Dance Competitions: Judging and Getting Noticed

I haven’t been posting a lot because I keep working on very grandiose essays, and subsequently not getting very far. But I have been writing. Mostly emails to friends about different things. Since I’m not getting far in my regular posting, I thought I’d pull out one such email, clean it up a bit and post it. It’s a little bit of a cheat, but the advantage is that I have a lot of these, so I may be posting these more often. At the very least, they’re somewhat cogent thoughts on stuff I think people will find interesting.

This particular post is in response to a question from a friend about competition judging and how to stand out in a contest, which is why it goes back and forth between the two subjects. 

I should add the disclaimer that even though I work for The International Lindy Hop Championships, I don’t have anything to do with the judging, so don’t take this a guide to winning. I also did not talk to any of the judges about these particular contests. I mention how some judges could interpret a dance, but these are all hypothetical views. My main point is to illustrate how different people can look at the same thing, but not see the same thing.

I will start by answering your first question directly: that the way anyone sees dancing is very subjective. That’s the whole issue in trying to evaluate a creative thing like dancing. Competitions like the International Lindy Hop Championships try to mitigate that by bringing in many experienced judges in the hopes that most of them will come to some sort of consensus. Because everyone is coming from a different perspective, we don’t expect them all to agree. I don’t think there’s any combination of dancers that could.

Sidebar: Several years ago I was at a competition watching one of the contests with a judge not judging at that time. He turned to me and pointed out how terrible a particular dancer was moving out there. This was Friday night. Sunday rolls around and we’re watching a different contest and that same dancer comes out. That judge turns to me and points out how good that dancer is, without realizing that we were looking at the same person that almost made him physically retch two days before. Go figure. Read the rest of this entry »

A Word on Swing #2

Presenting the wildly anticipated second episode of A Word on Swing.

This has been a pretty fun project for us. As you’ll see, it’s still a little rough around the edges (and a little bit on the inside). What you see here, is the sum total of my video editing experience as I’m treating this video blog as a learning opportunity. Same with Bobby who put together our first episode.

This particular episode snowballed very quickly from the fact that we were going to be at the same weekend dance for the first time in awhile. If that sounds familiar, that’s because that was the premise of our first show.

In this case it was a dance that The Jam Cellar was hosting at the historic Glen Echo Park with The Blue Crescent Syncopators. Bobby came up with the idea of interviewing the band leader, Craig Gildner, the night before. Even with the short notice, and the fact that we were conducting this interview during the band sound check (another running theme), Craig was able to give us a wealth of information about the history of jazz guitar and relate it in a way that would be easy to understand by people with not a lot of technical musical knowledge. Like swing dancers.

From there we came up with a bunch of other ideas to build a bridge to the other related theme we were discussing at the time, but you’ll have to watch the show to find out what that was.

A technical note: I know the video doesn’t quite fit the regular YouTube screen. I’ve been having issues finding the right setting to get the editing program, Vegas Movie Studio HD 10, to spit out a  final video file that’s a reasonable size for upload. I have a relatively slow internet connection, so it can’t be huge. The program only has a certain number of pre-set ways to generate movies, and the best one I can find so far is a setting for iphone videos, which is why the video is cropped the way it is. I’m still finding my way around the program, and hoping to find a better setting other than forking over the extra cash for the platinum version of the program.

Thanks to everyone who gave us feedback while we put this together. We hope you enjoy this show. We already have plans for our next one which we’ll be recording this weekend live at The Boston Tea Party where we’ll be talking to a super secret boom time guest(s?).

A Word on Swing: Crisis on Infinite Blogs

Finally unleashing our sort of named joint Swungover and Wandering & Pondering mega blog crossover video podcast.

This is a little project that Bobby White and I have been talking for almost a year now. We couldn’t get it together because of scheduling issues and what we thought it would require more technical know how than we have. Then we just decided to throw caution to the wind a couple of weekends ago simply because we had some spare time at the Lone Star Championships and about 20 minutes of free space on my camera.

It’s a little rough looking. Everything was done in one take. At least it gives us something to build on. We learned a few lessons the hard way. For example, I learned why they position news anchors not the way we did here.

