What does your dance say about you? Maybe another question is...what does your dance community say about your dance? Let me start by stating how I see, not only our dance, but our community. I see our dance community with a divided, selfish, eager to win at all costs mentality. Is it any wonder that social interaction is judged over dance ability...in a social dance? That's what we take most pride in, isn't it? The ability to be social? But if you put that dance in a dance competition, shouldn't it be about the dance? Everyone wants to fit in, to be part of crowd, to be accepted, to not be an outcast. It's why people join together in the same activity...to feel like a part of something. But in this dance, we also pride ourselves on being different...be your own dancer, they say.
I'm going to say my piece for a bit now. Some of you may see it as complaining or negative. I choose to see it as the way it is...not more...not less. Why is this dance not judged on dancing? It's the only one I know where quality of movement doesn't determine the level of the dancer. I asked a few of my friends, who are professional dancers in other forms of dance, to look at our dance throught their eyes. The main remark:"Why don't the top dancers look like top dancers?". What should the difference be between a novice dancer and a Champion dancer? Hopefully, you answered with quality of movement. I'm getting tired of seeing, at all levels, dancers being rewarded for poor skill and "fabulous performance". Make the crowd clap by shaking your ass and you're in! Of course, not all are like that. There are some amazing dancers in our community, with a great balance of technique and performance quality, but there are those who are abusing the system to get ahead. Their fault? No...it's the system's fault for rewarding it. Meanwhile, we are told that the 3Ts (timing, technique, teamwork) are the things that are being judged. Yet, we often see below par dancing, at all levels, make the cut to finals. In addition to performance vs. technique, another dichotomy that contributes to the lack of standardization is the divide between those who are trying to keep the dance from growing, from expanding, by adhering to an outdated sense of what the dance is today, and those who are trying to push the boundaries of what defines WCS.
So how are we supposed to know which way to go? In the same song, you can be judged very high by one judge and very low by another one...even if they're both watching you at the same time. True story: I placed first in one JnJ contest with all the judges giving me 1st and one giving me last...in a spotlight dance!! What happened there? Fall asleep?? Because of the lack of standardization, we get scores that are all over the map in any given contest, at any level. It's really a crap shoot. We play the numbers game and hope that our dance matches most of the judges' view of what WCS is. There's your winner!! When it comes to routines, I've also been told that my routine song wasn't "swing" enough. I thought that, in a routine division, I would be judged on my interpretation of my chosen song in the medium of WCS and not by the selection of said song. If you want to make sure that our songs are "appropriate for swing", why don't you give us a list of "acceptable" songs to pick from? Maybe because that would defeat the purpose of making art? Shouldn't it be left up to the performer to decide what he/she wants to do for the audience....for themselves? Is it still dance as a form of art or is it dance this way because we said so? In my last few US Open Classic routines, I was least rewarded extrinsicly and felt most intrinsicly fulfilled dancing a routine that felt like an expression of ME, and when I tried to conform to the mold of what judges say is WCS, I felt farthest away from the reasons I fell in love with this dance in the first place. Of course, the sweet spot is having both: art and approval. But what to do when those don't overlap?
Now, you may think....this doesn't really apply to me...I'm not a champion dancer...I'm not a routine dancer. But it does! You have chosen to start dancing and that means that you're creating art every time you step onto that dance floor...regardless of level. But, most of us, are afraid to really be seen dancing for fear of ridicule, shame, outcasting. Think about it. Socially, this community is brutal. If you don't dance like everyone else, if you haven't drank from the kool-aid...aka latest fad...then you're not cool enough, you're not good enough. Does it remind you of something? It reminds me of my high school quad at lunch time: the jocks, the cheerleaders, the geeks, the stoners, the weird! It's hard to really be yourself, if that version doesn't match what's "new and hot"...in terms of dancing, at least. Even outside the dance floor, the pressure to be social is huge. Believe it or not, I'm a pretty shy guy. I don't like big groups and feel more comfortable in small settings. I'm doing much better now, but it's been a struggle from day one. I remember having to put on a smile and hang out with everyone all the time or risk being called anti-social for just wanting to be alone. "Why is Miguel being such an ass? What's up with him?". True story by the way. This community revolves around always pleasing each other. Nothing wrong with that if it comes from a genuine place, which it does sometimes, but it doesn't happen like that often. I see people too eager to please and even more eager to be liked. So they make promises and agree with you but then don't follow through. If that happens too often, it erodes the faith and trust you placed on them. This has happened to me numerous times, which is why I really don't take things at face value from people anymore. That trust and faith have been eroded to that point. And this spills out onto the dance floor too; developing superficial relationships becomes a way to climb the competition ladder. And if you don't think that social relationships are influencing judging.... I'll let you live in that illusion. After all, ignorance is bliss.
