A Classic Conundrum

With the judges’ scoring from ILHC now posted, I’ve had some interesting conversations with friends as we’ve looked through the scoring and picked apart how things shook out.  But the most interesting conversation I have had to date centered around the Classic.

Now before I go any further, let me first say that I found this year’s Classic to be insane.  With no disrespect intended towards the competitors in 2010, the 2010 Classic was rather tame in comparison.  My thoughts watching it that year were that it was going to be a battle between Thomas and Alice and Kevin and Jo for 1st and that Thomas and Alice would probably take it.  My predicting power that year was pretty good.

But watching the Classic this year, I didn’t have a clue who was going to win.  There has been some talk lately about the growing homogenization of the dance and how a lot of people are starting to look the same.  I’d argue that the Classic this year told a different story.  I found that the competitors came to the Classic with a broad notion of what Lindy Hop meant to them and that I did not envy the judges who had to parse through that and make some tough decisions.  That said, in my mind there were no less than 5 contenders for 1st place this year, and while I had a favorite, I had no idea how the judges were going to score things.  (For the record my top 5 contenders did take 1st through 5th but I was nowhere near correct in guessing the actual placements).

At any rate, the conversation with my friend started out with her incredulous that none of the judges placed Thomas and Alice in 1st as they would have been her pick to win it.  I was a little non plussed since Thomas and Alice in 3rd was the only prediction I got right.  But in the spirit of the conversation I noted that my pick for 1st, Nicolas and Mikalea, only got one 1st from the judges and wound up in 5th overall.  We then exchanged our picks for 1st through 3rd and that’s when things took a turn for the interesting.

My friend mentioned that she was tired of seeing routines that Skye and Frida slapped together at the last minuteagain.  Especially when those routines win.  And thus began a long conversation about our expectations regarding the Classic division and what ought to be rewarded.

I won’t give you the blow by blow account of the rest of the conversation, but her position more or less boiled down to the following.  If the competition format is designed to feature choreography, she would prefer to see tightly put together choreography, performed error free, come out on top.  Skye and Frida may dance better and have more spirit than other competitors but perhaps they should take that to a Strictly and clean up there.  What sort of message does it send to other competitors when a slap dash routine with errors in it trumps the routines that other people presumably put a lot more effort into?  What incentive is there to put a lot of work into a routine period if that work is not what is going to be rewarded.

The position I took was that Skye and Frida were delivering a different and equally important message.  Go out, have fun, and don’t take competition too seriously.  It is probably the healthiest approach to competition out there.  Further, effort and choreography does not a winning routine make; the Classic is still about dancing.  If Skye and Frida’s slap dash routine is better dancing than someone else’s well planned routine that had a ton of effort invested in it, well Skye and Frida should win.  And after all, its not like Skye and Frida haven’t put in a lot of effort over their dance careers to get to a point where they can just put together something at the last minute and have it look good.

But I did agree with her in wishing that Skye and Frida would step up their game and put a little more into it.  My understanding (which may be wrong) is that a little more effort was put into the creation of their 24 Robbers routine.  At the very least I think it was a better performance piece than their routine to Wham.  But I will let you be the judge of that.

The conversation with my friend also got me thinking about what it is I value in choreography and the Classic competition format in general.

I think the strength of choreography is that it allows dancers a chance to perform a visual interpretation of the music vs performing a visual reaction to the music.  Social dancing is constrained by the limits of leading and following and whatever you can think up to go with the music as you hear the music playing.  Performed choreography removes the limitations of leading and following (although the best routines still maintain the illusion that even the impossible was led and followed) and gives dancers unlimited time to think up and pick 1 ultimate definitive movement they wish to go with the music.

If you know what you are doing (and I sure as heck don’t) you can use that choice of movement to devastating effect.  During Lindy 500 in Baltimore the week before ILHC, I remember Kevin giving an example from his latest routine of the sort of detail that can go into choreography if you think about it.

At about 2:00 in, Jo is set up to shake her rear in conjunction with the song’s “Shake That Thing!”  Kevin mostly freezes to put the emphasis on Jo’s movement… except for his head which turns to stare at Jo’s rear.  Kevin explained that as innocuous a movement as that might seem, it actually is calculated and has a very powerful effect.  Anyone who for some reason was looking at Kevin instead of Jo is encouraged to follow his gaze and see what he is looking at… namely Jo’s shaking rear which is the highlight of the moment.

And on that note, I think I will wrap this up because I don’t currently have a good conclusion to end this with.

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One comment on “A Classic Conundrum

  1. […] “A Classic Conundrum” by Jason Meller at Dancing Past The Godzilla Threshold […]

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