This is Part 3 in a 4-part series. If you have read Part 1: Social, and Part 2: Skills, skip down to the Part 3: Competition section by clicking here. Otherwise, keep reading.
It's the new year - typically a popular time to reassess and take stock, but this year we're a lot wiser than we have ever been.
During the pandemic, we all learned a lot about what really hasn't been working and is due for an upgrade. We also had time to think about what's really important to us so we can make better decisions going forward.
Or have we?
Have you actually taken stock of what you really want out of your West Coast Swing lately? Because now's a REALLY good time to do that...
Consider this your opportunity to do a philosophical audit of your WCS, and "clean your closet" so you can dump some dead weight in your dance and focus on what you really want.
Ask yourself: What do you really want in West Coast Swing?
Here's a quick menu to choose from! Or maybe these will spark new ideas. Don't fall into the trap of saying, "All of them!". Read more below...
- More people asking me to dance
- A social network
- Public success
- Achievement (points)
- Self-expression through dance
- Kinesthetic/Sensory Satisfaction
- More people to dance with
- More opportunities to dance
- To feel needed
- To spread the love
- To affect change
Take a moment before answering: your first answer might be keeping you from being honest with yourself, which might be sabotaging your ability to have your needs met.
Many dancers approach us seeking advice, from all corners of the WCS scene: students, teachers, competitors, non-dancing spectators, social dancers, event directors. Our responses as coaches vary, depending not only on who’s asking, but on what their purpose is.
A common mistake dancers make is following advice intended for someone who has different needs/goals/reasons for dancing WCS.
Right now, check in with yourself: what goals or needs do you have NOW?
They are likely different from when you started. They're also likely different than this time last year.
Either way, if you have goals and/or needs that are not being satisfied, it’s time for an audit. Time to reassess and make some course-corrections if necessary.
This article is Part 3 in a series where I look at all the most common things dancers want out of their WCS, one category at a time, and explain how you can take action to get what you want starting now.
These are the kind of articles you want to read slowly and think. Read and consider all of these goals/needs – you may discover some less obvious ones that you can relate to. Or maybe this will spark some ideas that aren't listed.
All of these reasons/desires are valid: I’m not going to convince you to change any of them: But your (honest) reasons should dictate the path you choose and the decisions you make.
Said another way,
The advice you follow depends on what you really want from West Coast Swing.
So here's the third instalment in this series discussing the most common reasons people are attracted to WCS in the first place. At the end I also describe a few pitfalls to avoid, and a snazzy flowchart to help put your goals in perspective.
What do you WANT? Part 3: Competition
- Public success
- Achievement (points)
You might want all of these, but consider which ones are MOST important to you. Some of them might seem similar or redundant, but think deeper in order to clarify exactly which aspects of competition are most important to you.
1. I want public success
The first thing I ask students when they admit this is, “why?”
- Are you just wanting to compete because your friends are?
- Do you think you’re less worthy of a dancer if you don’t?
- Do you need the external validation?
- Why do you need people to see you succeed?
No judgement here – just prompting you to be honest with yourself so you can make accurate decisions.
If you feel like you need to prove something to your peers by competing, you might want to analyze why. It's possible you are placing unrealistic expectations on yourself that no one else actually expects of you.
It's possible your goal is to use competitions to "advertise" yourself so you can meet more people and get more social dances later. This is valid too! But don't forget there are also other ways to get this need met, such as attending workshops or joining groups for dinner.
2. I want improvement
If you honestly want to engage in competitions in order to push yourself to improve, awesome!
But this involves actually following through with activities that cause improvement, such as training.
If you don't work on your dance between competitions, it's totally valid to compete for different reasons, but don't expect better results.
You can’t expect improvement or competitive advancement if you do nothing to work on your dance between competitions.
If you want to improve, if you want to advance, you have to put in the work: this means investing in private lessons, getting your a$$ into workshops, and submitting to an intensive.
Want more details? Of course you do ;). I expand on this topic in Part 2: Skills
3. I want trophies
That's understandable. Trophies are symbols of achievement. They are physical representations of a memory of glory. But here's a question:
In 30 years, will you remember the trophy, the moment you were awarded the trophy, or the dance that earned it? Which do you think history will remember?
Thanks to YouTube, dance recordings are now more valued than trophies. A memorable 4th place dance often earns as many if not more hits than the generic winning dance in that contest.