Some dancers like to compete, some don't. It's not for everyone. But there's no difference between social and competition dance...you're being judged in both arenas. Quite a bit more harshly on the social floor, in my opinion. As a judge on the comp floor, I'm judging you on your timing and technique, quality of movement, musicality. On the social floor, you're being torn apart by how you look, what you're wearing, and who you talk to. And then you wonder why you want to dance like everyone else? Who wouldn't? At that point, you "belong". But are you happy with your dance? I can tell you that I wasn't. Throughout my years of dancing, I have fallen into that trap of dancing to please others instead of dancing for myself. In competitions, I would take a look at the judging panel and knew what they wanted to see...and changed my dance accordingly, and won. I did that weekend in, weekend out and was doing really well, but still felt very unhappy about my dancing. It would also ruin my entire weekend if I didn't make finals, or wouldn't place as well as I thought I should have. True story: at a very prestigious NASDE event, I placed 5th in JnJ. I thought I rightfully deserved 3rd. When a friend congratulated me on my placement, I told them to F off and threw my plack clear across the path...it landed in the pool. I was that obsessed with doing well, with pleasing the judges, with pleasing my peers. I wasn't good enough if I didn't meet that standard. It's not a very good way to be in the world. Always trying to live your life for others. I see that a lot still. I see people crying, pissed off at everyone, drinking themselves silly because they didn't make the cut. Can I tell you that, come Monday, no one gives a shit about who took first or didn't make finals. [Enter my wife, who always reminds me that there's a world beyond WCS.] Lots of dancers, and I'm one of them on occasion(it's a work in progress, folks!), tend to blame everything aorund them for not making the cut or having a bad dance. I've heard, and said myself, everything from it's the judges' fault, the floor is too fast/slow, my partner sucked, etc. We immediately place blame on outside forces instead of looking inside ourselves first and asking the question: "How was my dance? Did I show up in my dance as my true self?" And if the answer is no, then the next question is: Why are we so afraid to let people see us?
I get this from many of my students:"I don't know what to do there!""I'll look stupid doing that." To which my typical reply is :"What do you feel like doing?" Basically asking, "What do you feel?" And they may be right about not looking their best while practicing a certain movement, but at least they're doing what they feel. So why don't we choose to do that more often? Dance like we feel like dancing. This doesn't mean that you should abandon all technique and reason because you "feel" it. Keep it within the limits of the dance. But we often don't feel like we can fully express our dance for fear of judgement...harsh judgement. If we are at peace with that judgement, if we can accept failure and are not trying to please others, then we can truly create art. That might mean that your dancing will no longer conform to "what's in", but you can bet that you'll feel happier about it.
I believe that every single dance that we have is one of a kind and can only happen once. This means that if we choose to not be present, we'll miss it. We'll miss the connection, the communication, with the partner and just go through the motions without really paying attention to what's going on. WCS, being a lead/follow social dance, requires you to listen to your partner in order to dance together. Are you willing to not only listen to your partner but to allow yourself to be listened to? Be ready for your partner to not be aware of your presence. I see it all too often. Leaders are too busy doing patterns and followers are too busy being "sexy"...but they're not really dancing together. By wanting to dance for yourself first, what is it that you want to send to your partner? And if they don't respond? You can't control their reaction to you, but you can approach every dance/moment/partner with a sense of curiosity and non-judgement. Do I always do that? I do try, but it's still a work in progress. But what you practice, gets stronger.
What does it mean to me to be aunthentic in my dancing? It means that I approach each dance without any pre-formed idea of how it's going to go. How many times have we looked at our random partner for JnJ and thought...this is going to suck...I hate dancing with her/him...I hate this song? You have to be open to the possibilities offered by the music and your partner...and you! You have to be vulnerable and be willing to let the audience/your partner/the universe see what you feel in every moment that you're on that floor. That's a very scary thought because you need to be ok with those people watching not liking what they see. But does their opinion define you as dancer? Most competitiors are seeking approval via the placements that they're liked, that they're good. But should that matter? That dance, that contest, that judge, doesn't define you as a dancer if you don't let them. By being a dancer, you've earned your right to create art as you see it and feel it. When you walk off that floor, are you happy with what you created? If you feel like you could have done more...then there's more work to be done to really let go of expectations. And that's ok too. This is something that I work on in every dance....now. It didn't used to be that way for me. I'm more than ok now not placing in a contest. I'm more than ok with judges not liking my dancing. I'm more than ok with my partner not wanting to share their experience with me. I'm ok with that because I've realized that those are things I can't control. I can only be in charge of me and my feelings towards the dance. So I now choose to be present in every movement, in every beat of the music, in every connection I feel. I choose to allow my body to go where it wants to go. I choose to be seen.