As I wrote about yesterday, I competed in the "strictly lindy" division at the Jazz Jam competition in Stockholm, Sweden. It was my first Strictly so I found it both somewhat stressful and very educational.
How strictly contests work is that you enter with a dance partner of your choice, but you have to dance to music that the organizers / DJ chooses. Usually there are several heats, either done as "all skates" where every couple is on the dance floor at the same time, or as "spotlights," where each couple takes a turn on the floor alone for aome set period of time (typically a phrase or half-phrase of music).
Winners are chosen by expert judges who are looking for specific criteria to be met, such as lindy content, good partner connection, musicality and originality.
The challenge of succeeding in this kind of setting is to dance well with your partner no matter the kind of music they throw at you: slow and bluesy, bouncey and loose, or blazing fast. The best couples have the capacity to shine amidst their competitors no matter the music.
Reviewing my own dance footage, I think that I and my partner Marie did reasonably well. We had a good amount of basic lindy content, musicality and connection with each other. Most importantly we had fun!
That said, I was clearly outdanced by many of the other leaders on the floor.
I think the real challenge for me is, in the heat of the moment, to come up with creative dance steps and figures for myself and my partner that match the music and please the judges. Like any other stressful situation, a normal reaction is to confine yourself to a limited range of solutions to a problem, not able to think more creatively and expansively as you might in a less stressful environment. This happens to stage actors as much as basketball players and pilots.
For example. watching others in the same heat, I see them doing moves and patterns that I know, but wasn't able to think of or execute during the dance. And watching myself, I find myself wondering why I didn't do some other figure or step that in retrospect might have worked better or caught the judge's eye.
The highest performing individuals are able to keep their heads and retain access to all of their faculties and capabilities no matter how high the stakes or challenging the situation. Tiger Woods can calculate all the options available to himself on the tournament green despite being scrutinized by hundreds of thousands of people and millions of dollars at stake.
Some of this poise in the face of adversity must come from experience and practice over time. Your 50th competition must feel world's different from your 5th.
Also having your skills down cold so that you have complete confidence in your ability to execute them is key. The winningest couples in the lindy scene must train so long and hard together to reach the level they are at.
And at some fundamental level there must be some innate talent and character that experience and practice is built upon. Put another way, no matter how hard some people practice and compete, they may lack the natural gift of dance and thus never achieve much beyond a basic level.
I have no ambitions about being a "great dancer." But I would like to be the most fully developed dancer that I can be. Even at my age, I feel like there is still more out there for me to achieve and experience. I've found that competition and performance are good ways to learn about myself and push myself to do better than before.
Because at the end of the day, the only judge's opinion that really matters is how you judge yourself.