Blog Post by Caitlin Wellman
For ages Lindy Hoppers have been asking themselves “should I compete?”. It’s a simple question, but like many things, may not have an easy answer. In my opinion, the answer is “yes”. Simple to say but not easy to action. One of the best ways to action this answer is to get some more information.
I first came to the world of competition in the fall of 1998. I attended the first annual American Lindy Hop Championships at the age of 16 with my dance team, Minnie’s Moochers. It was intimidating and overwhelming to say the least. We were just kids, surrounded by adults, many of whom had been dancing a lot longer than us. Deciding to take part in this was relatively easy for me. I had all my friends with me and we were in it together.
It should be said that my partner and I were alternates in the team routine and did not compete there, though I danced with another friend in the Junior’s Division. That aside, the whole idea of us going to the competition was quite a whirlwind experience with a bunch of friends deciding it would be fun. Someone floated the idea and since we’d all be in it together, we decided to give it a go and started choreographing a routine.
But this is not the case for most. Many of you hopeful competitors asking yourself this question are adults with a bunch of local dancing friends that may not necessarily being going with you to that big event. How do you do it? How do you take the plunge? Where do you start? All excellent questions.
My biggest piece of advice it that everyone should start in their comfort zone. A competition in and of itself if full of challenges, fears, and discomforts. Start with something small (local if at all possible), someplace where you know you will have support. Try and do it with friends and above all, make it fun. I’ll say it again, FUN! Competition can be scary but it can also be thrilling and joyful. Try to approach whatever you decide to do as an opportunity for making connections with people and dancing your heart out.
Whenever I come to a competition division I have to give myself positive goals. This helped ensure that I would come out feeling good about whatever happened. Now, many people can get to this point and embrace these concepts but so many people get in to the thick of it and get overwhelmed. This is when it can be helpful to go in prepared with some extra information. 15 years of competition has taught me a few things that I sure would love to go and share with my 16-year-old self. I’ll share some information on the basic competitions with you.
Jack and Jill division (Music and partner, at random) – Many people ask me “how do I get noticed?” or “how do I make the finals?” First, remember there is no easy answer and there are always multiple judges with their own opinions. So don’t get caught up with the judges in the prelims! Interesting tidbit: In most J&J prelims, not all judges judge everyone. Some are judging leaders, some followers, and you don’t know who does what. Since you can’t tell which judge to focus on, don’t. The key is focusing on your partner. In Jack and Jill’s, one the most admired qualities is teamwork. Make sure you introduce yourself to the person you rotate to and do your best to focus on them and the connection you have together. For me as a judge, positive and engaging partnerships are competition GOLD!
Strictly Lindy (Choose your own partner, music at random) – I see Strictly competitions as a step beyond the Jack and Jill. It’s still social dancing but you can choose who you want to dance with. If it’s your first time doing this competition, go in with a good friend you love to dance with. This will help both of you be more relaxed. Biggest piece of advice – don’t try too hard. Just dance. Do your best to connect with your partner and the music. Show everyone how much you love dancing with this person. Additionally, leave the choreography at home. There are other divisions for that. Strictly is about social dancing and being inspired so get out there and let the music take you both!
Solo Charleston (Improvised solo dancing) – This can be very liberating to do as it’s just you and the music! That is also the hard part; you have no one there to hold your hand (literally or figuratively). So what do you do? Focus on what you do have – the music. A bit of a trend these days with this division is for competitors to show the judges all their fancy moves. The important thing to remember is that your repertoire may be great, but without the music it’s just a bunch of stuff. Try to connect to the mood of the song. Pay attention to the structure and instrumentation. If you can connect to those things, anything you do has potential for greatness. Taking a few seconds at the beginning of a song to pulse and listen to the music gets you in to the right mind space. So listen close and show me how you feel!
Hopefully this offers a bit of insight in to the world of competition. Competing can be scary, nerve-wracking, and uncomfortable. But without pushing these boundaries in our dancing life, it’s hard to grow. Competition can push your dancing abilities and make you try harder. It also exposes you to more skilled dancers than yourself. They got to where they are by expanding their comfort zones, and you can’t do the same if you don’t step outside of it. If you think you can expand your comfort zone by competing – I say go for it! Don’t hold back! Get a friend to enter the next competition with you and make the growth fun. And if you are having fun, don’t forget to smile!