers interested, and create a platform for growth within the dance. When you see people striving to be better and better on the competition or performance floor, as a newer or veteran dancer what you’re seeing can inspire you. Whether it inspires you to try a new trick, or learn a new dance, it doesn’t matter. It peaks your interest, you look at more videos, take more classes, and grow yourself as a dancer. This intense drive to learn, change or be the best allows the scene to continue to grow. It’s awesome to see different styles showcased together, whether it be social dancing vs choreography, or smooth vs chunky, or bal vs shag, whatever!

* What’s your personal philosophy on Jack and Jills?
Jack and Jills are tough. It is easy to overthink stylizations, moves, the music, everything. I go into J&J’s trying to only focus on my partner and the music. If you can find a way to turn off your mental brain that’s telling you a billion things at once and let yourself be in the moment with your partner, you will look back at your video and be like “DAMN I didn’t even know we hit that”. One thing that helps me be in the moment is scatting and spotting my partners chest while I’m dancing.

* Do you still get nervous before a competition?
I not only get nervous, but I get extremely anxious because I absolutely love being in front of people doing my thing and I cannot wait to get out there. But at the same time, I do worry that I will fail. I cannot stop bopping around before competitions, and I can be so high strung and psyched that I hate it when people touch me before I go out!

from Wandering & Pondering

* How do you deal with nerves before a competition?
The mind is a powerful thing. If I am doing aerials I always wear my hair in the same style, a one piece jumpsuit usually made by my amazing mother and grandmother (so my costume can’t distract me), and have my chapstick on hand. I always practice in costume prior to comps, as in days or weeks. Before the competition I have a warm up routine that I was taught by Gabriel Cashman in 2012 before a competition at Midwest Lindy Fest, which calms me down. For me, ritual is key. I also try to put as much positive energy out into the space as possible. If I think I will fall on a trick, I will. If I know I will nail it, then I will. Once I am out there and the music starts, I straight up check out until the end and try to be in the moment.

* What competition have you done that meant the most to you? Why?
Easily it is the Underground Jitterbug Championship in 2015 with my partner, Kenny Nelson. The UJC is a magical gathering at some Camp Hollywood’s, where anyone who wants to compete goes in the circle and throws everything they got until the end. It usually ends up being about 4-5 songs long by the end. Growing up swing dancing in Denver, it was always about fast music and tight air. I had watched the UJC when I was younger and always wished I could have the confidence to throw in such a tight competition. I was worried we would get tapped out early, or not make the finals, but, we did! That was the first night that I felt confident and free while doing called aerials in front of a crowd. I have never done very well with crowd judged contests until recently, and it felt awesome to have the crowd pick you. That being said, what took the cake for me was winning the Golden Budgie (rock the house award) for our performances over the weekend. Being recognized for what you love is an amazing feeling.

You can either watch the last 3 minutes of this epic competition, or you can check out the whole thing (below).

* What is/was your favorite competition to watch?
In general, my favorite competitions to watch are the amateur divisions. Specifically, I loved this last amateur lindy comp at Camp Hollywood this year. Amateurs in general can have less preconceived notions about what they should and shouldn’t do, and also they have less pressure on their shoulders to maintain a certain level of performance that they’re already demonstrated. They go out there, ready to rock what they have, and usually it is crazy fun and different!

* Three pieces of advice to give to the next up-and-coming competitors?
1) Do what you need to be comfortable. If you are not comfortable physically, or mentally, you will not look comfortable to the crowd. Do you hate dresses? Then don’t wear dresses! Not sure if you hair is going to stay? Fix it into a stable style, because otherwise your energy will be put into thinking about it falling. People always give me a hard time about how crazy my face is when I compete and dance in general, but for me what makes me feel comfortable and hit what I want to hit is scatting with the music. So, I may look insane but I still look like I LOVE what I’m doing, which means the crowd will be more likely to get on my side than if I looked unsure if my steps. Which brings me to my next point…

2) Love every single thing you do, even if it sucks. While you’re in front of a crowd, the biggest thing that matters is confidence in what you do. It’s not like YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook. They don’t get to rewind, so if you mess up keep going and turn that into something legit, they won’t be any the wiser. Sometimes it works out even better! One way to improve confidence would practicing, especially with a group so you are used to people around and watching you. I fell twice at Montreal Swing Riot, hard, but I did not mope, cry, or freak out until the competition was finished. The audience doesn’t care if you screw up, as long as you keep going. Which brings me to my final point…

3) So you screwed up? Well that sucks, but trust me every single person has not so great videos of their dancing floating around on YouTube. Watch it, cry a little bit, and move on. Watch all of your videos and other videos of competitions that you enjoy over and over, until you know when the crowd screams, when the trumpet player reaches the climax of his solo, or how you or your favorite couple nails that trick. Even if it’s one of your sucky videos, watch it until you like something about it. There is always a positive to a competition, and finding that can help your brain focus on something positive, instead of your screw up. Visualization of what you want to be and do is a huge part of competing. If you can’t think it or believe, you will not do it. I watch the videos that I like and do not like until I like something about it and can visualize how I would have approached the pieces I didn’t like in a constructive manner. Plus, it allows you to draw from other couples and see what they did that you liked!

