I’d like to be as honest as possible on this blog. Because of that I tend to shy away from negative criticism of events or performances. The scene is pretty small, and I’m pretty aware that any kind of chatter is bound to have some impact on teachers being hired or events succeeding or failing. At the same time I don’t want this blog to be just about sunshine and rainbows either. So talking about other events especially competition events, (and ones I have not attended to boot) is a little dicey for me given my work with the International Lindy Hop Championships. I usually get around this by just commenting about videos, but in the case of the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown, its getting harder and harder to do that without putting those videos into some sort of context.
In my mind, there are local events, regional events, super regional events, and national/international events. There are only a handful of events that I would consider touchstones. Events that everyone talks about even if they weren’t there. Events that drive the scene.
I consider Camp Jitterbug and Herrang such events. I’ll add ILHC, even if it is self serving. ULHS used to be the definition of this kind of event. That is a bit ironic because it started out as sort of an underground, counter culture movement to the prevailing events at the time like the American Lindy Hop Championships and the West Coast Swing events that hosted the majority of Lindy competitions back then.
But ULHS eclipsed them all. In particular, the ULHS 2006 Liberation Finals casts a long shadow. Not just on Showdown, but on every competition out there. That now legendary contest was a perfect storm of circumstances that would be hard to recreate even if you wanted to. In many ways the 2007 Liberation final should have been better given the participants dancers and band , but that contest and all others suffer in comparison to the execution and energy of 2006.
But we get to see those videos and make those comparisons because of Amy Johnson’s decision to not only allow people to record their own videos of Showdown, but to also distribute them however they wanted. That probably ranks as the most important turning points of the modern Lindy era in my book; right behind the decisions by two swedes to look up Al Minns or by a southern California couple to phone a New York City postal worker.
Lindy Hop is a dance, and dance is meant to be seen. Before Amy Johnson and the upstart ULHS came along in 2002, collectors hoarded clips, instructors discouraged filming of workshops and competition videos were only accessible after paying exorbitant prices. Amy made Lindy Hop more open source.
That decision helped to catapult ULHS into its status as the premiere Lindy Hop competition. With the scene’s flagship event operating with such an open policy, it created pressure on other events to do the same or else languish in obscurity and become irrelevant. It’s gotten to a point now where people race to get their footage uploaded to YouTube just hours after they record it.
Which is why it’s more than a little surprising to see videos of the finals from this year’s Showdown take more than a month to hit the ether.
This year’s contest is a loose yet solid effort, but suffers in comparison to its predecessors. Watching that video in relation to showdowns past makes it hard not to wonder: what happened?
A lot of that has to do with Amy changing the focus of what ULHS was to something else. This is from the “About” section of the Showdown website.
With its move to New Orleans in 2009, ULHS became more than a mere competition event. With more social dancing, more live music, historical lectures, dance classes, special guest performances, and a traditional New Orleans second line, the event has simply outgrown its name.
That new complete name is “The New Orleans Swing Dance Festival & The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown” which tells me that the competitions are going to be secondary to the main purpose of the event: to celebrate the relationship between the dancers and the musicians in the place that birthed the music.
This shift in focus is causing an adjustment of expectations for attendees and outside observers alike, but in doing so, Amy is positioning it to be the most unique event in our scene.
The irony is that ULHS’s origin as a hard-core-best-of-the-best-no-holds-barred-competition was viewed as the antithesis of the social nature of dance by many people. However, if anything, this new shift actually emphasizes a much more exchange vibe. Not just between dancers from all around the world, but with also some of the most talented and passionate musicians around.
But even that is a double edged sword. There’s a lot of griping about the focus on New Orleans style music in our scene these days, especially oom-pah-y Charlestony music. There’s a building backlash against this kind of music and I think that ULHS will continue to feel the effects of that.
That aside, more than the Showdown final, I was looking forward to the choreographed divisions. The focus on working with bonafide New Orleans musicians to provide live music for these performances , I thought, was an exciting development. But in retrospect it adds multiple levels of difficulty that has discouraged some people from competing. That may be the reason why you’ll notice on all the showcase videos that everyone is performing to recorded music. If you look on the ULHS website, you’ll see all the live music performance guidelines are still up there. When the change were made, I’m not sure.
I have not seen official results posted on the website or Facebook, but according to un-official ones in the comments section of a previous post, it looks like Juan Villafane & Sharon Davis won the couples’ showcase while Rainier Rhythm won the team showcase.
Finally, I’ll end with what I think are the two main highlights, Evita Arce’s performance in the Solo Blues contest and Chance Bushman and Bobby Bonsey in the Solo Charleston Tie Breaker.
Some people like to talk about how competitions hurt the scene, but think about where everyone was 8 years ago in terms of solo dance before ULHS introduced these kinds of contests, (I’ll give you a hint: nowhere) and see the skill and creativity on display in these solo divisions.
As long as Showdown has a place for this kind of dancing, I think there will always be a place for
Showdown The New Orleans Swing Dance Festival & The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown within the greater Lindy Hop community.