ULHS 2009: More Impressions From Not That Much Closer

Just a few more thoughts on the ULHS footage that’s currently online.

I don’t have much to add to my initial reactions to the Choreography Showcase, Solo Jazz, and Jack n Jill.

But I should mention how impressed I was with the Ultimate Lindy Hop Combo and the job they did for the Choreography Showcase..  They played the diversity of material they were asked to do incredibly well given the time constraints.

I’m also glad that the New Mexico team, Groove Juice Special, won the Showcase.  They had a great energy to their performance that still comes across pretty well over video.

I do have one problem with the Jack & Jill, and that is that the band played too fast for that contest.  I clocked it in around 230-240 bpm, which I think is too fast for people who don’t dance together regularly to do anything really fun and entertaining no matter how good they are.  Everyone danced very well, and if you told me any of them won, I don’t think I would argue very much.  To be honest I had no opinion at all after I finished watching.  Seeing Todd fall and recover in the J & J was pretty exciting, but that was about it.  Overall, the contest wasn’t bad.  Just not interesting enough to warrant repeated viewing.

I don’t have much to say about the Solo Blues & Slow Swing and Blues contests because the videos currently available are recorded from awkward angles that are also too far away.  To be sure, the view from above offers a fresh perspective on the coupled dance contest, but it’s hard to get a good sense of how anyone’s dancing looked without a closer ground level view.

Well filmed and HQ stuff makes a huge difference.  I watched the ULHS 2006 Solo Blues after watching this year’s contest, and it’s a completely different experience especially if you’re watching the original downloaded off of www.LindyLibrary.com, not just on YouTube.  I think that’s part of the reason why the 2008 clips aren’t as interesting to watch, in addition to the bad angles and distance.  Hopefully more HQ stuff will come out.  Of course I said that about ULHS 2008 and we’re all still waiting . . .

I hope that this isn’t the start of a trend for ULHS.  Not that I feel entitled to free dance videos, but I feel that they are the best form of advertising for any event.  That’s why I’m spending so much time posting about ULHS and not ALHC.  The video quality from the last couple ULHS’s hasn’t been very good, and Amy has made a very public appeal for additional financial support.  I’m not suggesting that the two are linked, but it doesn’t help people’s ability to judge whether they want to go to your event if they can’t see what happens there.

Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown: A Lindy Hop Battle

I was most interested and a disappointed in these videos.  The dancing by the couples was great overall, but, other than a few of moments, my main issue was that few people really took advantage of the battle format.  Theoretically it should encourage more interaction between the couples, but for the most part everyone danced as if there was no one else there.

It’s a battle.  A battle has two sides going one on one.  Head to head. “Battle” to me doesn’t say “Politely-wait-for-Falty-to-send-me-in-after-the-other-couple-finishes-their-two-chorus-spotlight”

This is a battle

I had a discussion about this with another dancer, and we talked about whether Lindy Hoppers as a group have what it takes to excel in this format.  Mostly because the demographic of the group is filled with people who spend most of their week working in IT or as school teachers.  That’s a terrible generalization, but whatever the average Lindy Hopper profile is, I doubt that it matches up with the typical dancer in the bboy/bgirl scene.

This isn’t an argument for our dancers to be more “bad ass” or “street” or whatever.  A battle doesn’t mean that everyone needs to channel their inner douchebag.  It would just be nice to see couples interact and play off of each other more.  It can start just by paying more attention to the other couple in the battle, and not being afraid to have less structure in terms of who goes out there, when, and for how long.

For a good Lindy Hop examples of the kind of interaction that I’m talking about, check out the ULHS 2004 Champions J & J and the ULHS 2006 Liberation Finals.

Despite my reservations, I wouldn’t mind seeing Lindy Hoppers experiment more with this format.

As for the Showdown itself, as I was watching it unfold that Saturday night, I thought it was going to be Dax & Annie’s to lose until Andrew Thigpen announced that the final would be judged by the crowd.  It’s probably not fair to have those kinds of preconceptions in mind, but the fact is that Dax and Annie have worked together longer than Joanna and Chance.

