Saturday, 18 May 2013

Competitive streak

So I've been quiet recently, mainly because my home doesn't yet have internet (new place, DSL installation gone awry because the apartment literally didn't exist before, blah blah Bell Canada rawr). I've also been pretty busy trying to find my way as a dance teacher, but things are a bit calmer now that my energies aren't being diverted into putting things into boxes, taking them out of boxes, and all the stuff in between.

This weekend I'm at the Canadian Swing Championships. To speak truly, they're the Eastern Canada Swing Championships, or possibly (based on previous years) the Quebec and Ontario Big Debauched Party With Some Dance Competitions. I'll grant that the vibe this year seems less insane, but there's no real conclusion to draw until tonight (everyone's gearing up for prelims and team competitions, so once those happen people cut loose a bit more).

When I tell people I'm a dancer and a teacher, they ask if I compete almost immediately. The honest answer is that I never put much effort into competition. I've been on troupes which seemed to exist solely to come to CSC and do battle for the glory of their school, but I joined them to learn how to dance better and improve the look of my dance. I have two medals at home, both for Collegiate Shag, both for improvised dancing as opposed to performance or something I spent months preparing. I've always been more about social dancing than anything else.

When I enter competitions, I usually do Jack & Jill: get placed with random partner, have fun on the dance floor, and perhaps get recognized for doing so. The great thing about Jack & Jills is that your ego is really not at stake: the evaluation is based on partnership, the levels within a specific category of J&J are all willy-nilly, and the judges are looking for whatever they happen to like in social dancing (fun, flair, solid basics, connection, nice shoes, whatever). The end result is a few great social dances on an open floor, and a giant crapshoot for who makes finals and places. That's not to say that there's no skill involved, just that you can always find a way to protect your belief in your amazing talents. I tend to stick with "I feel better than I look generally" as my excuse for not ranking higher, and I also tend to enter in competitions where I'm nowhere near the strongest dancer.

About that, for competitions in general: I saw a very memorable competition a few years ago at a camp I was attending. It was a Newcomer divison for Lindy Hop, maybe a dozen people. Eleven of that dozen had either learned to dance at that camp or maybe done a few weeks' worth of dance lessons beforehand, and were still working on rhythm and such... they were adorable and we all loved that they'd had the courage to get up and dance Then there was Guy Number Twelve. Twelve had clearly had some dance experience. I asked him afterwards and he said he'd been dancing West Coast for five years and Lindy for a year. He was graceful, musical, and totally outclassing everyone else. It was the equivalent of watching Andre the Giant playing football against a bunch of eight year olds. He'd secured first place after about three steps onto the floor, and whoever got assigned randomly as his partner would be finishing at the top of the podium by mere chance.

I was kind of livid at the time. I took a deep breath and asked him later why he had entered in Newcomer.. he said he hadn't competed before and so he considered himself to be a newcomer. He was quite content with his medal, and I thought of magpies lining their nests.

This kind of thing does happen. Sometimes it's a grey area: someone's won three years in a row because they're way more skilled than everyone else who turns up in a competition. No one else holds a candle to them... should they still compete? I kind of think not, personally... that kind of person belongs on the judges' panel. I feel strongly that competitions should be sporting. I've always made sure that when I entered, I was dancing alongside people who stood a good chance of beating me. Often the choice was between dancing in the same class as some of my students, or getting my a$$ handed to me in the next class up... so I took the next class up. I've run a few informal contests myself, at parties and such, and my general rule is that experienced dancers either go in a separate category than I do or serve as judges/facilitators, to make sure that the non-dancers don't feel eclipsed.

CSC is good for that this year. I feel like breaking the Lindy Hop J&J into four categories makes sense: the truly advanced dancers have a category, I'm competing against my actual peers in the Advanced category below that, there's a newcomer and an intermediate as well. Looking at the list of entrants, I think I stand a fair chance of making finals if I hit the right song and partner, but I won't feel cheated if I don't.

Remember, at the end of the day, competing is just a way of motivating ourselves to work on our own dance. I'd rather have one medal I earned rather than six I took from people who couldn't keep up. I have a competitive streak, but it doesn't run that deep, and I never want to be Number Twelve in a competition.

CSC has a good vibe this year, honestly. It seems like things are a lot better organized, but maybe it's also that this year I'm coming in with an attitude of fun. I hadn't planned to compete at all this year, but I put down a few dollars on the Lindy J&J as well as the Balboa Intermediate J&J (which is probably an ass-handing exercise but I quite enjoy the seven movements I know how to do, and it's the only alternative to Advanced where the local teachers are competing). It's all in good fun... Wish me luck!

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