With the popularity of shows like Strictly Come Dancing people are often surprised to hear that Lindy Hop is not primarily about competing. Many keen lindy hoppers never enter a single competition and are happy social dancing for the joy of doing it. For other dancers competitions are an important and fun part of their lindy hop journey. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of dance competitions, some great insight for first time competitors, and why it’s awesome to be in a dance community that values both competitors and non-competitors.
On Being a Non-Competitive Lindy Hopper
If you know us well, you’ll know that Rob and I don’t really enter competitions. It’s mostly my fault–they’re just not for me. I’m not massively keen on performing, I don’t like the pressure, and I feel conflicted about the role that competitions play in our dance community. When I go to an event and feel like I’m spending more time watching competitions than actually dancing I worry that the competitive element will take over, that Lindy Hop will become just another “dance sport” that is only done to win awards and not danced socially. I worry that too much competitive dancing puts the focus on dancers connecting with an audience and working up flashy bits of choreography rather than connecting with their partner and the music in a spontaneous way. I also worry that competitions end up putting too much emphasis on dressing a certain way, having a certain body shape and following trends rather than letting individuality shine. When I’m asked to judge at events I usually decline if possible. Competitions are tricky to organise, it’s even trickier to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and I really struggle with this. I hate to see lovely dancers have their confidence shaken because they weren’t what the judges were looking for or even worse because they just fell through the cracks of a very casual judging system. What I love about the lindy hop community though is that competition is just one aspect of the dance, you can take it or leave it and still be a “real” lindy hopper. So for those of you that prefer the social dance floor, I’m right there with you–keep being awesome! To talk about some of the positives of competitive dancing I’ve recruited a couple of friends to help out .
Why Competing is Awesome: An Interview with Fran Santilli and Liam Craddock
I called up Fran and Liam for this story because they are both lovely humans and keen competitors. Fran is based in Bristol and is part of the Bristol Swing Riot team. Her recent competitive accolades include taking 2nd place in the Leeds Swing Revolution Open Mix & Match 2018, and 2nd in the Gastroswing Jack & Jill 2018. Liam is based in Liverpool and teaches for Mersey Swing Some of his recent competitive achievements include taking 1st place in the 2017 Birmingham Swing Festival Mix & Match and 1st place in the DJam Jack & Jill 2017 and 2016.
Why do you like competing?
Liam: 1) It’s a scary, vulnerable thing to do! Scary fun is the best kind of fun. It pushes me outside of my comfort zone to make myself visible. 2) It puts me into the buzz and excitement of the event. 3) It gives me great pictures and videos of me dancing my best and lets me see how I actually look when dancing in the wild. 4) Putting myself in the spotlight with somebody else as a team is a bonding experience, and I’ve found some wonderful friends with people I’ve competed with. 5) It’s a healthy check for my ego to regularly get results I don’t want. I learn from the times I don’t dance my best or make mistakes as it makes me aware of how little I really know and how much more I have to learn.
Fran: I love performing and competing gives me the chance to do that but there is also a challenge in that moment, in that you need to push yourself a bit. If the music isn’t inspiring then you need to listen harder and find something in the song that does make you want to dance. You’ve got to read the situation in front of you and maybe take some risks, try a move that you’re not sure about or be a bit silly. Sometimes it goes a bit wrong, but that’s when the real magic happens, when you’re out of your safe zone and you can create something new!
Do you think having a competition makes an event better?
Fran: I think having competitions tends to attract different types of dancers. When I’m looking at which events I want to go to I will check if they have competitions and what types. If I’m looking to have some serious dancing and feel a bit challenged then I’ll look for events with more competitions that are at higher levels; but if I just want to go on a dancing holiday that’s pretty relaxed I would look for an event with either no competitions or just a mix and match. It depends what you are looking for each time.
In general I’m in favour of having at least one competition at an event, even if it’s a silly one (e.g. how long can you keep a serious face). Lindy hop was created on the social floor but competitions and jam circles were a big part of that – it was all about showing off to the other dancers what you could do and what you’d worked on, and the other dancers needing to up their game to be able to beat them. It’s fun to see other people having fun and showcasing their styles – you can pick up new moves or even a whole new way of dancing if you see something that you like.
Liam: I really enjoy watching comps as part of the evening entertainment. That works best when the organisers get them done efficiently and keep the number of them under control. It’s also often the only time when newer dancers get to see higher levels of dancing in person, instead of curated snippets of international comp highlights on youtube
What tips would you give to someone considering entering their first competition?
Fran: If you’re tempted then give it a go! Chances are that your first comp might be a bit terrifying and you might forget what you’re doing, but that happens to EVERYONE! It’s just the little hurdle at the start but once you’re over it you can really start to enjoy yourself. Also we’re amazingly lucky in the swing scene to have a really supportive feel to competitions. Every time I’ve competed I’ve always felt like the audience and the other contestants just want you to have fun and enjoy it. We’re all part of the same community and we’re all doing the same dance that we love so there is no need for negativity, only encouragement!
I’ve also found it really helpful to have a clear aim on why I’m competing. I’m competitive, and I don’t like losing very much (does anyone?). But I don’t enter competitions with the goal to win – I enter to have a good time and dance with some cool people and maybe get to show off some moves. Then if I don’t get first place I’ve still had a really awesome time, and it can be filed away in the memory bank as a happy moment.
Liam: I’d say it’s enormous fun, and you won’t regret the experience. There are also few times in life when you’ll have as warm and supportive an audience as you get at Lindy events. The comps are there for entertainment and the accuracy of the results are very secondary, although it never seems that way when you’re waiting for the announcements. Outcomes are a mixture of many things; the partner, songs, where the judges were looking at what moments, the artistic tastes of the judges, showmanship skills, who else is competing and of course, how you yourself actually dance in that moment. Most of those things are out of your control so as hard as it may be, care less about the comp results and more about what you personally think about your dancing, because that’s who’s opinion really matters.