If you focus on having an amazing dance with your partner in the moment, your personal satisfaction will be more rewarding than a trophy for an empty dance.
Plus, you'll have a recording of a dance you can replay, relive, and share. Your non-dancing friends you are hoping to inspire are more likely to be impressed by a video of you dancing than by seeing your trophy.
4. I want fame/status
Up-and-coming professionals trying to build their career often have this as a priority, and so they should. But the activities that build fame and status are often misunderstood.
Many dancers assume that fame and status comes with winning. But if you look at history at all the famous dancers with lasting legacies and status, how many of them have ever won a USOpen?
There are hundreds of great dancers who earned fame and status without winning. Winning isn't a requirement for fame, excellence is. The good news is that there are infinite ways to excel in this art-sport.
That being said,
Fame and status are earned and given, not taken.
You can earn it positively or negatively depending on your behaviour. In other words, it's possible to develop infamy and a negative reputation which can undermine your status goals. So for every competitive success be sure to regulate your:
- reinvestment in learning, and
- community contribution,
which are pretty universal values in the WCS world. You might want to write those down. Your future self will thank you.
5. I want achievement (points)
Ok, this is fine, but take a moment and ask yourself "why?".
Is it because you feel like points represent progress? Like they give you an indication that you are on the right track and improving? Yes, we are used to hearing this.
First, I can appreciate the need for some metric for improvement. But let's be realistic: points do not measure your progress - they are just a system of recognition of performance. You could be improving my leaps and bounds, but if everyone around you is too, your comp results are not going to change much. Out in the big wide world, you have to admit that points mean nothing.
There is no universal system currently set up to recognize achievement of skills. This is why in Swing Literacy, we developed a 15-point skills assessment to measure students progress from Newcomer to Champion. So our students know exactly where they stand in each skill category, get credit for the skills they have achieved, and have a clear picture of what they need to progress.
In the meantime, here are a few more things that are far more valuable metrics than competition results:
- Writing down what you struggle with, then checking that list periodically to notice when skills get easier
- Keeping a record of your videos, especially if you can have the same professional give you feedback on them periodically (even if they don't coach you regularly)
- Asking trusted partners for feedback after you've been implementing something new
Your Competitive Roadmap
Are you wondering how you can get to AllStar? Remember the secret of embarking on a big goal is to break it into smaller steps, then break those small steps down into manageable tasks. Here's a map of those small steps in your journey. The next thing you need is to find out exactly what's involved in each of these steps. While this will differ for everyone, there is a formula that makes the journey more efficient which we provide in the Swing Literacy programs.
Which of the competitive goals/needs mentioned in this article resonates with you?
Don't see some of your goals/needs listed? Don't worry - there is 1 more article in this series so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out the recommended articles below.
Pitfalls to avoid
Now, let's address some pitfalls you might encounter as you strive for these goals/needs:
Attaching your self-worth to your competition success
This is very dangerous. If often leads to burnout and quitting. Why? Because there are a limited number of trophies, and they are given out to the best performances on the day, not the best learners, most improved, funnest dances, most considerate partners, best musicality, best elasticity, etc.
Not only is your dancing is worthy in many other ways than just performance, you worthy as a human regardless, Your self-worth deserves to be valued completely independently of trophies and scores.
Pursuit of your competition needs/goals could turn unhealthy
This dance can be addictive, but consider the costs. If you are struggling to pay your rent, you really should be reconsidering those flights, hotels, event passes, comp fees, and costumes. West Coast Swing will still be here when your bank account recovers.
Ignoring your actual needs to follow the popular choices
Just because all your friends are competing in Jack&Jills, doesn’t mean you have to. If you’ve tried to get into it and it really doesn’t inspire you and doesn’t fill your bucket, don’t force yourself to do something that will lead to resentment. You can still participate and avoid getting left out by volunteering to be the videographer for them.
Ok so now what?
Once you have identified what your most important goals/needs are in the "skills" department, you can use this to help guide some decisions you make about:
- How much time you dedicate to competitions and preparing for competitions
- How much money you invest in private lessons, training, workshops
- Which type of activities and competitions you invest in to get what you want
- How you will measure your improvement
Then use some of the tips mentioned here as a starting point to take action to get more of what you really want.
Below are a few articles that provide more detail.
Stay tuned for Part 4: Community where I will help you identify community-related goals you have and how to take action to work toward them.
