Last week I released Tough Love: Read at your own Risk (Part 1). You really should read that first, in order to put this article in perspective, and catch the points that are made about aspects of WCS outside of competition.
This article is aimed specifically at Competitors.
Here’s my disclaimer again:
If you are sensitive, or if you like to blame others for your failures, this article is not for you. Please stop reading, or at least come back when you’re having a good day. I’m gonna get direct, I’m not going to sugar coat it, and it might be tough to hear. But these are things that are for your own good, for your future benefit, and for the benefit of the people around you that you affect. The language is directed at you, for impact, but of course not every point applies to every dancer. So don’t get defensive: if it strikes a nerve, ask yourself why. Take this as a golden opportunity to consider making some positive changes.
1. Quit blaming your partners
You are responsible for 100% of how you handle the dance. In prelims, the judges are assigned to watch either leaders or followers. They’re not necessarily evaluating your partner nor giving you a “pass” on technique because of your partner’s restrictions. You know you’re going to get some partners you dance well with and some partners who will speak a different language than you. But you are being judged on how you keep your s**t together, make it work, and look good doing it: you know, that concept you’re supposed to be practicing in social dancing?
So if you don’t make finals, take responsibility for how you handled the dance and unless they hurt you, don’t blame your partner.
Want some specific ideas on how? Check out this 3-part series:
3. Pantomiming the lyrics does not equal Musicality
So you think you’re musical? When the lyrics say “stars in the sky” do you gesture to the heavens? When you hear Uptown Funk, do you stop, let go of your partner and pretend to “take a sip, sign the check”? Sorry to break it to you, but this isn’t dancing, it’s acting. Musicality does not just mean interpreting the lyrics, it’s way more complex than that: it’s about making your body appear to be creating the music.
In recent years, the Champions division has admittedly gotten a little carried away with illustrating the lyrics, but the amateur dancers who are trying to model after them are missing the point. See, there are gestures, and then there are dance moves: wise dancers know the difference.
Dance moves don’t interrupt the flow (or they do so organically), gestures do. Swing dance moves aren’t independent: they *usually* don’t require letting go of your partner, or if they do, they involve your partner somehow instead of abandoning them.
Gestures literally pantomime an action like Charades. Dance moves are far more subtle and graceful, even when they are funny. For example, if the song says “kicking”, it is okay to do a Michael Jackson kick, a CanCan kick, a Charleston kick, but if you stop dancing in order to wind up and pretend to roundhouse kick your partner: You. Are. Not. Dancing. This is a Swing dance contest, not a Charades contest. Wanna see an amazing Charades contest? Click here
It’s not a deal breaker if you have your knees bent a little too often. But if your knees are bent, you jump the 1, you slouch, you skip most triples, and your frame is stiff as a board, it all adds up to a big mess. Judges can overlook a minor detail if you make up for it with other polished details.
Wanna know why you didn’t make finals? Underestimating the cumulative value of those details. Details also are what make a tolerable partner feel a-mazing. Don’t you want to feel more than just tolerable? Besides getting personal feedback, you need to put your homework into practice. Here’s an article on How to Practice, and one on How to Run a Peer Practica.
4. Some errors are disrespectful.
It’s okay to be a beginner. It’s okay to work through your own process at your own pace. Everyone makes mistakes or has bad habits, but some are culturally criminal. Example, the Accidental Boob Grab (ABG) is forgivable, with the appropriate amount of apology; but the Repeated Boob Grab: unacceptable. But there are also errors that disrespect the dance itself, depending on the judge. Hijacking too much, mugging to the audience, and sexually overt or suggestive movements are obvious ones.
A more covert one is lack of Swing content. This is a vague topic that deserves its own article, but consider that, if you have any clue about what Swing is (and isn’t) but you refuse to show it, you are intentionally ignoring the dance style being judged, which can be interpreted as disrespecting it. This tends to happen with dancers from other styles who insist on showing off (not just unconscious residual habits) their Ballroom WCS/Zouk/Salsa skills at the expense of authentic WCS.
Another covert example is dancing a caricature: For example, if I entered a Zouk competition and proceed to wiggle my hips and throw a bunch of hair whips in random places, it would seem as though I was patronizing the dance and not treating it seriously. We as judges often see WCS dancers going through the motions of copying their YouTube models, but not using the correct technique, which results in artificial movement that looks like a caricature. Respect the dance – learn to speak the language properly.
5. “You know nothing, Jon Snow” (competitors version)
It’s tempting to get cocky when you get to an advanced level. Maybe you start teaching or people turn to you as some kind of authority. You think you’ve got this dance figured out? You need to read this article. I’m not devaluing your growth and progress to date. You’ve come a long way! Kudos for it. But don’t fool yourself into thinking “you’ve arrived”, or “you got this” and there’s not much left to learn.
Assume humility at every level. Assume that what you know is the tip of the iceberg. Assume that every Champion has at least 10x the information, knowledge, experience, and wisdom that you do, and that every past generation of Pros has something critical and valuable to pass on to the next.
6. Your placement might not be anything personal
In a final, you could draw a great partner and handle yourself exquisitely, but if your partner drops the ball in that particular dance, you might place lower than you thought you deserved. Quit beating yourself up and assuming that the judge(s) hate you. It might have nothing to do with you. Maybe they just don’t want to reward the way that your partner behaved. In this case you were collateral damage. S**t happens and this wasn’t your day.
