April 21, 2011

Just Say It ©

You Know More Than You Think You Do
The majority of the real talent in our dance community is in crisis.  Professionals, champions, judges and advanced dancers of today and of the past (when the All-Star Division didn’t exist) are doubting themselves. Though they have extensive knowledge, training, insight, control, centering, impeccable timing, posture, technique and individual footwork and stylings, they are, by and large, questioning themselves. Some are retiring, some are switching to other dances and some are quitting dancing altogether. It’s nothing short of tragic.

You have the power to stop it. I’m going to tell you how.

I noticed something at the national dance events across the nation this last year. An irritating yet thankfully inconsistent failure in our judging system of the past is now a full-blown and snarling monster in the present. It happened at every single event. The results would be announced: fifth place (murmurs), fourth place (more murmurs), third place (fidgety panic), second place (impending gloom and hope at the same time) and then… First.

BOOM! The whispers, even cries all around me erupt. “What happened to so & so?” “What did I miss?” “That’s insane.” “Maybe it’s because they danced early?” “Maybe the scores were wrong?” and the worst, “That’s just wrong.”

I’ve been dancing WCS for nearly 20 years now. I’ve been to competitions since my start. I’ve been at almost every awards presentation. And if you know me, you know I have a killer memory. I remember them like it was yesterday. So I know when the sand is shifting. Okay, not shifting… more like quaking. A huge fissure has erupted. And the land of “performance” now looks over a huge canyon to the distant ledge of “scores.”

This is not the typical, “oh, I had fourth and fifth switched,” or “I had first place in third,” or “I didn’t have them in there at all” that I used to hear at so many events long, long ago. In fact, I was known for literally calling every single one of the scores back then. Even when I was a newcomer. I didn’t know names and I didn’t know faces, but I knew performance. And every once in a while, I’d wonder how my 3rd place was switched with my 5th place, but I never, and I mean NEVER saw a routine that I was sure would place… not place. None of us did.

Once the Points system was introduced though, around 1996, things definitely changed in that arena. Pros wanted to politic and protect their money and started fudging the scores a little. But in general, talented dancers won over untrained dancers. Messy, cocky ‘know-it-all’s’ who didn’t bother training but relied on “flash and trash” were kept in the lower ranks until they were serious and started showing some effort, skill and training.

But not today. Today is different. Very, very different.

Today there is a complete and utter disconnect between the famed “Three T’s” (Timing, Technique and Teamwork) and the final results. Audiences watch as a dance that was clearly executed with incredible craftsmanship, timing, teamwork and technique, as well as incredibly inspiring swing content, play and footwork, with no missed leads, no quivers in balance… just pure, inspiring, get-you-on-your-feet dancing… is left completely in the cold. As in out of the top five altogether. No recognition. Nothing. Some aren’t even close. And some, perhaps most tragically of all, are, for no reason I can imagine, at the bottom.

This, of course, has not gone unnoticed. At all. Even by the winners.

I’m watching the true professionals walk to the podium with a look pure confusion. They know their dance was a train wreck. A true craftsman knows when they were awarded for something unworthy of praise. They look uncomfortable… a bit wary. (Not the Nissy, of course. They always deserve, and completely expect, a walk to the podium, or even a higher placement, yes?)

The audiences? The ones that used to hear the scores and break into discussions like, “I had them here, but I guess I could see them there. What about you?” That audience is not taking it quietly. They, for the first time since I’ve been around, are flooding the scoring rooms. They didn’t even compete, but they want to know what the heck happened to produce such out of touch results.

I repeat. Non-competitors are checking the scores. I’ve never seen anything like it. In droves. They are baffled, concerned, unclear or just in awe and they are looking for answers.  Every Sunday night, as I sit and listen to them, I hear their conclusions. I am only going to list the conclusions I have heard from at least three different dancers each:
•The judges put in the people who are on their own event’s staff.
•The judges put in whoever danced the closest to the way they did when they competed.
•The judges were all over the board.
•The judges were scared of not being hired again.
•The judges put in who the event directors asked them too.
•The judges put in who they thought would win, not should win.

Let me be clear. The point of this article is not the judging that’s happening today. That’s an entirely separate article, though I do think a few of these reasons are spot on.

Now, my point is that, when you love what a couple does out there… you are not the only one! When the scores don’t make sense to you, chances are, there’s a sea of people standing right next to you that feels the same way you do.

You know more than you think you do.

But I’m asking you to do more than trust yourself. I am asking you take a deep breath, take a chance, and tell the talented person you saw that they inspired you. You can do it by email, by social network or in person. It can be brief: “I loved your Jack & Jill!” Or it can be detailed: “I loved that section with the (fill in the blank).” Of course, there’s my personal favorite “You were robbed. That was the best dancing on the floor hands down.” You’ll always hear me say, “give credit where credit is due.” When the judges don’t follow through on this concept, I’m telling you right now: you can.

This applies to social dancing as well. If you see a dancer on the floor who is a true champion, in skill, talent and control… a true artist that you just want to stare at because you learn so much by watching them, because they make you want to dance till your feel fall off… tell them. No matter who they are.

There is power in this approach. It WILL make a difference. Early on in my dance career a number of people said they loved my anchor. Let me tell you, I’ve never stopped paying attention to my anchor since then. If you tell someone you love their footwork or their lead or their smile while they dance, you can bet they are going to remember that and keep it in their dancing.

As such, I’ve made it a habit since I was very young to compliment those dancers that gave me goose bumps, no matter who they were or what it was that they danced. I knew even then that if I wanted to see more of such inspiration, then direct praise was in order. Now it’s your turn.

It’s time to inspire our truly talented dancers to stay with WCS. The days are far gone when a highly trained, talented and skilled dancer didn’t need anyone telling them that to know it. In an era where timing and technique are no longer rewarded but attitude, falling and Nissy-ish-ness are, the talented dancers are questioning their talent. They are questioning their place in this world.

In the dark and quiet,
they are wondering if the world has gone mad.

Please… give them the credit that they are due. Please… you know more than you think you do. Please…

Just Say It.

This article is copyright protected. Just Say It is part of the collection of groundbreaking articles found in Telling the Truth: The Foundational Articles for Today's West Coast Swing, available in both Kindle and Print on Amazon.com.