Ah, the eternal competitor question… “What are the judges looking for?” Consider that judges are not necessarily “looking for” positive elements of your dance as much as they are “looking to eliminate” negative elements. We call these “red flags”: bad habits or errors that prevent judges from giving you a callback to the next round. Judges
Last week I released Tough Love: Read at your own Risk (Part 1). You really should read that first, in order to put this article in perspective, and catch the points that are made about aspects of WCS outside of competition. This article is aimed specifically at Competitors. Here’s my disclaimer again: If you
Private lessons are a mystery to many dancers, not just the newbies. Veteran dancers tend to forget this valuable resource that can help guide them through the tough phases in their dance development and achieve their goals. Let’s demystify and help you understand exactly: Who can benefit from Private Lessons Why you should bother
Dear Routine Competitors, The month leading up to the US Open is always fraught with emotions. The intense preparation causes us to reflect on why we are putting ourselves through this. It is almost impossible to explain to outsiders who genuinely just want to wish us well. How can they possibly understand? This can be
In every skill-based activity there’s a difference between the beginners and the veterans. This makes sense – the longer you work at something, the better you get at it. Notice I said work at; just because you hack at something longer, doesn’t mean you’re improving. But the dance community is full of distinctions, divisions, labelling…ways
Are you curious about what it takes to do a Rising Star routine? Are you an event director interested in supporting and promoting the next generation of routine competitors? You probably have a lot of questions. This article is aimed at answering them: Who should compete? What is the purpose of the tour? How
And now for a little practical philosophy.
Ask yourself: What do you really want in West Coast Swing? Take a moment before answering: your readily available answer might be keeping you from being honest with yourself, which might be sabotaging your ability to have your needs met.
Many dancers approach us seeking advice, from all corners of the WCS scene: students, event directors, teachers, competitors, non-dancing spectators, social dancers. Our responses vary, depending not only on who’s asking, but on what their purpose is. A common mistake dancers make is following advice intended for someone with different needs/goals/reasons for dancing WCS.
Before discovering WCS, you had a set of personality traits and life experiences that led you to it. Do you remember what your original reasons for taking up WCS were? Many people cite social goals such as “meeting new people” or skill goals such as “feeling competent social dancing”. Others cite needs that needed fulfilling, such as “feeling included”, or “artistic self-expression”. Right now, check in with yourself: what goals or needs do you have NOW? They are likely different from when you started. Either way, if you have goals and/or needs that are not being satisfied, it’s time for an audit. Time to reassess and make some course-corrections if necessary.
Let’s look at all the most common reasons people have for dancing WCS. Read and consider all of them – you may discover some less obvious ones that you can relate to. All of these reasons are valid: I’m not going to convince you to change them: But your (honest) reasons should dictate the path you choose and the decisions you make. Said another way, the advice you follow depends on what you really want from West Coast Swing.
I want more people asking me to dance
It’s nice to be wanted. It’s boring to sit on the sidelines. Everyone needs to accept their responsibility for asking other people to dance and not just pouting and waiting to be asked. But, if you are doing your share of asking and no one ever asks you, there might be a reason. Take a private lesson to get some honest feedback on your dancing – you might be doing something that is offending or deterring partners. The instructor can help guide you to more desirable dance methods and social behaviour.
I want confidence
Dancing is a great confidence-booster. It is often linked to other needs, such as competence or acceptance. Your confidence will improve the more you tackle and succeed at miniature “wins”, such as not needing to count your steps anymore, or finally unlocking that move/trick you have been trying to master, or having a Pro ask you to dance. Be sure to acknowledge and accumulate the little wins.
I want a social network
Being new in town or having an isolating job are examples of reasons you might need to develop a social network. Be sure to tune in to all of the WCS activities available, both local and global, live and online. Don’t just stick to your group classes and your studio’s Facebook group. Explore outside and discover different events and resources: diversify! Think beyond the dance floor: take advantage of social outings and quality time with dancers outside of the studio to enrich the quality of your network relationships.
I want acceptance/inclusion
Keeping in mind the harsh reality that high school politics exist throughout our lives, there are some things you can do to ensure you are accepted or included. Showing up is half the battle – you have to be present in people’s minds for them to invite you to things. Engaging in meaningful conversation and asking questions shows that you are interested, and people love to feel interesting. Humility and respect goes a long way – if you are accepting and inclusive, you will gain and retain more fans.
