My first out of town event as a dancer was Stompology 2012. I registered on a whim after hearing how excited my roommates were about going, and decided that Rochester was close enough and I’d heard enough good things to make the plunge. As someone who’d never travelled for a dance event before, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Being an organizer of TUX, I knew what it was like to have people come to an event from out of town, but this was the big leagues: dancers from all over the world, internationally renowned instructors, and that band that plays “Black Coffee” was one of the headlining bands. With no expectations, I packed up on a stormy Friday with a handful of other dancers to make the trip to Rochester. I had signed up for the solo jazz competition with little to no experience under my belt (literally) and marched on in thinking, “This will be fine! I can do this!”
Well, I did do it, but here were the three important things I learned from my first Stompology:
1) I was in no way prepared for that solo jazz competition, but that’s not a bad thing. Seriously, I about cried afterward. I’d never formally taken a solo jazz class outside of one Big Apple class and countless Shim Sham classes. I think I did a basic charleston for most of the fast song and fumbled through the handful of moves I could muster during the other two. I nearly sat down after the second song because I was so petrified. Despite feeling embarrassed and defeated, it took me a while (like weeks after the event) to realize what I had to do with all of that: go back next year, compete again, and walk off the floor feeling confident. I was able to use the comp as a way to challenge myself for the next Stompology and start thinking seriously about how I could be competitive at events like these.
2) I now knew what I really had to work on. Obviously the solo jazz competition was evident of what this weekend was going to be. The classes offered at Stompo that year really made me think about what I needed to work on in my dancing on a much more specific level. Sharon Davis taught a class where the takeaway was “have a large vocabulary of moves.” She went through and basically did the ABCs of jazz steps, and I didn’t know about half of them. Thus, I went back and learned them. Laura Glaess taught a class about dancing with your whole body, which is something I now work on constantly every time I dance. Being able to dance by yourself really tunes you into, well, yourself, your abilities, and what awkward things your body is doing. And what I needed to work on also affects my partner dancing, no doubt about it.
3) Travelling is the most important thing you can do for your dancing. There are plenty of other lists I could make just on this category alone, but I’ll keep this short. Not only did going to Stompology give me the travelling bug, but it made me realize how many other fantastic dancers exist in this world. I felt incredibly humbled and overwhelmed by the talent packed into one space. Additionally, you make a lot of amazing friends. Rochester is also THE PLACE for late-night parties, and you get some amazing grocery store experiences that you wouldn’t normally get here in Toronto.
(Bonus list item: you get to see how amazing your favorite dancers move in person.)
Overall, this event was, by and far, one of the more amazing and incredible adventures I’d had as a dancer. One year later and wiser, I returned to Stompo with all of these things in mind. Just the fact I went back is evidence of how great my first time around was, and if there is any event I will continue to go to over and over, it’s this one. The competition helps me gauge how my dancing is improving, not only on a personal level but also along with my peers. It gives me a chance to evaluate my progress (because this year I did not even feel like crying and instead felt like a champion that I did my best!) and better figure out how to be a solo competitor in future years. This year I am working a helluva lot more on my musicality, as several classes I took emphasized rhythms and structure and how to play with the music. Travelling to Rochester is also just a memorable and fun experience; the town is adorable, you see old friends (and make new ones!), and get a dance experience unlike any other. The event is intense, humbling, exhausting, and by and far one of the most amazing ones you can go to.
Toronto dancers, if you haven’t yet been and are serious about getting better, you should be there in 2014. (There are already dates: June 6-8, 2014. PUT IT IN YOUR CALENDAR! Or I will!) It is an event that is incredible for your dancing, for your overall enjoyment of dance and lindy hop, and for bonding with other dancers inside this scene and out. If you haven’t yet travelled you should seriously consider it (or any other Rochester event) to be your first out-of-town event. If you are travelling and aren’t going to this event: look at your life, look at your choices. What, what, what are you doing?!
Dancers who have gone: leave your experience in the comments! Let’s make next year the biggest Toronto trip to Stompology yet.