I wanted to expand on a thought in my last post where I previously pointed out the confrontational (in a friendly way) aspect of Sharon Davis and Max Pitruzzella’s dance off in the 2006 Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown Solo Charleston Contest.
Admittedly I haven’t watched the video very closely since I first saw it a few years ago. Seeing it again recently in the context of writing my last post made quite a few things jump out at me regarding the back and forth between the two dancers.
They start off by trading eight 8’s (16 bars) for their individual spotlights. After they each go once, Sharon playfully shoo’s Max off for her second shine at 0:35. Max returns the favor and ups the ante big time at 1:04.
After they each go three times alone, they dance off together starting at 1:35. Notice Sharon with her “bring it on” hand motions soon after that.
Despite that challenging gesture, note how much Sharon moves in and out of the circle around and away from Max, and how much Max pursues her. At 1:53 they both close in on each other. Their movements more suggestive than aggressive, but as they get next to each other with Max behind her, Sharon smartly bails out, probably realizing that there was no way to look dignified in what was developing.
She backs away, but still faces Max. Max again moves towards her. 2:07 he’s back in her space, and again she slips away to the other side.
From here on out, notice that Sharon faces the front, towards most of the audience, while Max stays focused on her. Although there’s a good amount of distance between them, at 2:22 he’s back to practically being on top of her, but Sharon deftly steps away again.
At 2:29 Max gets the hint, this time when he moves to get next t to her, he stays facing the audience until the band stops.
Notice that the two dancers stay side by side, facing front almost the entire time. It’s also interesting how they take turns following each other’s lead. Right off the bat Jojo follows Frida’s first foot shuffles at 0:08, and then her staccato arm movements afterward. Jojo is still following when Frida starts into multiple “scarecrows”
Starting the next phrase they are on their own. Frida in one place while Jojo decides to make use of the floor. Jojo is more dynamic as a result, but Frida exudes power standing her ground.
From an audience stand point it’s hard to choose who to track. While Jojo has the benefit of more space to work with, it does take some extra effort to keep an eye on her. On the other hand, you’re pretty sure of Frida’s position through to the end. Regardless of their positions in relation to each other, they stay facing forward 98% of the time.
There’s a great moment where Jojo is back next to Frida and Jojo plays off of Frida’s jumps at 0:43. Then later at 1:05 there’s a nice contrast between the two as they do the same movements with their hands, but with a different emphasis. Frida quickly knifes at the air while Jojo plays it much cooler. The other difference is that Jojo is moving forward while she’s doing that, which puts her in front of Frida. That causes Frida to pick up on Jojo’s movements and starts to follow her.
Side by side, eventually Frida goes back to the reaching movement with her arms, and Jojo follows suit and an interesting compromise results between their two earlier interpretations of this movement.
Jojo goes back on the move after this exchange, and Frida moves over slightly, but she doesn’t go far before the band abruptly ends.
There’s much more give and take with this contest than in the Sharon and Max dance off, and it's certainly not as confrontational. Anytime Jojo moves, it’s always away and around Frida. When she closes, it’s always side by side.
They never turn their bodies towards each other although they will turn their heads towards each other to see what they’re doing. I think that's the reason why Jojo follows Frida more because she’s looking towards Frida more than Frida looks at her. That might be a result of her constant movement; she needs to keep re-orienting herself as she moves around.
In that sense Jojo is engaging Frida without being aggressive. This strategy back fires though because she unconsciously mimics more of Frida’s movements rather than set her own agenda. The only time Frida follows Jojo is when Jojo puts herself in front of Frida’s field of vision.
Are the differences in competition approaches due to gender differences or more personality based? It’s easy to say Max is more aggressive because he’s the only guy in these examples, but he also has a background in hip hop dancing where the competitions are generally more “in your face.”
Would Frida have stood her ground in the same way against Max as she did with Jojo? Would Max even try messing with Frida? Would Jojo or Sharon be as mobile against each other?
Hard to tell since we don’t have that many examples to work with. These are the only two instances of dance offs at ULHS with the 2004 contest being the first. The 2003 Charleston contest was actually the inaugural year of that division, so the dancers are working with little modern precedent. Usually winners are chosen out of a larger pool of finalists. These dance offs only occurred when the audience couldn’t pick a clear cut winner.
I think this highlights one of the funny quirks of head-to-head competitions: not only are dancers trying to dance the best they can, they also have the opportunity to influence, intimidate or subvert the other dancers at the same time.
The flip side of course is they can also play off of and inspire each other. Even little things can become more significant. Frida’s simple hops that I mentioned at 0:43 are fun by themselves, but put together with Jojo’s split second reaction to compliment them with her own makes for a very memorable moment.
Head-to-head battles are pretty rare for coupled competitions, but ULHS has re-structured its divisions this year to emphasize the showdown part of the name. Eight couples that make it out of the preliminary rounds are going to be seeded and paired off to battle each other tournament style. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.