I want attractiveness/dating
It’s inevitable: dance changes people: almost always for the better. This is your chance to evolve and upgrade! If attractiveness/dating is a goal for you, look around. Study the dancers you admire and what they all have in common: how they dress, dance, treat each other, talk to others, make jokes, wear their hair/makeup. I’m not saying you need to be a carbon copy, just use others for inspiration. Put a little more conscious effort into your appearance and manners and intentionally seek out learning opportunities.
I want admiration
You might admit to yourself that you like to be admired: crowds cheering, likes on Facebook, compliments in person and comments on YouTube, etc. But be honest: if you didn’t get any of these things, would you suffer? Would you still want to dance? Deep down you might actually *need* admiration. I’m not judging, but this could be a slippery slope, so it’s important to stay balanced. Be sure you are deriving enjoyment from your other needs/goals too so that you don’t rely too much on what other people think.
I want identity
Once you get really embedded in WCS, you can’t imagine your life without it! It’s comforting and invigorating to have a hobby you are passionate about. Think: Who are you in WCS? To deepen your engagement and serve the dance that has brought you so much joy, consider getting involved in leadership activities, such as volunteering, hosting, DJing, or even teaching. However, be sure to keep some balance in your life: imagine if WCS was suddenly extracted from your life: what would you have left? Who are you outside of dance? Be sure to maintain your non-dance priorities.
I want competence
You might have started WCS enthusiastically thinking, “I need to learn this dance!”, but it was more likely “I need to figure this thing out”. Either way, you see a discrepancy between what you can do and what you see others can do, and you feel motivated to close the gap. The pursuit of competence drives you – let it. While in pursuit, keep your eyes open for the next new goal. The key is to not succumb to complacency. Just because you learned a skill once, doesn’t mean you are competent at it. Don’t convince yourself that you have “learned enough” – your dance will get really boring to both you and your partners. Time for a private lesson. #neverstoplearning
I want mastery
It might not be enough for you to feel competent at something – you feel the need to conquer it. Mastery is an admirable pursuit in any field, and the prescription is the same: coaching and practice. Practice is useless without feedback. Masters provide feedback. Feedback is useless without practice. If your goal is mastery, you need to find all the coaching you can afford. Shop around, find a sensei you respect and who respects you. Be particular: just because someone is a good dancer, doesn’t make them a good coach. Diversify: train under multiple coaches to hear a variety of perspectives and approaches, and cross-train in other dance styles to gain mastery over your body.
I want challenge
If you are bored in group classes, and bored with your dancing, it might mean that you need to be challenged. It might seem like the answer is to “move up” a class level, but that’s not an appropriate solution. Your skills are separate from your boredom. You don’t need harder skills you aren’t ready for – you need to find a more entertaining way to work on your existing skills. If you are bored with your dancing, stop dancing boringly! Take a private lesson to get a custom-tailored plan on how to improve your skills and find ways to challenge yourself in your classes, social dancing, and competitions.
I want self-expression through dance
There is a plateau point in your WCS development where your basic mechanics have stabilized, but you might not feel like you are “dancing” yet. This is the time to go to a teacher for a private lesson and figure out how you can discover your personal groove and insert your own personality into the dance. Do some homework first – study dancers better than you and identify which ones you admire and why, your teacher can understand what inspires you. This might also be the point where you decide you would like to try choreography. Consider joining a team, doing a Pro-Am, or even a Rising Star routine.
I want kinesthetic/sensory satisfaction
This dance is supposed to FEEL good. Reeaallly good. If it doesn’t, don’t give up, keep searching. And it shouldn’t be hard. Try different instruction sources: workshops, intensives, instructional videos, private lessons. Take a practice partner with you so you can get feedback on your efforts.
I want more people to dance with
If you have a small community, your priority might be on growth and exposure. Even if your role in your community is a volunteer, take some tips from business marketing, and start treating your Westie community as a product to be marketed. Westie Bombs, business cards, flyers, viral videos, cross-branding, bring-a-beginner nights, crossover events, branded clothing, community shows…the list goes on.
I want more opportunities to dance
Wish your community had more than one social dance per week? Take the initiative and create more! You don’t have to do it alone: gather some friends and rent some space. You could start a non-profit if you wanted to, but it’s not necessary. You could offer lessons from a real teacher, but lessons aren’t necessary. Also consider organizing field trips to nearby communities – make a day trip carpool for a weekend dance or workshop.
