A Different Kind of Lead and Follow II: Electric Boogaloo

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.

Contrast that dance off with this one which took place between Frida Segerdahl and Jojo Jackson in the 2004 ULHS Solo Charleston Contest.

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.

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6 Comments

  1. w .s. said,

    August 11, 2009 at 9:03 am

    The Max and Sharon video raises an interesting question. If you were to score it like a Mixed Martial Arts fight or a body building pose-off, Max certainly established dance floor control and limited where and how Sharon was able to dance so he wins the round 10-9. But, if you look at it like horse racing or many other sports, Max draws a penalty for interference and Sharon wins the round.

    As an observer I find the Frida & Jojo contest more enjoyable because I’m left feeling the dancers each had freedom to perform at their best. On the other side, I’m left thinking on some level Sharon had to keep part of her energy focused on personal space and safety concerns so I came away feeling cheated of an opportunity to see her truly shine at interacting and adapting as she has done at other events. But it raises the question, where do you draw that line?

  2. Ann said,

    August 11, 2009 at 11:25 am

    There’s another actor here: the audience. At 2:15 Sharon breaks the fourth wall and points out to the audience how funny Max looks trying to one-up her bees knees with only one functional arm. Max is man enough to laugh it off (he self-mockingly does the chicken with his arms) but immediately after he concedes defeat (asks the audience to cheer for her at 2:25). He knows when he’s been pwned, and while Max is aggressive in competitions, he’s also gracious in defeat.

    • March 15, 2010 at 1:00 am

      Although I do not know him personally, I would not call Max a gracious loser.

      At Camp Hollywood this past year, Max and Annie placed second in the strictly to Kim And David who did 8 helicopters in a row during the all skate. After the awards ceremonies and the winners pictures they both left their trophies on the stage, publicly crapping all over the event that the organizers invited them to teach at, Kim and David (who have been dancing a hell of a lot longer than both Max and Annie), the judges of the contest, the dance scene of the city they were visiting, everyone in it, oh and also the spirit of Lindy Hop. Congratulations, you are officially a huge d-bag.
      I understand that they might have been making some sort of ill thought out statement about Camp Hollywood, and that their judging system is all about the tricks (50 showmanship/50 TTT) and not “the dancing”. However, this wasn’t the appropriate avenue in which to make it. Another tidbit to think about, Max and Annie’s competitions are ALL ABOUT THEIR TRICKS even though they are excellent dancers.

      Stuff like that makes me angry, sorry.

      • Apache said,

        March 15, 2010 at 7:35 pm

        I was at the awards ceremony at CH and did not notice that at all. Hilary really puts her heart and soul into that event, how disappointing someone would attempt to tarnish it like that.

        On the plus side, more trophies for next years Pre-Camp Hollywood Scavenger Hunt. (Jonathon Stout is going down!)

  3. Jerry said,

    August 11, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    @w.s.: Well, it’s kinda implied in the format that this is what is going to take place. Or at least could. Although I’m not convinced it really fits the character of most of the dancers in the scene in general. Still, I don’t think the variety of formats at different events hurts. Keeps each event distinct and fresh.

    @Ann: Good call. It seems like the crowd is solidly on Sharon’s side from the begining. It was up to Max to make something happen to change that perception.

  4. jojo said,

    March 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    just stumbled across this post… so funny to see such an in-depth analysis! really cool insights, though. thought i’d chime in with a couple of notes from my perspective.

    first off, solo charleston contests were brand new at the time. the first national one that i’m aware of was at the previous ULHS. i also saw one in california that year. although the head-to-head battle is almost a given at this point, it was a totally spur-of-the moment decision by Sean Morris (MC) because the audience apparently couldn’t decide between the two of us 🙂 Frida and I both groaned because we didn’t want to “battle” each other, which is probably why it looks almost more like a performance than a contest.

    what i remember most about that dance is being in awe of how in-sync we were– it felt like random telepathy at the time, although watching the video you can see that there was a lot of visual give-and-take. i like how you said that i “unconsciously mimic frida’s movements without setting (my) own agenda.” whereas you can see that frida is very present when she chooses to join in with mine. i had very little concept of phrasing at the time, which is why my dancing is all over the place. in some ways i miss having that raw, zen-like musicality, but at the same time, you can see how frida’s solid, phrase-based musicality is much stronger overall. also, she is generally awesome overall 🙂

    thanks for a great post and a little trip down memory lane.


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