Remember the judges are not judging how awesome your dancing is – they are judging whose dance was the awesomest that day, and you have no control over other couples’ awesomeness. IT’S ALL RELATIVE. None of this means you should hang up your dance shoes. Go watch the video, talk to friends, get feedback from the judges. This too shall pass.
7. Fashion speaks volumes
What you choose to wear for your comp is a part of how you express yourself. But if you wear clothing that is inappropriate for any reason for that particular contest, you risk your dancing being judged poorly. This may sound unfair on the surface, but if you think about it, it’s actually quite rational:
If you wear Toms, which restrict foot articulation, the judges might see inadequate foot articulation and it will affect their total impression of your dancing. If you wear a very long baggy top, which hides your precise body isolations, the judges can’t see those skills and therefore can’t give you credit for them. If you wear a graphic t-shirt with an inappropriate statement or image, it will be harder for the judges to see past it at all. Don’t make it harder for them to love you. For a complete resource on competition clothing tips, see the article, What Not To Wear: Costume Malfunctions and Fashion Faux-Pas.
8. The judges can see your bad sportsmanship.
You know that eye roll you shot your friend in the audience when you rotated to your least favourite partner? Your BRF (bitchy resting face) you are neglecting to manage while you are watching your competitors from the spotlight chairs? Thought the judges wouldn’t notice you shutting down on or over-dancing your partner to try to prove they don’t belong in that division/final? Yeah, they see that, and it doesn’t bode well for you.
Some judges will penalize poor sportsmanship as they would a rule violation: by dropping you in placement. But your attitude is up for judgement by every person spectating your dancing – friends, division peers, and future social dance partners. Exercise a little empathy here – consider how others might perceive your choices.
9. Quit Sneaky-Teaching
Sometimes dancers let their competitive success go to their heads and decide that they don’t need to take lessons anymore. This is a surefire way to stunt your progress and lose respect from your peers and mentors. But even worse, some sneak off and start accepting payment for rudimentary teaching services. This practice is ethically questionable and very likely harmful to the students you are trying to help.
The dance training you received from your coaches was not teacher training. It was meant for *your* dancing. To turn around immediately and teach this material to other students in the same community without the instructors’ blessing or training is reckless, underhanded and harmful to their business, which erodes the community. “Receiving dance instruction does not make you a dance instructor.” – Brandi Guild
Want to become a teacher? Be legit: get trained, get mentored, and get respected first. Here’s a great article to get you started. And while you are in the training process, build your street cred by taking leadership in your community.
10. Embrace mentorship
You don’t have to be alone. Yes, coaching costs money, and is worth it. But friendship and mentorship are free – all you have to do is give your ego a break to embrace it. A mentor can help guide your dance “career”: helping you avoid social and artistic pitfalls, debriefing when things go wrong, and giving you support in pursuing your goals. The more serious you are about your dance career, the more you need mentorship, both formal and informal. There’s a whole article waiting for you here.
11. Judges are often dying to teach you
You didn’t make finals. Judge X never gives you a callback. Ever consider asking them why? And I don’t mean just an informal query after the awards ceremony. Book a private. Get their two cents. Submit to their wisdom and invest the time to discover what they are missing from you and how they advise you add/subtract/modify skills to your dance. It also never hurts to make a friend.
As a coach, there are so many competitors that impress me and inspire me. My internal database is overflowing with feedback I would LOVE to give competitors after judging their comps – I would love to help them reach their potential! When was the last time you asked any judge for feedback?
Not all judges are open to this, but I know many that are. So put yourself out there, end the cycle of missed callbacks, and request a private from a judge that intimidates you. You will earn their respect and gain invaluable perspective.
12. Foster your relationships with fellow competitors off the floor
Everyone has their own motivations for being in the dance scene. Maybe one of yours is to find relationships – friends, lovers, whatever. There is nothing wrong with this! But as you are flirting and dating around, be sure to manage your reputation. If you go on a rampage and hit on everyone indiscriminately, your charm loses its potency and reflects you in a bad light. It can make you seem insincere, untrustworthy, or skeevy (creepy). This can negatively affect your status among your peers, which is a support system you need as you advance in competitions.
Other things that can damage your reputation for obvious reasons:
- Cheating on your significant other
- Dance partner backstabbing/cheating
- Trash-talking other peers
- Isolating yourself
- Being exclusive
13. Remember why you dance
If you are letting your competitive results or status affect your long-term mood, relationships, or work, you need some perspective. This is a hobby. Why did you start dancing? Why do you still love it? Surely you didn’t pay for an entire weekend just to dance for 90 seconds with 3 different partners.
Can you remember how the placements fell in your divisions for the last 3 events? No? Neither can anyone else. Once the weekend is over, people remember the great atmosphere, the great entertainment, and the joy of their dancing. They remember their own comp dance, but don’t remember who else placed what, and frankly don’t care.
So take the hint: did your total fun outweigh your disappointment? The results pale in comparison and are a drop in the bucket. Focus on your original reason you dance. Human connection. Fitness. Expression. Challenge. Joy. A while back, I wrote an article called, “Are You Winning Yet?“, which got a lot of attention because it was a positive message that people seemed to need to be reminded of. This would be a good time to review it.
There’s a whole category of Coach’s Corner articles dedicated to Competitors! Check it out!
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