I want money
Hey there’s no shame in needing income. There are several aspects of WCS that can make you money, but none of them will make you wealthy. Whatever avenue you choose, do your homework first. Study the business, learn the skills, take the training, accept the advice, respect the art. Be transparent about your goal: don’t profess to be altruistically serving the dancers if your real goal is to turn a profit. People will see through it and distrust you.
I want to feel needed
Some people enjoy helping others to the point that they crave it. If you are in a position to help, why not, right? No problem, as long as you know your help will be appreciated. Unsolicited advice on the dance floor: not appreciated. Offering your expertise to a young instructor by helping them write a business plan over coffee: appreciated. The easiest way to satisfy this need? Volunteer at events and socials. Teaching does provide this sense of helping people, but it requires a ton of training first in order to be effective and accountable – not a job you should volunteer for just to satisfy your need.
I want to spread the love
You’ve gotten so much joy from WCS, you just want others to feel the same. In order to be effective in your mission, it is essential to consider the perspective of your audience. Figuratively rushing in and getting up in their face about how they should try this dance is only going to intimidate – they’re either going to think that WCS is only for crazed fanatics or that the dance has turned you into one. Monitor your enthusiasm, and tailor it to the particular audience you are targeting. On another note, if you are interested in taking community or global initiatives, great; but do your research and make sure your idea doesn’t exist already and either infringe on or compete with someone else who’s already done it. Also consider the big picture: your initiative might serve the needs of a small group, but will it be counterproductive in the progress of the larger community? These are questions you need to ask for help on.
I want public success
The first thing I ask students when they admit this is, “why?” Are you just wanting to compete because your friends are? Do you think you’re less worthy of a dancer if you don’t? Do you need the external validation? Why do you need people to see you succeed? No judgement – just prompting you to be honest with yourself so you can make accurate decisions. Attaching your self-worth to your competition success is very dangerous.
I want improvement
If you honestly want to engage in competitions in order to push yourself to improve, awesome. But this involves actually following through with activities that cause improvement, such as training. You can’t expect improvement or competitive advancement if you do nothing to work on your dance between competitions. If you want to improve, if you want to advance, you have to put in the work: this means investing in private lessons, getting your a$$ into workshops, and submitting to an intensive. No, self-practice is not enough. Step up, show up, level up.
I want trophies
Trophies are symbols of achievement. They are physical representations of a memory of glory. In 30 years, will you remember the trophy, the moment you were awarded the trophy, or the dance that earned it? Which do you think history will remember? Thanks to YouTube, dance records are now more valued than trophies. A memorable 4th place dance often earns as many if not more hits than the generic winning dance in that contest. If you focus on having an amazing dance with your partner in the moment, your personal satisfaction will be more rewarding than a trophy for an empty dance.
I want fame/status
Up-and-coming professionals trying to build their career often have this as a priority, and so they should. But the activities that build fame and status are often misunderstood. Fame and status are earned and given, not taken. You can earn it positively or negatively depending on your behaviour, so for every competitive success be sure to regulate your sportsmanship, humility, respect, gratitude, reinvestment in learning, and community contribution.
I want achievement (points)
There is no system currently set up to recognize achievement of skills; the only system of recognition in WCS is competition points. Out in the big wide world, you have to admit that points mean nothing. You can’t list your points on a resume. Points are also really arbitrary. Super dangerous to measure your self-worth on the opinion of 7 questionably-trained judges all prioritizing different things! But if it’s recognition of improvement you are looking for, you don’t need competitions to do that. Your instructor, fellow social dancers/competitors, and personal video records provide proof of improvement. Weigh these more heavily than your competition results.
Pitfalls to avoid
Satisfying one of your needs/goals disproportionately may be counterproductive
If one of your goals is to increase your dating pool, if you start sleeping around with many dancers, you could be damaging your local reputation, depleting your dating pool rather than increasing it.
Pursuit of your needs/goals could turn unhealthy
This dance can be addictive, but consider the costs. If you are struggling to pay your rent, you really should be reconsidering those flights and hotels and event passes. West Coast Swing will still be here when your bank account recovers.
Focus your efforts on activities that satisfy your actual needs, not the popular choices
Just because all your friends are competing in Jack&Jills, doesn’t mean you have to. If you’ve tried to get into it and it really doesn’t inspire you and doesn’t fill your bucket, don’t force yourself to do something that will lead to resentment.
Of course, the tips in this article just scratch the surface of the ocean of coaching that is available to you. For more information, and custom-tailored advice for your situation, seek out private lessons.