I have a few ideas on how to do this next time. Hopefully there will be a next time.

We’d like to thank Michael Gamble for his impromptu help behind the camera. And Joseph and Jammin for hanging out with us.

Next time we’ll do something more relevant to dance blogging like comparing one vs. two finger typing techniques or our favorite fonts or why social balboa is only slightly less boring to watch than blues dancing.


Until then, enjoy the show.

Reflections on My Favorite Performances of 2011: Freedom Through Connection

For quite some time, my standard answer for how long I’ve been dancing has been “about 10 years.” It’s getting to a point where I need to re-evaluate that answer. I took my first Lindy Hop class in January of 1999, almost 13 years ago, from a woman who still inspires me to this day.

Peter Strom & Naomi Uyama International Lindy Hop Championships 2011

She now lives in Minneapolis, MN along with the guy in this next video which I’ve probably watched more than any others this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Lindy Hop in 2011 Review

I was distinctly unproductive on this blog this year, so I’m going to make up for it by commenting on (almost) everything in one shot.

In looking up all the videos and blog links on this blog’s Facebook Page for other posts I noticed some things and was reminded of a few more. Obviously, this can’t be a comprehensive recap of the entire Lindy Hop scene, but I think it’s still pretty amazing that all this information is in relatively easy reach. Read the rest of this entry »

The Proletariat’s Favorite Videos of 2011

This list is different from the Most Popular Lindy Hop Videos of 2011 post from last week in that it is a compilation of videos that were popular with the visitors of the Wandering & Pondering Facebook Page.

In putting this list together, I ran into the same problems as I did in selecting blog posts to feature in the Wandering & Pondering’s Lindy Blogging Highlights of 2011. It’s a bit difficult trying to determine what was more popular than others based on all the different data available, both objective and anecdotal. In the end I just took everything that got pretty good numbers in one category or another, but didn’t do any sort of ranking other than selecting the main video out of each category to highlight at the beginning of each category.

The other thing I noticed is how something like this is at the mercy of what I decide to post. I realized this after noticing that this list is short on ILHC entries, and that’s when I remembered that I actually didn’t post many videos from that event because I saw everyone else was posting them on Facebook, on their blogs, and other places.

One of the purposes of the FB page is to drop the hidden gems I find without going through the trouble of formatting them for presentation here on this blog. In the process, I deliberately eschew stuff I figure most people already know is out there. Part of that is because I feel that the kind of person that follows this blog is past the casual beginner stage, and is a bit more discriminating in their tastes. I think that’s reflected in the videos you guys ended up favoring over others.

Yeah, I just realized that I just described you and my blog as the hipster part of the Lindy scene. I apologize.

But check out the first video below featuring Marie N’diaye & Anders Sihlberg which was the overwhelming favorite on this list.  It has a pretty good view count of over 3200+ views, but is well short of the videos from the most popular list. The Harlem 2011 Solo Jazz Contest clip is the same way, but there was still over lap with the first list as The Harlem Hot Shots at Herrang, and Slow Club’s Two Cousins were also pretty heavily favored.*

I’m not sure what that says about you guys, but I do like your taste in videos.

Couple Routines

“Denim Moves / Marie and Anders / Lindy Hop”

Read the rest of this entry »

Wandering & Pondering’s Lindy Blogging Highlights of 2011

Because there really wasn’t much happening on this blog. Fortunately, the lindy blogging community exploded like a hippo after a trip to a state fair chili cook off.

I talked about this extraordinary growth earlier this year on this blog, and it’s been good to see it continue. I mentioned in my first year anniversary post that I started this blog mostly because I wasn’t seeing much in depth conversation about dancing. I like to pretend that my lack of production is reflected in the fact that so many other people are posting interesting stuff.

