WEST COAST SWINGJack & Jill Analysis

by Mike Corbett

Dancing well, while important, is not a guarantor of success in major National Jack & Jill contests. There are many other important elements that make for victory. My attempt to explain them here is intended to help reduce a competitor’s confusion about the results and make spectators more knowledgeable about what they are watching.

First of all, the nomenclature of the various divisions is unclear to many. The World Swing Dance Council (WSDC) guidelines intend that a "Newcomer" is a newcomer to "winning," not a newcomer to dancing. It’s important to examine and understand the definitions separating divisions used by each individual Event and their intended meanings, because they are not standardized. Although they vary somewhat in name and detail from one event to the other there is a common thread. A mix of five divisions are generally used: Newcomer, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Invitational/Professional/Champions. Many events may combine Advanced and Invitational. Some are combining Novice and Intermediate. Some don’t have Newcomer at all.

Remember that the division names relate to but are not intended to accurately describe dance ability. Dancers who are competitive in the lowest or "Newcomer" division may be considered by many to be "Advanced" social dancers even though they are probably really "Intermediate" social dancers in the grand scheme of things. "Newcomer" means the competitor is a newcomer to "winning" major competitions. There will be nothing "novice" about the dancing of the Winner of the Newcomer division at a major Swing Dance Event.

Competing as a "Novice" is intended to mean you are not a newcomer to winning, but yet you haven’t accumulated enough World Swing Dance Council "placement points" to be forced to compete in the Intermediate or Advanced divisions. Novice social dancers are completely out of their element in this division if they haven’t won or at least made it to the finals of a Newcomer contest. Many events combine the Novice and Intermediate divisions for various reasons. This practice tends to scare off some of the inexperienced dancers, particularly if there is no Newcomer division offered.

There are two major schools of strategic thought used by knowledgeable Jack & Jill competitors. One is to "dance down" by remaining in a division until forced by the point system to move up, even though their dancing is at a level that is appropriate for the next higher division. The other is to "dance up" to improve the possibility of drawing a better partner. Both have their positives and negatives and both are generally considered as "part of the game" by other competitors. In general, the dance-downers are counting on their dance ability to carry them through the luck issues and the dance-uppers are hoping to mitigate the luck issue of partner ability and music selection. It’s a crap shoot either way.

Examples of the "luck issues" are numerous. The obvious areas include: 1. partner, 2. floor placement, and 3. music. Less obvious are such issues as (in preliminary rounds):. 4. "how many judges were looking at my good or bad moments," and 5. "how many other good dancers are on the floor at the same time," 6. "is this group of judges looking for what I’m showing." Most, if not all these issues present themselves simultaneously and effect the results in varying degrees in each individual situation. Another related issue is the format of the competition itself.

Here is an example of how numerous issues can effect seemingly inconsistent results. In two recent competitions less than a month apart and in the same geographical region three men had very different results. The Winners of both the Newcomer and Intermediate divisions and an Intermediate non-finalist (of the six couple final) of Event A all competed in the combined Novice / Intermediate division of event B. The Newcomer Winner from Event A made the finals of Event B, the non-finalist in Event A won the contest in Event B, and the Intermediate Winner of Event A failed to make the thirteen couple final of Event B. This is a very common scenario which might confuse some people even though it is quite normal. How did this happen, you ask?

A lot of it is luck. Just how the elements of luck effected the outcome in the above example is hard to say. Here are some hypothetical possibilities. First (not hypothetical) the format was different. There were still preliminaries and semifinals but contestants danced to three songs with three partners in preliminary rounds of Event A and only two of each at Event B. That effects the luck issues 1, 3, and 4 above. Additionally, contestants were judged as individuals until finals in Event A but were judged as couples in the semi-finals of Event B. That elevates the importance of luck issue 1 but also effects all the rest of the issues to some degree. The Event B non-finalist (Winner of Event A) in our example needed to be a member of one of the top thirteen couples in Event B but only needed to show as a top six leader in Event A. Luck issues 1, 2, 5, and 6 are elevated considerably in the Event B format. It takes both better dance ability and better luck to make the partnership look good enough to make finals.

Once you are in the finals the luck issues start to change and the ability issues become more important, but both are still crucial factors. Once in the finals your "floor position" and "judge viewing time" become non-issues and competitors don’t have to worry much about getting a "bad" partner or (hopefully) bad music. There are exceptions.

I once attended a competition where the Advanced division got mostly boring music that lacked energy while the Intermediate and Invitational dancers danced to mostly the same, very exciting, music. In this case the music selection effected the performance to the extent that the finals of the Intermediate contest were considered by many to be a better "show" than the Advanced finals!

Competitors who do consistently well in major Jack and Jill competitions are all skilled at making the partnership look good with a fairly wide range of adaptability to music and partner style / ability issues. Even so, if you are lucky enough to draw both the partner and the music that naturally compliments your style, you are likely to perform at a higher level, so the "luck of the draw" is always still there.

When watching, even as a competitor, look for who is putting on the best show. And when you see something you like, make some noise. Notice whether a judge is watching. When competing or watching, pay attention to timing technique and TEAMWORK. Balance your dance by helping your partner look as good as possible. Even in the preliminaries, judges are looking for teamwork. Most importantly, have fun and show it &ldots; before, during, and after.