I used to have a lot of faulty ideas in my head about lindy hop competitions. I never stopped to think about them until after I’d been dancing for a long time.

So many people feel bad after competitions. The primary thought in their heads is, “Why didn’t I place? I’m a better dancer than they are!” During my year recovering from a back injury, I had plenty of time to watch and think. Today I’m sharing what I’ve learned while sitting on the sidelines, and how I approach competitions now.

The first thing you need to know:

Competitions are not objective.

Lindy hop competitions are not without bias, and they do not objectively measure your dance level. At the core, competitions measure how well you are conforming to the judges’ values, conscious and unconscious. We don’t use objective measures (such as points) in lindy hop; that’s part of what people love about our dance culture.

With a different panel of judges, the exact same competition will be judged differently. You can see this reflected in the score sheets sometimes. One judge will rank a couple first, another will rank them dead last. Obviously this is not an objective ranking, or judges would come to the same answer.

Okay you get it. So what does this mean? Think about this:

You may not value the same things as the judges.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Here’s an example: I really value creativity and risk-taking. In some competitions, the “boring,” “musical,” and generally safe dancers place highest. I may not place well in that competition, because I like to screw around, try new and unpolished ideas. It’s what I like about dancing.

Say you’re doing a novice Jack and Jill. Your judges might value pulse and momentum, but you’ve really focused on balance and poise. If you don’t move on to finals, this difference in values may be part of the explanation.

Should you change your values to match the judges’? For most of us, no. Instead, we should stop caring about winning, and start building on our own strengths and values.

What do you really want?

Are you competing to get validation? Let’s be brutally honest with each other. I’ll admit to wanting validation when I began competing. I wanted people to like me, appreciate my dancing, tell me I was doing a good job.

Because competitions are not objective, they are a poor way to get validation. As you come to terms with this, you may find more important goals. Maybe you want:

  • To win over the crowd
  • To dance with new people
  • To get over your nerves
  • A reason to work on your dancing
  • To express your creative ideas

These are great goals that don’t need the judges’ approval. If you conform to someone else’s values just to win a competition, how much do you appreciate their validation?

For me, it feels hollow. I want to be appreciated for what I love.

Rebecca & Dargoff

I don't remember how we did in this competition. All I remember is this picture where I look like I'm about to punch Dargoff in the face.

Your strengths and values are unique. You can choose to ignore them. You can place others’ opinions above your own. Or you can explore dancing your way, create your own challenges, and measure success by your standards.

Good Reasons You Might Want to Win

#1. You want to make money as a lindy hopper. Winning competitions is the most accepted way to prove your teaching skills. Just kidding! Actually, winning competitions gives you confidence and visibility, and opportunity follows.

#2. You want the respect and attention that comes with winning. Some dancers look down on people who want attention and respect. I say ignore ’em. If you deeply desire respect, go for it. Just remember you’ll need to play by the judges’ rules.

“What if I’m competitive?” If you don’t fall under the above categories, simply “being competitive” is NOT a good reason.

Though we often work up a hardcore sweat, dancing is still primarily art. It’s judged subjectively. If you like winning for the purpose of beating the other guys, go play rugby or something. If you win a dance competition, the judges liked you better that day. It doesn’t mean you’re superior.

When Comparing Yourself Turns Poisonous

It’s not that comparing yourself to others is bad. When you believe the comparisons, the nagging thoughts that you’re not good enough as a human being, THAT’S the problem. You can be happy with where you are as a dancer and still focus hard on getting better.

For something that’s in the realm of creative arts, lindy hoppers put WAY to much emphasis on winning dance competitions. There are plenty of fabulous reasons to compete which have nothing to do with winning.

My New Competition Mindset

I compete for my own reasons. First off, the floor clears out and I have lots of space. I get to practice dancing my best. I don’t censor my movements for fear of getting hit or hitting someone. Yes, I’m seriously afraid of dance floor collisions and their potential resulting injuries.

Secondly, I compete to practice performing under pressure. Pushing my boundaries is a thrill. Being nervous during comps is a long standing problem for me.

My new definition of competition success: When I dance my best and my partner has fun, which is much harder than I thought. Other goals include expressing creative ideas and taking risks. Placing or getting compliments are bonuses if they happen.

If you have mixed feelings about competitions, you’re not alone. Start by being really honest with yourself. In the end, you may be able to relax and compete by your own definition of success.

What are your reasons for competing?

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