Winning’s Not the Point (mostly)

I was going to wait for an actual Tuesday to do this, but with the Harvest Moon J&J Derby going on at Wednesday Night Hop and tonight’s solo jazz comp at Fog City Stomp, I’ve really been thinking about this topic a lot.  PLUS, I had a great conversation with some competitors from Wednesday and I realized that I have something to say to our local, budding competition hopefuls.



I’m an unabashed lover of competitions.  I love watching them, I love being in them, and I love winning them, wait-I’ve-never-actually-won-a-competition.  This is true.  I’ve gotten close, but the most I’ve done is gotten to finals in one way or another…I think once I managed to get on the podium with a 3rd place, but I hold no illusions that I am ever the best dancer out there.  So why is this fun for me?

Competition breeds community.  Okay, this is a little counter-intuitive, I know.  But here’s the thing: we all know that attrition rates in a dance scene can be discouraging.  If you’ve never read Rebecca Brightly’s excellent treatment of why the cool kids aren’t talking to you yet, it may surprise you to know that attrition is a big contributor to why long-term dancers can tire of walking about and glad-handing beginners all of the time.  (I’m a huge proponent of doing just that, but that’s another post for another time.)  At some point in your lindy hop life, you’re going to be hitting your ## lindy-versary and you’ll look around and realize that all the friends and companions you made in that Level 1 class have slowly fallen away. People get married, have kids, find other hobbies (damn you, rock climbing!), or just go on hiatus with the dance world.  At this point, you’re not taking classes and you feel shy about approaching the “good” dancers in your scene (oh my god, what if they think I’m a brown-noser?), so where do you find your peeps?

There’s a weird kind of collaborative spirit that springs up around comps.  You look into another competitor’s eyes at the line-up and you know that they’re scared shitless just like you.  That they’re facing it anyway, just like you.  Then they go out and throw down some fancy shit and you’re like RESPECT, and you go out and try to top them and they’re like OH DAMN, and they pull something out from the bowels of their scene like WHATUP, and you’re thinking it’s over, but hey, you’re gonna do your best anyway, and you DROPTHEMIC.  And afterwards, everyone hugs and compliments each other, and you talk about practice methods and ways to safety pin your bra straps in and what kind of shoes you’re wearing and it’s kind of like an adrenaline-fueled mixer.

A competitor last Wednesday explained it to me best: you’re not really competing against each other.  You’re competing together against fear and insecurity and nerves and the desire to throw up.  You’ve come together with creativity and inspiration and a fiery desire to do well.  And some of you are getting VIP status.  Some of you are going to get longer sections of the Iliad.  But to just be in that epic poem!  To applaud our heroes and fight alongside them!  There’s a bit of glory and kind-hearted camaraderie in it for everyone.

I like pushing myself.  This is actually where I could be a better competitor.  And if you’re the kind of person who needs a reason to work on your dancing at home or with a partner, who needs an ice breaker for creating a new partnership or experimenting with something new you wanted to try in the dance, then competition is a great way to go.  “Hey, I’m competing in this event in a few months, and I was wondering if you wanted to practice together so I can work on a few things” is so much easier to say than “Hey, why don’t I come to your living room every week to play music and pretend I know what I’m doing with absolutely no end in sight!”

It’s like performance, but more cutthroat. A lot of people think that being cutthroat is a bad thing, but I’m the kind of person who bets her life-partner that she’ll have the lowest cholesterol count of the year.  Winner gets to choose our next ice cream flavor.  If this is the kind of shit you pull on an everyday basis, competition may be for you.  I mean, it’s apparently not good enough that I have low cholesterol and will probably outlive my SO by a decade, it seems I also need ice cream and validation to go with it.  Kind of an adorable dick move.

Winning is pretty nice. I mean, everyone likes to get compliments and be well-regarded.  And prizes are pretty awesome!  Depending on where you are, you might get passes to other great events or just straight-up cash.  You’ll probably spend it immediately on that new pair of Remixes you’ve been eyeing, but considering all the time and money you’ve been spending on your dance so far, don’t you think you deserve it?

Cheering is fun.  We don’t compliment each other enough.  I mean, we say thank you after a dance, and we tell people we love dancing with them, but how many times has someone pointed out that you did something that really made their day?  Not enough!  I love being incredibly specific about stuff I liked in watching a competition.  I like telling people when I think their dancing was inspiring or fun or smooth.  It can be weird to be watching people on the social dance floor and do that.  But you know when it’s not weird?  AFTER A COMPETITION.

Stealing is fun.  I’m not going to apologize for stealing moves or tricks or methods.  I assume everything on a competition floor is basically like a creative commons license: attribution required, but available for non-commercial use.  Make little notes about the things you liked and didn’t like, use them with a partner, break them down, muddle them up, try them on, it’s all good.  Competition is where the theory of inspiration can really become an actionable practice.

There are a bunch of other ancillary reasons why competition can be rewarding (good excuse to travel, or buy new clothes, or meet dancers in other cities, or bring your personal/regional style to the forefront of the national stage) but I encourage you to go out and find your own, unique cocktail of justification.  There are plenty of places in the SF Bay Area to dip in your toes as an amateur competitor, including the 9:20 Special annual Pro-Am, WNH’s Harvest Moon Derby, or this weekend’s Fog City Stomp, which feature negligible or reasonable entry fees for the curious.  Go ahead and push yourself!  Don’t be ashamed!  The worst that could happen is that you hate it, regret it, and vow never to do it again.

Oh. So it’s like learning how to dance.  And you’ve already done one of those.

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