“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” – Charles Darwin
The definition of “levels” and how dancers place themselves in those “levels” has always been a source of debate in the Lindy Hop community. Many of us have gone to events where they have level auditions in order to make sure dancers in the advanced or masters track is are the level appropriate for the material, Mike “The Girl” Legett actually writes a nice article about this topic. For those of us who have organized workshops, figuring out how to carefully word level descriptions in hopes that people can police themselves is a struggle.
I am curious to why the fact that level jumping (attending classes for which one [clearly] does not meet the level requirements) occurs more freuqently in Lindy Hop than in other subcultures. Recently I had a group practice session myself that I explicitly stated in the event description as a requirement,
“You can comfortably lead or follow a swingout on the social dance floor. This do not mean you have taken one Lindy Hop class and have learned it. This means it is something that is almost, if not completely second nature to you.”
Yet I would say a noticeable portion of attendees who showed up were not comfortable with swingouts and in one case a person only had one lesson previously in Lindy Hop. In result I have been discussing with multiple dancers from different backgrounds (Ballet/Tap/Hip Hop), dancers of multiple skill levels in Lindy Hop ranging from newer dancers to people who have placed in national competitions, and I read the research paper on the Dunning-Kruger effect “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.
Edit: Here is the wikipedia summary of the paper for those who want a shorter read.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
In 1999 Justin Kruger and David Dunning wrote a paper on the paradoxical idea that those most incompetent in a domain usually have the inability to distinguish incompetence (whether it is themselves or others) from competence. They also noted ironically the way for them to gain that ability is by becoming more competent.
To quote wikipedia, Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
- Tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
- Fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
- Fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
- Recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.
This explains why Intermediate classes are often crashed by people not prepared them. The class descriptions fall on deaf ears because people lack the experience/context to properly evaluate themselves. However this does not explain why this happens so frequently in swing dancing compared to other skill related domains. From my personal research I have come to the conclusion of two main points of why it is more of an issue for our community.
1. Because Swing Dancing is a “Street Dance” and is not standardized it creates a lack of context for newer dancers to develop the metacognative skills to properly assess their own skill level in dance.
To add to the confusion the definition of levels is subjective depending upon the location of an event in the world and the target group of dancers they are trying to attract. David Lee from DC wisely noted in a previous post of mine about definitions of the “Intermediate” level in Lindy Hop,
You know all of those definitions above have liberal and conservative interpretations. An intermediate at Camp Jitterbug isn’t the same as an intermediate in our local DC classes. The bell curve changes depending on where you go.
I’m guilty of making the mistake of misjudging myself ready for a lesson in the past due to this bell curve. When I first started dancing after taking “Intermediate” classes in Pennsylvania for a few months I flew back home in California and took an “Intermediate” class out there for the first time. Much to my surprise the class was way above my head and I had my ass handed to me in the lesson.
Many of the individuals who I talked to that were from different dance communities commented on the fact that there was an established system of progression, in some cases there was even a requirement of time invested in certain levels.
2. Swing Dancing is often promoted or marketed as a hobbyist activity for everybody, in result people may get disillusioned that it requires less of a time/effort investment than skills that are promoted under the banner of an artistic field or a sport.
One of the things I love about the swing dance community is it puts a serious effort to be an inclusive community. Often swing dancing is promoted as an activity for everybody, no partner or previous experience required! This is in contrast to ballet that promotes itself as a serious art form that demands an investment of time and passion to even become considered competent at it or martial arts where in countless films it is portrayed as skill that requires hard-work and dedication at all times.
However anyone who is an experienced Lindy Hopper will tell you, getting a decent swingout and maintaining it is hard work that can take years. Attempting to get a good swingout is a challenging endeavor that can take a lifetime. But the way Lindy Hop is marketed by most promoters to the public, you would never guess this is the case. To play the devils advocate, my personal theory is because of this inclusive atmosphere it allows some dancers to get disillusioned of the actual difficulty to become a skilled Lindy Hopper and what a skilled Lindy Hopper is.
While level jumping has been and always will be a problem for the swing dancing community, I believe it is a trade-off we get for freedom of expression and having an inclusive community. If people on a fairly often basis put themselves in the wrong levels, I consider that more than fair trade for the advantages we gain as a dance community.
Events in the swing dance community have different ways of approaching this problem. Some of them put highly detailed level descriptions that even list what moves one should be able to perform and BPMs one should be able to dance at. Others have auditions for the higher skill tracks before classes start. Personally what I haven’t seen but I could be interesting is having videos posted showing the level of competency they are looking for in each track. Dancing is a difficult subject to debate about or explain with words, perhaps a visual aid could greatly assist an event attendees judgement.