But the audience can be fickle.  Not just at ULHS, but in general.  It’s hard to say what they’ll go for from one night to the next, even if you’re dealing with the same crowd.  Some would say that that would be a firm argument to keep judging in the hands of trusted expert judges.

I think that depends on what you’re going for.  ULHS has always prided itself as an event for the people, by the people—created in reaction to more traditionally hierarchical events like the American Lindy Hop Championships or the crossover West Coast Swing events that dominated the Lindy Hop scene seven years ago or so.

That the audience was chosen as the judge of the final round isn’t surprising.  It’s actually quite fitting given the character of the event.  The only thing that surprises me is that it took so many years to let them make that decision.

Was it the right one?

I remember seeing the final for the Big Apple Jack & Jill in person at the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival in 2003.  It was a three way contest between Rebecca Drzewiczewski & Nick Williams vs Nina Gilkenson & Skye Humphries vs. Peter Strom & Melissa Varriano.  That contest had judges who chose Nina & Skye as the winners.

Not long after that, the video appeared online and I got into a discussion with someone who only saw the video.  That person was perturbed that Peter & Melissa didn’t win.  His argument was that they danced the cleanest and had the best connected dance out of everyone.

However, most people who saw it in person only debated whether Rebecca & Nick or Nina & Skye should have won.  Peter & Melissa never entered into the discussion.  It was just a different feeling to see the whole thing unfold in person.

That’s my long explanation as to why I’m not second guessing the crowd.  I wasn’t there, and I know how much a contest can take on life of its own when it’s actually happening around you.

I will say that I do believe that the ability to touch or rally an audience in the heat of a contest is a valid standard to base a decision on who wins a particular competition or not.  If you believe that dance is an art form that can be used to communicate different ideas, then I don’t see a better judge of how successful of that communication is than by everyone who is receiving it.  Dance isn’t a sport that can be scored objectively. Even if it is, ULHS is the last place where I expect such a system to prevail.

I don’t have much to say about the rest of the event since I wasn’t there.  I will note that it’s interesting to see as many clips of the musicians posted online as there are of dancers.  It’s a lot compared any event, including previous ULHS’s.  I’m not complaining.  It’s good to hear the sounds of an event as much as it is to see it, especially with all the talented musicians there.  I’ll post some of my favorites later this week.

Yet another reason why ULHS is the gift that keeps on giving.


  1. October 28, 2009 at 1:58 am

    230-240bpm too fast for a Champions Jack and Jill ??? Really ???
    I don’t think dancing to 230bpm is that challenging for such advanced dancers, even though they’re mixed up randomly. Most of them dance together socialy on a regular basis and I think it’s a good thing to have them dance Lindy Hop to the kind of music it’s supposed to be danced to.

    • Jerry said,

      October 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm

      Everyone obviously danced very well and are generally comfortable at that tempo and faster. It’s just not very exciting to watch since at that speed, they just keep it simple, doing very basic moves. I think this is the reason why many couples rely on choreographed mini-sequences in “strictly” competitions.

      The dancing that’s done here is very good, but in the end, it doesn’t leave a lasting impression to me. Although I will admit that, in my case, I’ve seen a million of these contests, and my jaded eye is kinda hard to impress these days.

      I’m not saying that the contest should be slow, but I think slow-er than what we see here would be better for the dancers to show off and the audience to enjoy. Even if we’re talking about 210-220 instead of 230-240.

  2. Alice said,

    November 5, 2009 at 2:41 am

    I completely agree with you about the J&J. I couldn’t really put my finger on it until you said how fast that music was. Holy crap. Just another reason why dancers should mix more with musicians. (Not that I’m complaining, by all means the music was well above what I would consider phenomenal.)
    I completely agree with you about the audience judging method, but I think also that the person you were talking to preferred Melissa and Peter style to the others. Their dancing aesthetic is more smooth and the others and maybe that is what this person valued more than the raw style of Nina and Skye and Nick and Rebecca. Just a thought.

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