If you know me, you’ll know that I don’t like competition. More specifically, I don’t like what competition can do to Lindy Hop.

To me, Lindy Hop is art, not sport. It’s a form of personal creative and artistic expression; a source of joy, release and pleasure for the participants.

Of course, Lindy Hop can also be entertaining and inspirational to spectators. But I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of the dance from a performance point of view rather than from a competition point of view.

When you compete, you put yourself out there in a way that is specifically asking to be criticized, ranked, and “judged” in every sense of the word. That can make you dance very differently than you might have danced from the pure feelings of inspiration. It becomes about what the judges will like, not necessarily about what you actually feel that needs to be expressed from the inside out. Particularly in a social dance competition like Strictly, it’s about showing the money. To some extent that’s also true of a Jack n’ Jill division, though then the surprise partnering skills come in to play. When you’re competing, it’s very hard to give the music and your true authentic feelings the attention that they deserve because your attention is invariably focused on pleasing other people. The whole “dance like no one is watching” thing which suggests dancing as is true to yourself… yeah, that kind of goes out the window.

Of course, there are always very high levels of competitors that are good enough and secure enough in their own dancing that they can get past all of these issues and really do themselves and the dance some serious justice. That’s why I do love the invitational Jack n’ Jills so much at events like ILHC and other big Lindy Hop competitions. Because the dancers that are participating really don’t have anything to prove. But in most competitions, people are doing the exact opposite. They’re seeking approval and validation. And to me, Lindy Hop should never be about what anyone else thinks.

Competitions also change the way that the audience looks at your dancing. Instead of just looking at a dance floor and feeling like everyone is having fun doing Lindy Hop, spectators are asked to put on critical glasses and become backseat dancers. “George and Suzy are way better than Annie and Tommy.”  The audience can’t really help it. Even when the spectators understand the courage that it’s taken for those competitors to put themselves out there, it’s still part of the competition to rank and judge on a case by case basis and the competitors need to know and understand that that can create feelings that might interfere with the pleasure that originally attracted them to the dance.

There are people who can compete and have fun no matter if they place well or not in the competition. There are people who can really just enjoy the experience for just that, an experience. But the fact is that many people who compete have a very emotional, stressful and often disappointing experience that can affect how they feel about Lindy Hop beyond the time of the event. For every person who becomes inspired to push their dancing after a competition, there is someone who becomes discouraged, drops out or burns out from the emotional rollercoaster of competing.

Ok, so this was supposed to be about why I *am* choosing to judge and support this competition though, right? So far, I’ve done a pretty lousy job of convincing anyone (maybe even myself) of why this event is different.

1. This event is about feedback, not ranking. People are encouraged to challenge themselves and to take constructive feedback that will help them to improve as individuals. It’s more about self-challenge than about comparing people to one another. Yes, there will be one winner announced and there will be spirit awards, but prizes will be awarded without ever turning attention to “Tommy is better than George and George is better than Downes” which is a slippery slope and a dangerous course to follow, particularly in a local dance community where everyone knows each other.

2. The primary organizer of the event, Caitlin Wellman, is being extremely thoughtful and careful about how this event plays out. As an experienced and accomplished competitor herself, she understands the advantages and pitfalls that a competition can create and she’s taking all of the details into careful consideration. From my conversation with her, the ultimate goal of the event is community building and using the event as a learning tool. Not only is her heart in the right place but her mind is too and she is approaching all aspects of the event with an eye turned to the good, the bad and the ugly possibilities that can result from competitions. She is taking feedback into consideration and working very hard to make sure that the event is good for the community. I believe that her efforts will be fruitful and that anyone who participates with the goal of self-improvement rather than “winning” will find the experience to be very helpful. Jessica David is also working very hard on this and deserves honourable mention along with Caitlin.

3. As per #1, this really is an “anti” competition. The opposite of competition is cooperation and that’s what this event is meant to be. A cooperative experience for people to work on their dancing and to receive feedback in a collaborative spirit from the judges that will provide collaborative support so that everyone can learn and improve from the experience.

The Frankie Manning Foundation Values

There is another thought that I should mention here. That is that “friendly competition” does coincide with the values of the Frankie Manning Foundation of which I’m a board member. This value still doesn’t lead me to want to support every competition that comes around, but I feel that Toronto Lindy Hop is doing all the right things to put the “friendly” part into this event.

Like Frankie Manning himself, we (The Frankie Manning Foundation) value:

  • Having fun dancing the Lindy Hop
  • Historic authenticity in Lindy Hop dancing and music
  • Improvisation and continued innovation
  • Close relationship between the music and the dance
  • Maintaining a true community among dancers
  • Mutual respect and cooperation
  • Inclusivity (diverse backgrounds: geographic, ethnic, socio-economic, age, ability, etc.)
  • Outreach and welcome to newcomers
  • Excellence, which can be encouraged through friendly competition

Q. Should I Participate in the Anti-Comp? 

Not sure whether or not you’d like to participate? While I’m not encouraging anyone to participate who isn’t comfortable with the idea, I think that you can view the anti-comp as a kind of public private lesson with feedback from several established dancers. In that way, if you’re comfortable with the public part of the display, you might find it to be a neat opportunity.

For more information about the Anti-Comp, visit the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/297593420384662/

Mandi Gould~Mandi Gould
Director, Head Dance Instructor
Bees’ Knees Dance