Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ULHS class

There were classes Saturday morning at Showdown, but they started at 10am, and I was not awake at that time, so I did not go. There were also classes Sunday afternoon.  

Due to my indulgence very late Saturday night, and the corresponding amount of sleep that I got, I felt awesome by the time I got up on Sunday afternoon, and, consequently, the only class I made it to all weekend was the final one, Chance Bushman and Bobby Bonsey’s Collaboration and Competition in Solo Jazz Contests It started at 6pm, and I actually just listened and watched rather than participated. 

(I was kinda really bummed, because I heard that Evita’s Solo Blues class was really good, but after me and my roomies got up and got lunch… we fell back asleep.)

So the first thing that Chance and Bobby talked about 
was the type of competition that usually goes on in solo jazz contests in the lindy hopping world, as opposed to some other types of solo dance contest, like break dancing.  Bobby explained that break dancing competitions are often “cutting” competitions, with intentional intimidation and themes of sort of putting the other competitor down.  He then contrasted that with the solo jazz competitions that we’re more likely to see at lindy events, which are “collaborative” competitions, with each competitor encouraging other competitors to bring their best.  

They both then talked about how there are multiple reasons for this, and expounded on a few cultural reasons.  One of those reasons is simply that the lindy community/swing dancing world is really small.  And most of those top level competitors, people who are going to be facing off with each other in finals of solo comps, know each other and respect each other’s dancing.  And are friends.  So people are not trying to be dicks. Another reason is formatting- most solo jazz comps are not explicitly “battle” formatted- most of them start with some kind of all skate, and it’s far more interesting to watch two performers/competitors interact than to watch a bunch of people dance all by themselves.  [Bobby and Chance actually started the class by demonstrating this point: they had everyone “just dance” and then lined everyone up in two lines to interact, and (accurately) pronounced the second result far more interesting.]

But this idea of winning the competition by encouraging your competitor to bring their best dancing reminded me very strongly of an evolutionary biology theory explaining why animals like peacocks and elks have such elaborate, decorative, yet costly, mate-attraction features (tail, antlers).  These features are very expensive to grow and maintain in terms of both the food energy it takes to grow them as well as making them more vulnerable to predators because they are slower and more visible, all other things being equal, than an animal without the decorations.  And the theory goes something like, “by carrying around this detrimental thing and STILL not being eaten by a predator, I am proving by my very existence that I am the shit. You should mate with me.”  Or stated another way- proving that you are better despite carrying a handicap.  “Winning a fight with one hand behind my back.”  Only in this case the “handicap” is one competitor really trying to bring out the best dancing in another by giving them a chance to play together.  Saying that you can not only win against competitor X, but against competitor X's best dancing. 

So at another layer, yes, all the pro lindy hoppers are pretty much friends, but it’s not all about everyone being buddy-buddy out there.  That would result in group-think and making-nice and less good dancing, if nobody wanted to take risks and rock the boat.  But winning against an opponent bringing their best is far more satisfying than against an opponent who is just trying to be nice.  And it’s a hell of a lot more fun to watch people try and win. 

So that idea was only the beginning, a very small part of the class, but it was something that really intrigued me, listening to top competitors sort of dissect strategy and philosophy of competing.  Later in the class they had everyone practice actually dancing with the music, and mimicking each other, and trading dance solos as the instrumentalists were trading solos.  And you could really see everyone in the class evolving from the beginning to the end.  It was very fun to watch, and I can't wait to try some of that stuff and practice it with my friends here.  

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