 
———

I have admired Delilah for years. To me, she’s always been around, just killin’ it. She wears fun/funky clothes, has a sweet set of swivels, a member of rad girl gang (ehhemm….the Denver Diamond Dolls), had a solid work ethic, a vibrant personality, and her Face-ography is unparalleled in the Lindy Hop Community. Not only that, but she has great hair!! As a fellow colored-hair person, I have to give a little shout out to her fabulous ‘do! #slay #ladycrush

 
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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!
 
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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. 

 

Preparing for Solo Charleston at ESDC

What are you watching? What’s inspiring you?


Adam, you are as fabulous as they come! Thank you for reminding me that pink is a great color on guys AND the skating is freaking awesome! Oh yeah, and….uh….Frida rocks my socks off. Need I say more?


Janna, you are amazing – you and your energy.


They have been awesome for such a long time.


Oh. My. Goodness. What fabulous lines these boy have!! Gentlemen, if you have long limbs, these are the people to watch dance. Woo-wee!


Hurley is a ball of sunshine, as always! I mean really, have you ever seen a more mega-watt smile on anyone other than a super model in a print ad? John, I have one word for you: ridiculous.


Chance!!


What a dance off! I saw it live and the place was going bonkers.

GAAAHHH, I get an adrenaline rush just thinking about the competition coming up this weekend! Are you ready? I’m not 😀

 

How Long Has it Been? Pt. 2

So how long had it been? I took those pictures on Superbowl Sunday and it had been 4 weeks and 1 day since I washed it last. Yup, you read that right, just a little over a month!

“So Jo. Why would you share something like this with us?” you might be asking.

Two reasons. The first, because I read an article on Beauty Brains called Can you train your hair to be less oily? and secondly, because enough people have asked me about my hair that I feel like I should come clean about my secret. 🙂

So here is the story behind it.

During the summer of 2006, I dyed my hair a reddish-brown and every time I washed it, I literally saw my money going down the drain. I decided that if I didn’t wash my hair, I wouldn’t lose my color (brilliant, right?). So I stopped washing it. On top of it not only being a hot summer, I was taking dance classes, meaning I was sweating more than the average bum. Needless to say I was a greasy mess, but I put up with it so I could save my hair color. After slowly pushing the time in between washes, I am now able to go a month without washing my hair.

I know that sounds gross, but here’s the thing. My hair looks less greasy than yours does after 4 days. I don’t mean that to come off as being mean, it’s just that you can’t tell that it had been a month when you look at me. Bonus: my hair is softer than it’s ever been.Un-bonus: that’s actually a problem (what girl complains about that?) when it comes to styling my hair. I don’t typically use product, so I rely on my natural pomade to keep my coiffure up and my victory rolls tight.

So yeah, you can “train” your hair to be less greasy. I did and you can too. Think about it.

Tips if you want them:

  • It takes time to train your hair. If you normally wash your hair every 3 days, push it to 4. Then push it to 5. Then push it to 6. Then push it to 7. Keep pushing!
    Accept the fact that your hair will be greasy. But hey, guess what? It’s just hair. You can still function as a member of society if you haven’t washed your hair.
    Figure out how to wear your hair so it’s less gnarly. Start wearing it up. Find a big headband. Use a scarf. Get inventive.
    Remember, people aren’t really looking at you that closely. You might have some shine, but people won’t think less of you as a person, and if they do, clip ’em! Don’t worry about them, focus on the goal.
    It takes a while, but hang in there, it gets better.

Cheers!

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.

Day One – Sweden

Today was a very fulfilling day.

Kev and I got to sleep in until 11am (and we went to bed early last night) and it was soooooooooo nice. We have cute little beds that are nice and warm and rather conducive to a good night sleep, might I add.
I got up and showered and Kev got to his emails. After a bit, we realized that we were hungry, so we took ourselves to the restaurant we ate at last night and ordered the lunch special. Kev had a pizza (again) and then I ordered a Greek Salad, which I thought had meat on it. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that it was just like the salad they had at the “salad bar” thing, but with olives, feta cheese, and lots of onions. Now if you know me, you know that I don’t like uncooked onions at all. They taste bad and they make me smelly.

I digress.

Lunch was nice, but we still hankered for more. We headed down the street a little ways more and bought some goodies at the local grocery store before we had hustled back home to prepare for training.

Jane drove us to the studio and her card didn’t work so we couldn’t get in. Kev and I danced around for about 45 minutes before someone showed up and let us in. We realized how out of shape we were after our 20 minutes cardio session, but we prevailed. And to top it off, we did a fast Charleston song to push ourselves even though we were tired. I am so glad we did that, but MAN and I out of shape.
And then we worked on choreography. We have some good stuff, but we need to start stringing our ideas together.

Jane came and grabbed us around 5:15pm so that we had some time at home before the dance. I read through emails while Kevin napped and then we showered quick-quick and got ready for dinner and dancing.

The dinner was serve-yourself style and was nice and basic. Ooh, and there was a rhubarb cobbler for dessert. It was a tad tart, but still nice. Kevo and I danced a bunch, took some pictures and recorded some video of the evening, saw a performance, attended the teacher’s meeting, and headed home. We are getting up a little before 8am tomorrow, and we had classes to plan, so we figured it was best to head home early. And now it is almost 1am!

I am going to shower and then head to bed.

Goodnight!