ULHS 2009: First Impressions From Afar

Wonders of modern technology.  I can comment about ULHS so soon after it ended, and I wasn’t even there.

First up was the Street dance contest.  Seems to be a straight up coupled contest.  People dance until they’re tapped out, leaving three couples to dance off jam style.  Dancing on the actual street just might be a little too hardcore for me as my knees hurt just from watching them dance on the concrete.

A dedicated YouTuber has uploaded the dance performances from Friday night.

I find this division super intriguing because all the routines are done to live music.

Anyone who has choreographed a routine knows how difficult that can be, so you gotta give props to everyone who made the effort to work with these musicians with so little lead time.

Although they were supposed to submit music requirements and a video of their performance a month ago, I can only imagine how nerve wracking it must be to only get together with the musicians within a day of the actual performance.

Lots of good stuff although the performance by the Philly Bloomers is a little puzzling.(Note the video below cuts off the end)

They did a recreation of the 1999 ALHC Cabaret performance of the Grit Grinder Girlies.

Hailed at the time as provocative and a little controversial, it’s still the standard by which all modern blues performances are measured.  I can certainly understand why someone would want to dance it again, I’m just not why you would enter a competition doing it.

Back at ALHC 2002, the Houston Hep Cats performed a painstakingly researched recreation of the Big Apple routine that Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers did in the film, “Keep Punchin’.”  They could have won just based on the strength of their enthusiasm and energy alone, but got knocked down simply because they didn’t do original choreography.  It was one of those rare quirks of the judging at ALHC that actually made sense to me.

Depending on the competition, dance contests aren’t usually just about execution on the floor.  I think being judged on all aspects of your creativity is a reasonable expectation.  I suspect the Philly Bloomers aren’t going to be getting points for doing a piece someone else created and performed before.

There’s a time and place for everything.  We like to pay homage to what came before quite a bit in our community.  It’s almost a running gag to see how many routines out there use parts or even whole vintage routines like the Big Apple, the California Routine, or any of the Shim Shams.

But the competition arena should be the place where we look forward.  To elaborate on an observation that Skye once made about contests, they are the crucible where the pressures of tradition, creativity and passion forge something new.

I’m not afraid to admit that I spent the later part of Saturday night watching the live broadcast of the ULHS evening activities on NOLA.com since over 2000 people did the same. (Or at least, that’s what MC Andrew Thigpen announced)

The audio was crap and the video quality, not to mention angle, could have been better.  But it was till interesting to see the next evolutionary step of the ever changing ULHS.

Couples battled all day, head to head tournament style until it was down to Annie Trudeau & Dax Hock against Joanna Lucero & Chance Bushman.  I can’t wait to see better quality footage of the contest, but both couples danced great.

The most obvious difference between them was that you could tell that Dax and Annie have been working together for some time on the Ninjammerz as they used many of the aerials and tricks that are normally associated with her and her usual partner, Max Pitruzzella.

Chance and Joanna are not regular partners, but they complement each other very well.  Chance himself is not the most charismatic dancer out there, but Joanna generated enough energy out there on her own to power the French Quarter for the evening.

The contest was audience judged.  The first round so close that the crowd practically begged for another dance off.  In the end, they cheered Joanna and Chance to victory.

Casey Schneider actually made a good case for why the old timers used to prefect a small number of mini routines for contests and performances.

“. . . it’s one of my greatest dance pet peeves (too week of a word…nay, it’s a failure of the greater part of the lindy hop community) that dancers do not perform the same sequences and routines ENOUGH. They only way to truly own a piece of choreography and the precise physical requirements of air steps is to execute it many times, for a long time. The more you are familiar with said choreography and airsteps, the more you move beyond the realm of execution and into performance. Thankfully, lindy hoppers overall are becoming better PERFORMERS. In any case, the reason why the best dancers ever (Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and yes, I do think they were the best) is because they performed the same choreography and steps more times than any of us have done a triple step.”

She goes on to point out that we are a little spoiled in our ability to watch dances over and over on YouTube and other sites.  That’s the blessing and the curse of the YouTube era as it applies more pressure to the crucible.

10 years ago, Paul Overton shrewdly observed the negative affects competitions could have on a community that would obsessively try to imitate the winners.  However, that was only part of a picture that was not completely revealed until a few years later with the advent of easy to download videos over the internet and events like ULHS that let the people have a say on who gets to be called the best of the best.

Now instead of a hierarchical structure of trends coming from the top down, it’s more like circular feedback.  And it’s just getting faster. Videos of the ULHS Friday performances came out less than 24 hours after they happened, and all the Saturday night competitions were broadcasted live.

It’s always trendy to try to forecast new fads especially in the wake of a ULHS.  I’m not going to try that here, but I will point out that everyone is going to have to be a little quicker on their feet creatively in the future.  Some things at ULHS don’t change.

Here are a few other preliminary videos from the weekend.  I’ll post more HQ videos as well as official results as I find them.

I should mention that Ramona Staffeld was selected the winner of the solo contest by the audience on Saturday night.

Part of the Slow Swing & Blues division on Sunday.

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3 Comments

  1. Sing said,

    October 14, 2009 at 5:20 am

    HI Thank you for your review and summary. can i post this on my fb?

    • Jerry said,

      October 14, 2009 at 8:02 am

      Sure. Glad you find it interesting to post.

  2. October 15, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Hey Jerry,
    Great review of the event 🙂
    I really hope someone recorded better quality videos and will upload them soon.


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