Anatomy of a Dance Contest: The Champions’ Strictly Lindy Hop Division at ILHC 2009 pt. I

I’ve already written quite a bit about this past International Lindy Hop Championships, but to illustrate how complex any one part of an event can be I’m going to give you a peak behind the curtains of The Champions’ Strictly Lindy Hop Division at ILHC 2009.

This one competition took about 20 minutes out of a four day event. Theoretically, a dance contest sounds like a deceptively simple recipe:  Add one part music, several parts dancers, and it’s off to the races, right?  In reality . . . not so much.

There’s a very thin, delicate and ever shifting line between managing an event and just letting it happen.  There’s no secret formula for making sure everything goes right, just as there’s no way to anticipate and prepare for everything that can go wrong.  There’s a lot of moving parts; not just logistical, but also creative and political.  Details are plentiful, and it’s remarkably easy to be tripped up by even the smallest one.

Make good decisions, and if you’re lucky, you may be rewarded with something very special.

Setting the stage

As in a many situations, setting the right mood goes a long way to getting you where you want to go.  This was particularly  challenging for the venue we rented for ILHC.

Take a look at the videos and pictures from last year,  and you’ll know that the ballroom has its limitations.  We addressed three major issues to punch things up a little bit this time around.

  • Dance Floor: Not so obvious, but most important.  We were unhappy with the provider and the quality of the floor last year, so this time around our dance floor came by way of the same company that did Frankie95, Dance Jam Productions.
  • Background: You’ll may remember that many dancers last year wore dark colors that disappeared against the black drape provided by the hotel.  This year, with the help of my friend Kristin Hershberger, we went to DC Drape, who provided us with a lighter background to compliment our banner and to better show off the dancers.  We got a lot of it to cover as much of the wall as possible and hide the doors and the giant vents next to them to get rid of as much of the institutional feel of the space.  Some chocolate brown curtains tied off with gold ropes to framed the stage, which were just some risers that the hotel provided.  Those risers are a nasty, worn out green color, so we got DC Drape to also cover the top in a simple black, and then skirt it with a nice pattern.  Even some greenery mysteriously appeared at one point during the weekend to give stage a little more flavor.  Any resemblance to the plants in the hotel lobby was just a coincidence.
  • Lighting: Light guru and one of our MC’s, Peter Strom,  worked with our sound coordinator, Robert Patch, to set the lighting.  You can’t imagine the amount of time that Peter spent in that room, fiddling with the lights and even getting the hotel engineers to remove individual bulbs to get the best feel possible in that space.  Robert then provided a few simple light trees and spotlights to light the band and the main performance area to create a much more dramatic affect on the dance floor than last year.

Robert also did a great job working with The Boilermakers to connect their own sound equipment with what he brought.  He even got a speaker going in the lobby, so people could hear the band out there.  For those of you who have access to Facebook, you can read his in depth debrief of all the equipment used and how issues were resolved.

The Judges

Judging the talented dancers in this division requires an equally talented panel of judges.  Our head judge, Sylvia Sykes, has probably won more titles in more dances than anyone else around.  Steven Mitchell is the godfather of the entire Lindy Hop community.  Even if you’ve never taken a workshop from him, you’ve probably learned from someone he’s taught in the past 25 years.  Caitlin Wellman, Valerie Salstrom, and Naomi Uyama are some of the most talented and successful dancers to come up in the past 10 years.

Sylvia worked out the schedule so that judges did not have to judge back to back contests, except for her, while factoring who was competing in which contests.

The Players

There were two ways to get into the final round of this competition.

First you could qualify by winning first place in one of the following contests this year.

Kim & David could not make it this year.  Also, Nick, Dax, and Alice all opted to compete with different partners, so they forfeited their byes into the final round.  They competed in the preliminary round which was held earlier that evening.

To be eligible to compete in the prelims, you had to have placed in the top three at ULHS, WLHC, Camp Jitterbug, NJC, ALHC, or other competitions determined by ILHC.  (Oddly, I just noticed that we didn’t put our own event in this list.)  A total of 12 couples competed and we ended up taking six of them to round out the finals.

Preliminary Rounds

Heat 1

  • Alice Mei & Thomas Blacharz
  • Mikaela Hellsten & Oskar Markusson
  • Karen Turman & Carl Nelson
  • Mia Goldsmith & Todd Yannacone
  • Laura Keat & Jeremy Otth
  • Juan Villafane & Sharon Davis

The music for the prelims was DJ’d by Reuben Brown who was specifically recruited because of his extensive competition expereince.

First song:  “Roll ’Em” by Benny Goodman & His Orchestra

Second song:  “Down South Camp Meeting” by Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra

Heat 2

  • Frida Segerdahl & Skye Humphries
  • Sarah Deckard & Dax Hock
  • Nikki Marvin & Mikey Pedroza
  • Carla Heiney & Nick Williams
  • Kenny Nelson & Tiffiny Wine
  • Ramona Staffeld & Peter Strom

First song:  “Cherokee” by Charlie Barnett & His Orchestra

Second song:

All Skate:  “Carioca” by Artie Shaw & His Orchestra

There was a lot of discussion earlier that day as to how many couples we were going to take from the prelims.  When you have that much talent out there, it kills you to have to leave some of them out.  In fact, we could have had a kick ass final with all the couples who didn’t make it.  However, trying to run a phrase jam with 16 couples just wasn’t going to cut it. Eventually, Sylvia decided to make the cut at 10 which is still too much, but a number we felt we could manage.

As soon as the contest ended, contest coordinators Tony and Aurelie Tye collected and verified the judges’ score sheets.  They brought them to our tabulators, Scott Angelius and Michelle Postles, who camped out in the judges room for the weekend entering and tabulating scores.  Everything had to be figured out quickly for the final which was going to be a little over two hours later.

To be continued . . . tomorrow . . . woot . . .

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1 Comment

  1. Kevin said,

    November 12, 2009 at 6:32 am

    Heat 2 song 1 is actually “Redskin Rhumba” by Charlie Barnet. The second song is “King Porter Stomp” by The Teddy Hill Orchestra


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