While I was away at DCLX, I got some interesting and well thought out comments in last week's post, "Your Bio Sucks." I'm way too busy this week to respond, but then I remembered that I've already addressed some of the issues brought up there in a series of posts a year and a half ago in a thread on Yehoodi entitled "How To Get Professional." That thread turned towards the role of competitions in our community, and I eventually belted out one particular reply which is relevant to the current discussion. I am re-posting it below. That Yehoodi thread went on forever, so if you don't have time to read the whole thing, I'd like to point out Lucy Dunne's brilliant post on fostering creativity in competitive situations. You may remember me mentioning Lucy a few times, most notably in her and Ben Furnas's send up of compeitions at the 2000 ALHC.
I do realize that this only partially addresses some of the issues in the comments, but I'm hoping the other project that I'm working on will address the others in a rather interesting way very soon. Until then, read on.
It s a damn shame that most of the Yehoodi archives got toasted because there was an amazing discussion after NADC 2002 (North Atlantic Dance Championships), and leading up to the first Harlem Jazz Dance Festival where Janice Wilson laid out the vision of her event and challenged the community to think about and discuss what everyone valued. It introduced the word vernacular into the modern Lindy Hop community's vocabulary, and was remarkable because it was the last time many of the top tier dancers of the time participated in an online discussion en masse.
Lots of people took different things out of that thread, but this is what I learned: There's a difference between doing a "swing out" and swinging out. Everyone here can do the former. (I would hope) Nina Gilkenson and Mikey Pedroza showed us an example of the latter at this year s Camp Hollywood/National Jitterbug Championships starting at 3:58 on this clip.
Does anyone here seriously think that there's a way to teach that? Can you even do it justice by trying to describe it with the written word? Something happened there that can't be learned if you took workshops and private lessons from here until the day you die. It's not something that can be boiled down to just the three T's of Timing, Teamwork, and Technique. It's about heart, soul, and passion. That's the originality that I m talking about, not just some new aerial or footwork combination. Watch the other ten minutes of that contest, and no one reacts the same way like they do to Mikey and Nina.
I like no holds barred contests, and I don't mind that judges for most events don't list what they look for in a comp. I feel that this forces people to dig down deep inside and show us what they're about. When we're lucky, they tap into that intangible factor that makes judges jump out of their seats, fellow competitors scream, and the whole crowd go apesh!t crazy for 10 swingouts. Some of the craziest aerials and stunts I've ever seen in a contest happen in that clip and Mikey and Nina almost started a riot with ten examples of the most basic pattern in Lindy Hop.
I'm not comfortable with categories, and I distrust most definitions. The word definition is based on the word finite, which would seem to indicate that once we ve defined something, we don t need to think about it anymore. -Artie Shaw
Dave you mentioned that you ve been dancing for 14 years, and that you're pretty comfortable with Lindy Hop. So why do you or anyone else need the input of all these judges? To win? And then what? To become a professional dancer? Is this a competition or a marketing opportunity? Honestly, I don t see how you can advocate getting people to make original contributions to the dance, but also be on a mission to fulfill someone else s preconceived notions.
Great dancing, or art in general, isn t just about technical skill, or even how creative you can be. Important factors? Certainly. But there's also the ability to reach out to an audience and get them to react on an emotional level; to see what you see rather than settling by just giving them what they want, whatever you think that is.
Yes, the choreography for Skye and Frida s 2007 routine was relatively simple, especially if you compare it to some of the stuff that people can throw down today. But complexity of movement wasn't the point. They had a little idea that they wanted to explore and share with everyone. How you measure that? You can't, which is why competitions suck for these kinds of things, but they're the main venue we have right now for dancers to showcase their ideas. So until a more creative outlet comes along, I think it would be a better to have fewer rules in place in order to continue and encourage dialogue.
Dave mentioned having a continuous conversation about our dance, and I agree, but most of the arguments for this debate are ultimately going to be made on the dance floor. For better or worse, competitions are our main forums for this discussion.
Go back to my Silver Shadows example. Even with what seemed like an objective standard, there was still a difference of opinion that cost the Shadows. They had thought they had choreographed enough movement to fulfill the judges expectations. They were wrong.
Theoretically, I could have gotten seven of my friends, did swingouts for 3 minutes, and beaten the Silver Shadows. (assuming there weren't six other teams in the division :P) As awesome as that sounds to me, what would have anyone gotten from that?
That s what this mentality of inventorying judges opinions and setting official standards says to me. Play it safe, color within the lines, and you'll do well. Judges: I want to see this. Competitor: Here it is. End of discussion. Swing Heil.
In my opinion, the best way to keep this conversation going is to let the dancers dance; to show us what they have by fostering an environment where people can contribute their ideas without being held prisoner to other people's expectations. Besides, it's not like we don t have standards in the form of vintage clips and the great new dancing that happens every year.
Some people want the best aspects of these clips enumerated in some sort of easy to reference list, but as I've mentioned before on this thread:
. . . . people are always looking for an easy to follow recipe to win more competitions, become a professional dancer, or what religion or political party, if any, to follow. And the answer that people don t like to hear is that its all very complicated and depends on a lot of stuff, some of which you can control, and a lot of which you can t. But they don t have time for that kind of critique or self reflection especially for something like Lindy Hop.
What are we about? Are we about certain types of music? How fast or slow our dancing is? What kind of lines we can draw with our bodies? To me, all that stuff is incidental. Who are you? Why do you dance? What do you want to say? How are you going to tell other people? Those are the core questions that I think, if answered honestly and courageously, will keep this conversation going on the dance floor.