Each week, Hugo Miguez and Stacy Kay post Tuesday Tips, advice from the pros to the larger Westie community about everything from dance etiquette to great ways to learn in workshops. We at Wandering Westie are looking to expand upon these with stories from our own Westies each week – proof of these tips in action!
The worst-kept secret for Westies (and anyone, really) is that we’re all a little weird about competition. As someone who’s been doing competitive something for almost a decade, jumping into the competition field felt pretty natural. As I’ve competed more and more, and certainly with more personal intensity than other activities I’ve done, I’ve learned that just like everything else, WCS competitions bring out our best, worst, and most abnormal. We’ll all do things, lead things, style things, or think things that we simply wouldn’t on the social dance floor, because our priorities are often elsewhere – they’re often showing well, competing well, and having a strong, solid dance for the competition more than anything else. Some people have steadfast rules that they cling to, such as saying “I’m just going to have the most fun.” or “Each partner’s the right partner, each move is the right move.” or sometimes “I will do my best, because I’m awesome, and this is basically a crapshoot anyway.”
All of these ideas work, and I’m not disparaging any of them. My own, for what it’s worth, is a kind of mix between “I’m gonna do very well, because I’m gonna be awesome,” and “Good dances now make great friendships later. If we place, all the better.”
Everyone has a different one. Everyone you draw in prelims, semis, or finals is going to be approaching it with a slightly different mentality. You need to be aware and adaptable. Not everyone is going to have your competitive mentality. I’ve done strictlies with, and drawn, people who do it completely for fun and don’t care about results (had to get myself into that mindset) and likewise with people who were as competitive as I was, and we used that competitive adrenaline to rock the dance floor. Energies feed off of energies. Keeping yours malleable and positive in such an open, adaptive dance is a huge key to going far, and enjoying your dances!
That said, everyone’s number one, primary goal should be the same as it is in every dance: taking care of your partner. Physically, of course – remaining actively aware of your partner’s physical cues, and not dancing on autopilot – but also mentally. You and your partner are in what is likely a genuinely stressful situation for many. You two only have each other out on the competition floor. It’s your goal to make sure that the two of you have an amazing dance or three where you both feel and look comfortable, confident, and calm.
As I wrote in Wandering Westie’s very first Tuesday Tip, kindness in competitions makes friends and saves our morale. Smiling and thanking your partner goes a much longer way than you think. If you enjoyed a dance, expressing that goes a long way, because that’ll boost your partner’s confidence – and likely your own – for the next one! Positive reinforcement is a definite yes on the competitive floor. It creates a positive energy around your partnership and your dancing.
That said, this brings me to this week’s tip. It’s really easy to smile and hug and be thrilled when a dance goes well, but what about if it doesn’t? There are things to not show, and things to not say. Most of these are common sense, though they have happened to me and certainly many others. For example, if you are frustrated with your partner’s connection, and you feel like it is impeding your dancing*, don’t tell them or try and teach them something in the middle of a competition dance. Comments on technique come off as condescending and disappointed in the dance in equal measure, and can absolutely psych someone out during a competition. Don’t try and teach on the dance floor, and certainly don’t try and teach on the competitive floor. You’ve been dancing WCS for some time, you know how to adapt. Do it.
*If you are being hurt, you’re well within your right to forcibly adjust to your own comfort zone. Competition results are nice, but coming out of prelims with a busted shoulder because you were worried about how it would show – and then not making semis – just is a lose-lose situation.
The same is true for mistakes. Even if you’ve strictlied with someone four times this month and practice with them regularly, mistakes and miscommunications happen. This dance isn’t inherently syllabus driven, and two people who talk all the time often have different ideas. It happens in every dance. If I make a mistake on the social floor that we both recognize, I’ll probably laugh about it, play off of it, and keep dancing. On the competitive floor, this changes. I once heard Samantha Buckwalter say that the difference between high level dancers and middle-level dancers is the ability to take a mistake and turn it into something that looks intentional, to play off of it. On the competitive floor, you have to remember that the judges only see you for a short period of time. In novice prelims, it’s like 7 seconds per judge. If they see you reacting to a mistake, they know you made a mistake. That’s how they see your dancing. And while many judges are trained to look away and check later if they see an egregious mistake (the philosophy going “you probably missed one elsewhere,”) you still made that impression on that judge. And sometimes those reactions even draw attention, too. It’s much better competitively, and probably for the other person, to try and make something of it without looking like you made a mistake. Just like dancing a brand-new routine — if you screw up and play off of it, nobody else knows it but you. No need to show the world.
Besides, those reactions can throw off a partner, too. And unless you’re trained to smile through anything, if you’re an intense competitor, a big mistake can throw the Frown of Infinite Sadness on your face, even for a second. Your partner sees that, that connection is so much more tense now because you’re both trying to be perfect, and to not disappoint each other. And that’s no fun for anyone.
Keep your partners happy and healthy and most importantly, self-assured. Be the dancer who people want to draw in competition because you know it’ll be a good time and your positive energies will feed off of each other. Be the dancer who can take a failure and turn it into something fabulous, and who presents it as simply fabulous. Get excited. Don’t give yourself or your partner reasons to get nervous or self-conscious right before you go out and kill it on the dance floor.
The judges, your scores, and your partner will all thank you for it.
Hugo Miguez and Stacy Kay are renowned for their precision, variety, and teaching methods within West Coast Swing. Since 2011, they have taken the circuit by storm with their Classic routines and are re-defining the learning process of the dance world. They will lead you through energetic dances while sharing their advice on all things dance. Hugo and Stacy reside in sunny Clearwater, Florida and travel as competitors, judges, and choreographers for numerous events in different dance styles. Both continue to share their passion for dance and enjoy working with all levels of experiences. They work with top professionals in many different dance styles distinctly furthering their education and experience. Their philosophy is to introduce and foster fresh, comprehensive dance knowledge for their students by giving more of themselves within every experience. They can be reached at www.hugoandstacy.dance.