WEST COAST SWINGDiary of a Jack & Jill Dancer

by Trish Connery

I first started doing Jack & Jill’s over four years ago as a Novice competitor. Back then, I always made finals but hardly ever placed. I chalked it up to inexperience. After about a year or so of this pattern, I decided (or rather my ego decided) the problem couldn’t possibly be me, but must be the partners I was drawing in the contests. So I moved myself up to Advanced where I felt I truly belonged (this was before the WSDC point system was in effect). I waited for those wins to come rolling in.

In Advanced the competition was much tougher, but I still managed to consistently make finals. However, I was still not placing and becoming very frustrated. I was obviously getting better partners, so that couldn’t be the problem. Slowly the realization dawned on me: Maybe it was me after all. Maybe I wasn’t the dancer I thought I was. But what to do about it? I was already taking classes here, there, and everywhere, but if that wasn’t the ticket, what was? I knew I had to do something different if I wanted to break out of this rut.

Right about that time I was hearing a lot about Skippy Blair and what she could do for dancers. Frustrated at my lack of progress, I went to my first two-day Mini-Intensive over Easter weekend in 1997. What an eye-opening experience! I started soaking up the information and really tried my best to apply it. I would literally go to bed at night with counts running through my head. I couldn’t seem to turn the stuff off.

So there I was, working my new technique like crazy. Magic Count, Centering, Contra-body, sending/receiving foot, etc., etc., etc. And yet I was still not having any luck in the contests. Even though I was exposed to all this wonderful technique, I wasn’t doing well competitively. In fact, I was doing worse . I failed to make finals at the next four conventions I attended, and believe me, for someone who has almost always made finals (said the ego), that was hard to deal with! But my dancing was going through a real transitional phase while I assimilated these new techniques (later I learned this transitional phase is not uncommon). Although I was not 100% sure I was doing the right thing, I was still determined to be patient, work the system, and really give it a chance. At the very next convention I attended it all seemed to click. I took 1st Place in Advanced Jack & Jill, and 1st Place in Advanced Just Dance. In the space of about 4-1/2 months, I had gone from making finals but not placing, to not making finals at all, to 1st Place. And you can imagine all the head trips in between.

Looking back, I don’t think I would have had it any other way no matter how discouraging those intervening months were. Because what the down time taught me, beside how to make huge ego adjustments, was that, yes, making finals is important, placing and winning are good too, but what is more important is your own personal attitude and how you feel when you walk off the dance floor. As a result I came up with two personal goals for myself for each contest:

1) I want to walk away from each contest I compete in feeling I have danced the best I could possibly have danced at that particular time with that particular partner. If I don’t feel that way, I try to think about what

I should have, could have, would have done differently to make it better. I try never to think about what my partner should have done, unless it’s in a very non-judgmental, objective way; I try to stay away from counter-productive blaming and finger pointing.

2) I’ve come to value more than anything the connection I can create with whoever my partner is out there on the floor. And by connection I mean not only physical connection, the actual physical contact you have with your partner, the technique of good lead/follow skills and everything that goes with it. But I also mean an emotional and mental connection as well. To show my partner and everyone else that I’m happy to be out there on the dance floor with them, that I’m having a good time, that I’ll try my best to be "there" and "on" for them. Most importantly, to put the partnership above myself as an individual for the next two minutes. Every time I’ve succeeded in this I’ve had better dances with more fun, I know my partner has had more fun, and I’ve usually placed as a result.

I have learned that dance is a science, as well as an art. And while you might not be able to teach someone how to be creative or artistic, you can teach them the science behind it. It has been my focus on the science of dance which has made me a better dancer and a better partner. With a strong technique foundation to work off of, I now have the freedom to really enjoy myself on the floor; I’m much more able to be creative, to improvise, to adjust. And in showing a willingness to take responsibility for my own dancing, to improve myself, to work hard, to keep an open mind, I found an un-looked for benefit: a dance partner. I’ve been very fortunate to hook up with the most wonderful dance partner imaginable (in my not-so-humble opinion), Larry Tang. Together we constantly strive to improve our dancing through the techniques we’ve learned, to refine it, to take it to the next level. And now we’ve started on a whole new journey: that of sharing our knowledge with others through teaching.

Trish Connery has competed successfully on the local, state, and national level with extensive training through the Golden State Dance Teachers Association and currently teaches out of the Skippy Blair Dance Center in Bellflower, CA.