I wanted to do the same sort of thing for blog posts as I did for the most popular Lindy Hop videos, but I quickly discovered how hard that would be since there is no one place like YouTube where I can reliably check who has had the most hits over the past year. At first I went through my handy dandy Facebook page for this blog and compiled the posts that got the most “likes” and comments. As I went further back, I realized the problem with this approach since I only started FB page in February, so obviously items posted earlier this year got fewer responses. Facebook does provide “Insight” numbers (number of impressions, views, clicks, responses, and virality which sounds slightly obscene) for posts on the page, but they only go back to July 19, 2011. The other problem I noticed is that really popular posts like stuff by Bobby White or Rebecca Brightly were re-posted by other people which would garner responses I wouldn’t necessarily notice, and would subsequently lessen the likelihood of people liking or commenting on my page. I thought about alternate ways to factor this in, but there really isn’t a good way to do it, especially with my short attention span.

Ultimately, I compiled this list based on a combination of the available data, my terrible memory, and arbitrary bias. If you think of a really cool post that isn’t included here, feel free to post it to the comments. Read the rest of this entry »

ILHC 2011: Hurri-Quake Edition

I like ILHC.

Three weeks after, and that’s about as analytical as I can get about the event.

I just like being in the event. Not just part of it, but in it. A lot of it has to do with the people. Like this guy.

That he’s a good dancer is apparent. You might have heard that he won first place if you looked it up. I saw him mostly working with the Juniors program, wrangling two dozen kids all weekend. But those aren’t the reasons why I like this guy. In the midst of coming to ILHC for the first time after only Lindy Hopping for about a year, preparing to compete, and helping with all those kids during one of his precious few free moments he asked Tena if there was anything else he could do.

Read the rest of this entry »

AIR pt. 16: Not Really The End

So the last part of this paper got posted about a year and a half ago. The whole thing has actually been done for almost four years now, but in posting it here on this blog, the plan was for me to revise it as I went along because I actually don’t agree with some of the original conclusions. However, as time goes on, it is becoming apparent that I’m just not going to have the time to do a full scale revision. I’m also not close to finishing any other posts anytime soon, so in the interest of completion and just to post something this is the thrilling finale of Artistry in Rhythm.

Astute readers will note that some elements from the previous parts are included here because I was taking the paper apart and reassembling it as part of the revisions. I kept some of those things in this post since it just makes the whole thing easier to read. And let’s face it, it’s been a year and a half, you probably don’t remember those parts anyway. However, I will admit that I have cannibalized quite a bit of this paper for other posts so the likelihood of deja vu is very high. 

Note that since this was originally written in 2007, all time references count back from that year.

Previous posts can be found by searching my blog for the category “Artistry In Rhythm”

Thank you for your patience.

Fred Astaire was known for his light and effortless looking dancing.  During his epic nine picture run with RKO Pictures with Ginger Rogers in the 1930’s, Astaire demanded a rigorous rehearsal period of several months just for the dance sequences before the filming of each movie.  His reasoning was that the better they knew the routine, the more relaxed and spontaneous they would appear when they filmed the definitive take for the movie.  He attributed his spontaneous look to those extensive rehearsals   “You know it sort of well that it just becomes part of you.”[1]  It’s by becoming a part of the routine by becoming intimately familiar with the choreography that Astaire and Rogers were able to be more relaxed when they performed and make their performances as lively as the last for each take a director needed to film.   There is a fine line to be tread though.  Bruce Lee provides a warning as to what happens when one mistakes constant repetition and perceived perfection as the end result.

“One cannot “express” fully-the important word here is fully-when one is imposed by a partial structure or style.  For how can one be truly aware when there is a screen of one’s set pattern as opposed to “what is.”  What is total (including what is and what is not), without boundaries, etc., etc.  From drilling on such organized “land swimming” pattern, the practitioner’s margin of freedom or expression grows narrower and narrower.  He becomes paralyzed with the framework of the pattern and accepts the pattern as the real thing. He no longer “listens” to circumstances; he “recites” his circumstances.  He is merely performing his methodic routine as [a] response rather than responding to what is.  He is an insensitized pattern: Zen robot, listening to his own screams and yells.  He is those classical blocks; he is those organized forms; in short he is the result of thousands of years of conditioning.”[2]

Branford Marsalis put it another way in commenting on what made basketball players like Erving “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan so great in an NBA anniversary show when he said, “They say ‘practice makes perfect.’ Well, there’s no such thing as perfect. You practice not to be perfect, but to have the mental awareness to be able to recover when you do make a mistake.”  Artie Shaw elaborated: “Well, what you’re aiming at is to come across as a person in charge of what you’re doing.  And you only approximate it, you can never really hit it.  You try, you gotta, it’s like looking for perfection, there is no such thing.”[3] Read the rest of this entry »

The State of the Lindy Online Disunion

[Note: I added a section about Bug’s Question of The Day into this post because of an oversight on my part and because its hard not to talk about online communication in the dance scene and omit one of the most popular sites right now. I also posted the additional section into the comments in case you don’t feel like reading the whole thing again.]

From the wall of the Facebook page for this blog:

Dear Jerry,

I have never been this into facebook stalking someone I don’t even know. Thank you for all of the amazing posts.



Wandering & Pondering – JSAlmonte

You’re welcome. Now you know how I feel stalking an entire community.

-March 18, 2011

When I first started dancing, I became as obsessive as the next person and devoted much of my waking hours to learning how to get “it.” When I wasn’t doing it, I was researching it online. But back in the early aughts, internet resources weren’t organized or accessible. Video was rare, and sometimes only after an eternity of downloading a couple of megabytes before searching for the correct codec for one of a half dozen possible media players that could process it. There were a few websites offering tips, but mostly they were instructors just giving you enough to convince you to take lessons from them.

Discussion boards were the main places to go, and I hit those with a vengeance. All three of them at the time: Yehoodi, Jive Junction, and SwingoutDC. When conversation didn’t keep up with my curiosity, I delved into their archives looking for just about anything related to the mechanics of the dance. I ended up copying and pasting over 100 pages worth of posts, which I still have somewhere, divided into various topics such as styling, musicality, technique, etc. I still regret that I didn’t properly annotate all those posts detailing the early thoughts of people like Peter Loggins, Justin Zillman, Jenn Salvadori, and so many others.

Even back then, I don’t think that many people realized how much information by knowledgeable people was out there. The hard part was wading through all those posts trying to figure out who knew what they were talking about and who was BS’ing. Fortunately, living in DC, I had the luxury of being in a scene with a lot of people who knew their stuff. From there I figured out what their usernames were and then observed how they related to other online personalities. Who they deferred to; who they gave props to; and who they conflicted with.  Then figuring out the real names and then tracking down VHS tapes of their dancing as the final litmus test of their knowledge.

That’s what separates the Lindy Hop online community from others. Any schmoe can type all day about whether Kirk is a better captain than Picard (although my money is on Sisko), but the best way to know who can dance the dance is to see for yourself or even feel for yourself in person. To truly be a part of a social dance community like ours, you have to get out from behind the keyboard and show up to the dances.


It didn’t take long for discussion boards to pop up for every city. Sometimes they had more than one depending on their local politics. I learned a lot about dancing and the culture in general that way.

However, it’s a popular myth to say that those boards lost importance as social networking tools because of Facebook. In fact, most boards were fading long before even Friendster became popular. In part nine of my Artistry In Rhythm paper, I noted that a Yehoodi thread in 2002 about the North Atlantic Dance Championships was one of the last times many high level dancers converged on an online discussion topic en masse. Even by then, many of those dancers were avoiding online forums.

The simple fact is that talking about dancing is difficult. Those dancers most knowledgeable about it simply lacked the time and patience to deal with the more aggressive and/or obtuse posters. They were the first ones to start leaving, and as time went by, more and more people followed sensing the diminishing critical mass.

I’ve also noted how important The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown was in allowing people to record their own dance footage. Combine that with the ever increasing easiness in distributing that footage online-culminating in the introduction of YouTube in 2005-and it made it easier for dancers who knew what they were doing to simply demonstrate their stuff on the dance floor rather than write about it.

So discussion boards faded; many of them closing outright. The thing that has surprised me the most is how long it has taken for Lindy Hop related blogs to take off.

When I started this blog just under 2 years ago, there were only a handful of blogs out there, and most of those have stop publication since then. However, within the past year, maybe even the past six months, the Lindy blog-o-sphere has exploded. Read the rest of this entry »

« Older entries Newer entries »