Judging specific STYLES of Swing
Skippy Blair © 12-9-97 Updated 3-99, 2- 03, 12-04
NOTE: This was written in 1997 – Updated through ’04 – and still stands today. Skippy Blair
Judging ”Swing technique” includes a wide variety of elements, based on the STYLE of Swing being judged. In addition to the standard elements that cover EVERY form: Timing - Teamwork - Technique - Variety & Contrast - Entertainment Value - Footwork - Showmanship, there are additional, “specific” elements when judging different styles of Swing.
WEST COAST SWING: Look for "Anchors" at the conclusion of many step patterns. Expect a degree of leverage & compression in the appropriate places. In upper level competitions, expect a variety of syncopations and a large amount of innovative musical interpretation (for which the dance is noted). Part of the "science" of the dance is the "elastic response" that moves in and out of specific moves. Look for both partners to be traveling in the same direction at the start of most patterns. Because of the variety of tempos, it is important to note that some dancers have difficulty with slower tempo ranges. "Body Flight" is created by the action/reaction of two partners, along with solid centering that exudes a confidence, characteristic of this dance.
EAST COAST SWING & LINDY: Look for the "spring" action of the "Rock Step". Look for some degree of Body flight and circular or oval travel with a great degree of centrifugal force and leverage. Watch for synchronization in the partnership. Both partners should still be in time, even to the rapid tempos of the music. Measured movement allows partners to land from a jump - in time to the music.
CAROLINA SHAG: Look for the smoothness of the lilt that allows the upper body to stay still while the legs literally float from one rhythm to the next. “ Mirror-steps” are popular where one partner mimics the other.
HAND DANCING: Has been included in many recent competitions - particularly down south. This form includes a solid foundation gleaned from East Coast Swing in the form of “Rock Steps” - but recently includes a wide variety of musical interpretation, gleaned from West Coast Swing. Like most emerging forms of swing, Hand Dancing has a rich and solid history that is rapidly absorbing the best of both East and West Coast Swing, along with a bit of Shag influence. Keep your eyes on this one. The rules are there but they are still developing.
STEPPIN’: 2013 NOTE – Steppin’ has recently been added to our dance community. Quite a few Steppin’ instructors attended a special GSDTA Steppin’ Intensive, designed to discover real musical count – and Rhythm Units for this historic dance. Rules for Judging are still in the stage of development and will be included in this list when complete.
An OPEN SWING Competition: Unfortunately, many of our swing competitions are not “style” specific. Contestants can mix all kinds of Swing. The "Dance Elements" will be the same. We are still able to judge "technique" because we do not judge the style of the dance when it is an OPEN competition. Even if you have a preference for one style over another, a judge's responsibility is to judge each performance by the elements presented, according to the rules.
There are MANY forms of Swing - and that should not be surprising. We recognize several kinds of Cha-Cha -several kinds of Waltz – and there are many varieties of most social dances.. Still, in each different dance style, we should be able to identify the ROOT BASE of that particular dance. Otherwise, the "essence" of the dance has disappeared. In order to become a good judge of all kinds of dance, a judge needs to be able to IDENTIFY the various forms of each dance.
Analogy for thought: Let's assume that several ladies wear the same basic black dress. One adds pearls - Another wears a lace collar - Another puts rhinestones around the edges, and still another sews polka dots from top to bottom. Looking at each one, we can still identify the basic black dress. If we put the lace collar, pearls, polka dots, rhinestones and whatever else we can find, all on the same black dress, we could NO LONGER identify the basic BLACK DRESS. It has become something else.
If we take a SWING presentation - and we add 4 beat rhythm breaks in one place - spins in another - stops and poses in another - and maybe even a lift to open and close the routine, we have still created a Swing routine. However, if we compose a routine entirely of "4-Beat" Rhythm Breaks, Spins, Slides and Stops, then the SWING itself has disappeared. It has become yet another dance performance, but NOT a Swing dance performance.
For those who are involved in the Judging Program: I think you will be amazed at the confidence you feel, once you are able to identify the Root Base of the different kinds of Swing - as well as the foundation of other Social Dances. You certainly don't have to be proficient in every dance, but you should be able to identify all types and styles of both the MUSIC, and the DANCE that accomodates that particular music.
If you are only familiar with Swing Dancing - you will have a tendency to hear all music as Swing music. A good Swing dancer can dance Swing to any kind of music that plays. That does NOT make the music “Swing Music.” All social dance music, with the exception of Waltz, has the same number of beats per measure. It is the OTHER properties in the music that define the dance. Those subtle DIFFERENCES allow us to identify the dance that should accompany specific music. If we do not know about a particular dance, that dance does not exist for us. Our computer (brain) will fit whatever music it hears, to the closest form that fits our personal frame of reference. Our frame of reference is only as good as our education. Educational observations of various dance forms, gives us the confidence that comes with any form of education.
MUSIC is crucial. A really good dancer will adapt to whatever music is being played. However, if the music being played is NOT the music of the dance being danced, the dance will take on the character of the music being played. To some degree the dance will LOSE some of the “essence” and characteristics of the dance being presented.
Starting in the late 1990s, newer swing dancers seemed to assume that all music being played at a swing event - was Swing music. Anyone who has been around for a while knows that swing dancers will dance swing to any 4/4 time music that is played.
There are several DJs who have suggested that they would like to announce the kind of music being played - particularly when the music is NOT swing. Others claim that everything is swing if you can swing to it. GSDTA and the WSDC agree that the kind of music being played either HELPS or INHIBITS the development of West Coast Swing dancers coming up. They agree that the kind of music should be announced. That would be particularly beneficial for those who are not familiar with all of the various forms of social dance music. Announcing the music would be educational for all - and at least give the dancers a CHOICE. They could still dance swing to a Samba, Rumba, Hustle or Cha-Cha if they so desired, (particularly if that’s the only dance they know) - OR, as their expertise advances, they could dance the dance that belongs to the music being played.Please Note:
This article was included in the Judges Training program, approved by WSDC,
because several trainees had read the material and told us that it was helpful for them
personally - and they thought it should be included. Several articles have been
included for some of the same reasons. Do let us know your thoughts as you review
the material being presented. Thank You.