AIR pt. 8: Competition Concerns

I see a lot of people checking the blog in the wake of ILHC this past weekend.  I’m still in the process of recovering myself, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to post the next part of  my already completed paper entitled “Artistry In Rhythm: Dialogue Through Dance in the Lindy Hop community.”   I think it’s very apropos since it digs into the state of Lindy competitions earlier this decade.  Previous and future posts can be found by searching my blog for the category “Artistry In Rhythm” ILHC coverage will continue later this week.


“[I]t is obvious that artists reflect their times and backgrounds and their art works are oftentimes more eloquent than any politician’s speech or sociological study.”[1] Marco Pignataro

Also at the ALHC 2000, Ben Furnas and Lucy Dunne performed one of the competition’s most infamous routines where they lampooned the general state of competitions in both the Lindy Hop and West Coast Swing worlds.

They start out by dancing to Eva Cassidy’s version of “Wade In The Water,” which by 2000 was already hopelessly overplayed in both dance communities.  They move with dead pan expressions on their faces as they exaggeratedly accentuate the numerous musical breaks that make the song so popular.  Before long, they stop the music with one of the more cliché competition tropes: the abrupt costume change from flashy to more flashy.  Clad in sparkly sequined clothes and a change in facial expressions, the song shifts to “Play That Funky Music, White Boy” before their performance is interrupted by a disembodied voice admonishing them for their insufficient “Lindy Content.”  They cheerfully ignore it and continue their skewering of the WCS competition style until the voice stops them again, this time threatening them with disqualification.  Feigning concern, they break into a Lindy Hop routine to “Mildred, Why Don’t You Behave” by the Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra, and proceed to go through all the Lindy Hop competition clichés complete with endless spins, swivels all around, and a generous helping of rock steps.

Although they got a huge reaction from the crowd, future competitors missed the joke.  As it turned out, the routine was as much a parody as it was a harbinger of things to come.

If the general sloppiness of groove style Lindy Hop was a concern on the social dance level, a fear of uniform regimentation was growing at the competition level between 1999 and 2002, possibly fueled by the counter-interest in connection mechanics and the popularity of WCS events[2].

ALHC 2000 and 2001 in particular saw a large number of disqualifications in the performance divisions for a wide variety of reasons.  Many of those disqualifications could be characterized as minor violations, such as too many bars of separation between dancers.

However, the most controversial reason for disqualification came in the form of insufficient “Lindy content.”  According to the rules for ALHC’s Classic and Open Showcase, the divisions required that each routine include a certain percentage of recognizable Lindy content.  The problem with such a requirement was defining it, and in fact the ALHC rules have never attempted to do so, leaving that to the purview of each individual judge.  Presumably, it was implemented to prevent couples from performing routines with significant portions of other dances such as Balboa, Collegiate Shag, Foxtrot, etc. from winning or placing well.  However, it was also used to construe the quality of “Lindyness” of various routines.  Regardless of the reasons, the sheer number of dq’s caused quite a bit of resentment. Matt Smiley posted the following reaction after winning first place in the controversial 2001 ALHC Classic division.[3]

“Using DQs to enforce division rules is like using the death penalty to deal with speeding tickets. I never understood why competitions use DQs rather than some less severe form of penalty.
. . .
Prior to the awards ceremony, Naomi and I heard rumors that 10 out of 17 Classic division couples were DQed. We both agreed then and still agree now that if that many people are committing mortal Classic Division sins then there is something wrong with the rules.”[4]

The result was two main attitudes towards competitions.  First, it made many people retreat into pure social dance and give up on working on lindy hop as a performance art form.  Although ALHC did not cause the explosion of Lindy Exchanges that occurred at that time, this effect from the resulting controversy only added to the appeal of those events.

Secondly, the DQ’s specifically discouraged experimentation and ultimately participation since people were probably not interested in putting hard work into a routine on the chance that they would be disqualified.  The raw number of choreographed routines at events reached a peak in 2002, and then dropped steadily after that.  Although it is slowly increasing again, as shown in the table below, the Classic division routines at ALHC took a huge hit between 2001 and 2005.  Although the Open Showcase[5] division stayed relatively the same there were 14 routines in the Lindy Hop division at the North Atlantic Dance Championships 2002, but there were only four at the last one in 2004.  The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown only featured two routines its first two years of existence in 2002 and 2003.

Table 1

ALHC Classic Division ALHC Showcase Division ALHC Team Division NADC Lindy Hop Division ULHS No Holds Barred Division ULHS Team Division Total
1999

9

10

4

5

28

2000

12

8

6

15

41

2001

17

9

8

7

41

2002

11

12

6

15

1

0

45

2003

5

10

6

10

1

1

33

2004

5

10

2

4

4

5

30

2005

5

8

3

5

3

24

2006

8

4

6

7

3

28

The message from the dq’s seemed to have been that Lindy Hop was a specific “thing” to be achieved rather than being a vehicle for public creativity and experimentation.  It solidified the perception that there was a specific formula for winning, and if you achieved the right mix, then you would place well.  If you did not, then your routine would not be considered at all.


[1] Jazz Improv Magazine

[2] Before ULHS, two of the top three competitions were WCS crossover events: US Open and NADC.

[3] Personally, my favorite routine. I posted a more in depth review of it on my blog earlier. https://jsalmonte.wordpress.com/2009/07/23/review-alhc-2001-frenesi-routine-by-naomi-uyama-matt-smiley/

[4] “ALHC Competitors Speak Up!” discussion thread on  Yehoodi.com posted by “Matt Smiley 2.0” aka Matt Smiley on 10/31/01 http://www.yehoodi.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=49821 last accessed July, 2007

[5] At ALHC there are two main routine divisions for couples: Classic & Showcase.  This is a delineation derived from West Coast Swing competitions.  The most significant difference between the two divisions is that aerials and other acrobatic stunts are permitted in Showcase while Classic is designed to emphasize dancing.

Advertisements

6 Comments

  1. Sandy said,

    September 1, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Excellent.

  2. itmovesmatt said,

    September 2, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    I don’t know if I ever mentioned this at the time of all this controversy, but I guess I should point out now that Naomi and I did read the rules of the classic divisions pretty carefully and we choreographed accordingly. Everyone else had the same opportunity to do so. The rules were annoying but they weren’t a big secret.

    It sort of seemed like bad taste to mention this back then, but I think that the “who freakin cares?” statute of limitations has passed.

    • Jerry said,

      September 3, 2009 at 12:19 pm

      Actually I think you did post something like that on one of the threads. I think the main problem with the rules were that they were just badly worded. On the other hand if people had such a problem understanding them, they could have just called or emailed Paullette to have them clarified.

      Then there’s the unfortunate case of Jason Esparza & Vanessa Cobb in the Classic division. They would have come in first, but because he got super excited at the end, he dropped to his knee during the final dip. It was ruled a “drop” and was disqualified. I think that sums up why people got fed up with ALHC. Any event that penalizes you for being happy about dancing should be rightly considered lame.

  3. Alice said,

    September 6, 2009 at 12:23 am

    What about the rock step routine?

    • Jerry said,

      September 9, 2009 at 12:54 am

      Another memorable Ben & Lucy moment. I think this came before ALHC if I’m not mistaken.

  4. June 12, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    […] Smiley echoed a similar sentiment in his win with Naomi Uyama in the contentious 2001 ALHC Classic Division: “I have been in a lot of competitions. When I placed last I never felt that I was the worst […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: