The other day, a wonderful dancer and good friend of mine, Sam Hartzell, shared a few thoughts on Competition in West Coast Swing Dancing via Facebook. I loved it so much, I asked if he would allow me to share it here, and he graciously accepted.
Enough from me,
Enter, Sam Hartzell:
Hi, I’m Sam.
I wrote this months ago, after a year of thinking about it. The title:
How to Be Happy Competing West Coast Swing: Some Subjective Thoughts for Amateur Hobbyists like Me
- Competition often makes a lot of people sad. It’s too easily a dissatisfaction train that can make you feel that you’re never good enough. I don’t really see a happy conclusion in the standard competitive narrative. Thus this list.
- Competitive results have no bearing on who you are as a dancer and definitely say nothing about who you are as a person. The main thing they show is how much practice you’ve had dancing in competitions.
- Judges in different dance divisions look for certain things that are very specific and not necessarily what new competitors might assume being a “good” dancer is. You could enter a Novice competition and perform your best, winning Champions imitation… and not make it to semifinals.
- Learning the puzzle of competition dancing is a fun project that makes you think about your dance in new ways. Being on the comp floor is an exciting thrill! But also remember: luck and subjectivity play a role in the judging, results seem biased towards younger dancers, and, since followers outnumber leaders, they face a harder task in standing out from the crowd and are often more highly trained than the leaders in the same division.
- Win or lose, remember that it is but a small thing and no one will remember either way in two weeks. People are busy with their own stuff.
- Create your own goals for a competition and, if you accomplish them, that’s a win! Maybe it’s that you compete for the first time. Or find new social dance partners. Or learn the next thing to work on. Or maybe it’s not dancing in finals, but then you got to cheer on your friends who do – that’s a win-win. Create an approach to competition that is positive and kind to yourself and others; make it constructive and it will be more fun.
- Looking good on the comp floor is not necessarily the same as feeling good to dance with. Successful competitors who have put a lot of hard work into their competitive dance aren’t necessarily inspired social dancers. These are separate though related skills, each with their own rewards and fun challenges. Originally West Coast Swing and WCS competition was founded on social dancing, with Jack and Jills starting as a mixer.
- Highly trained dancers may naturally gravitate towards their peers and those they compete with, but it’s easy to be a generous social dancer as well. Even a little connection goes a long way: we all remember the people who smiled, who encouraged us and danced with us when we were new to the dance or new to events. Of course some dancers enjoy and favor one sphere (competition or social) over the other. That’s okay.
- Don’t worry about which competitive division which person is in. Division just signifies which tiny group of dancers a person spends a few short songs with. The dances that stand out the most are with fun, genuine, generous dancers you click with. Not because they compete in this or that division.
- We’re all on our own voyage at our own pace for our own reasons. Take care of yourself! The only person you’re ultimately competing against is past-you, and learning is fun! Every once in a while look back at how far you have come, take pride in your accomplishments, and sacrifice a pizza to Odin.
One other thing… Whenever competition has made me feel crummy, talking to a trusted friend about it helped immeasurably. If competition ever puts you in a dark place, please know that you’re not the only dancer who has felt this way – and that you don’t have to confront it alone. Dancers already have a hard enough time seeing their own strengths and wonderfulness. So if your friend needs help, they don’t need “hard truths” about technique, they need the infinitely truer and more powerful truth that is revealed by kindness.
In summation: Dancing is fun! Competing is fun! Dancey people are awesome people who lift each other up (sometimes literally)! Odin doesn’t like pineapple and it’s all a work in progress!
– Sam Hartzell