WEST COAST SWINGAnatomy of a Jack & Jill Victory

by Mike Corbett


I’m the least lucky West Coast Swing Jack & Jill competitor I know. The one time I actually made the finals in a National event, my partner and I just didn’t click.

Never having placed in the "Novice" division is kind of discouraging when people think you’re an Advanced dancer. Now that most events have done away with the Novice moniker in favor of Intermediate it doesn’t feel so bad. There was never anything novice about the dance ability displayed by the winners of the Newcomer divisions either. To call the division just below Advanced, the Intermediate Division sure makes sense to me.

So it’s off to Monterey for Swingfest and another (Intermediate now) Jack & Jill. The forty or so pairs of contestants were divided into two heats, with each contestant dancing with three different partners to three different songs. The last song was a slow one, to "separate the men from the boys" if you will. It works for me but some people just don’t know what to do with the slow slinky songs. Too bad for them.

An hour or so after the preliminaries the posted list showed that I lucked out and made the top fifteen for the semi-finals. With the format the same, I got three pretty good partners. The last one (what’s her name and did she also make the finals?), for the slow song, is a lady who’s one of my favorites. She’s a double favorite now because she managed to save me from falling out of a one foot spin right in front of the Chief Judge. As it ended up, she reached out, grabbed my hand and I fell into the slot to lead just what I had in mind. I’m sure the judge nearest to me saw the bad technique but that was better than all the judges seeing me stagger five feet from my partner. If she hadn’t reached out and grabbed me we both would have been cooked. Whew! A truly great save!!!

Then we had to wait. There was no posting of finalists. All of us had to be ready to dance when they announced the finalists. So I rested, had a small meal, knocked back a shot of Crown Royal, and got back into my dancing clothes to await the call if it came. In this field of top competitors I’m not expecting to make the top five for the finals but I’m ready, just in case. To my surprise, my name is the first one called for finals. I actually ran out onto the floor looking quite foolish, I suppose, but who cares?

The rest of the field included some great ladies and all the men had placed more than once before. My own energy was running so high, I couldn’t even think about that. I was thrilled, delighted, and flattered to be part of the group. As it turned out we danced in the order we were called out, so I’m first, better known as the "death" position. Dancing first means that whatever you do, all the other competitors get to see it and take their best shot at you (unless, of course, you fall down!). But at least you’re in "first place" until the next couple dances.

I had danced once before with the partner I drew (what’s her name?) but it had been a couple of months ago. There was no time to think about it anyway. She mumbled something about how she wished she had asked me to dance earlier in the evening but before I know it the music started. Wow, it’s a very fast song with lots of hard-hitting breaks and accents. Just my kind of song, I think.

Actually the song was so fast with so many breaks to hit that it kept me from even thinking about doing some of my hottest and most risky moves. No time for any 72 count Mario patterns when you have to watch out for a break every few seconds. We danced what I considered "OK." It felt pretty good and the only little glitches I remembered were at the end of free spins where nobody really knows what you intended to do anyway!

After hugging and walking my partner back to her chair, I sat down in mine and can’t remember if I did anything but side passes and basics, or hit a break with anything but a push and a lunge. I’ll have to wait for the video to see for sure. As I watched the other five couples dance, I figured we did better than two of them easy. That means if we managed to beat David Infante (why him?), I have a chance to place. I feel good though, because no matter what the outcome, I finally got lucky with a great partner, a great song for my kind of dancing, and I didn’t fall down!

Leaving the floor a friend said to me, "I have you third." That sounded good to me, so I recited my feelings about how maybe we were third if I beat Infante. During the next couple hours, while waiting for the results, three different people whose judgment I trust actually told me they thought we won the thing. I wasn’t about to let my hopes get up though.

Then came the awards. As the couple I picked as the winners were awarded third place, I started to hope a little. When the couple I picked second was awarded second, a friend standing next to me who picked me third said, "So, did Infante win?" Calmly, I turned to him and said, "No," just an instant before my name and my partner’s were announced the winners!

West Coast Swing dancing is big in California. I had no idea I was such a hero. I’m writing this now twelve days later and people are still calling me "Champ." My friends shared my victory, celebrating by "gang dancing" me at our regular Top of Beardsley’s Wednesday night dance. I’m soaking up all I can for now because three weeks after Monterey Swingfest, Capital Swing in Sacramento will rev into action. The odds are I’ll be congratulating some other lucky winner in just a few days.