Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Warm-Up Songs: A Worthy Investment for Competition

Let me start off this post with a personal story. In my first Jack & Jill competition that I made finals I was paired with a follow named Josephine who I had never danced with before in my entire life.  The format of the finals was which in phrase battle style which meant for two sets of eight counts of 8 we would have to dance alone in front of a crowd with no idea of how the other person would react. To add onto that a fair amount of the people I was competing with were paired with people they regularly danced with at regional dance events. To say that I was in a slightly intimidating and nerve-wracking situation would be an understatement.

An interesting trend that my friend Annabel Truesdell noticed and I agree exists as well, is competitions in the United States are cutting out warm-up songs before competitions. The main reason I am assuming for this is since more events are creating more divisions, time becomes a pressing issue and those warm-up songs add up.

Opinions

I figured to get a good representation of how competitors in the community feels about the topic, I’ve asked several individuals who regularly compete across the United States for their opinion on the issue with the following question,

What’s your opinion about warm-up songs before competitions? I’ve noticed this trend of some events are cutting them out to save time, but have noticed some competitors complaining about it in result.

These are the responses I received:

Alice Pye who writes for the blog The Rantings of A Lindy Hopper and regular competitor at Lindy Hop events around the United States such as ILHC & Camp Hollywood.

 “I need them definitely. Especially for jack and jills, obviously and also form the promoter/organizer point of view if you take that minute to give everyone a warm up song in the beginning, you’re pretty much guaranteeing a great show for the rest of the competition. I think cutting that warm up cuts a lot more than that one minute, it cuts the fun out of the rest of the comp.” – Alice Pye

David Lee who regularly competes at Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Lindy Hop events across the United States at events like ILHC, All Balboa Weekend, and Hot Rhythm Holiday.

“Yes, it helps to have a warm-up song. It is a lower pressure environment to get to know your partner’s connection and the warm-up song is usually a little slower.

For example at ILHC this year, we went straight to spotlights. I danced the lindy J&J with a partner I have never danced with before in front of the whole community of lindyhoppers. A warm-up song would have helped me smooth out some of the edges. Generally if you go straight to spotlights, it is going to be fast and faster for the final all-skate.

I think a contest should test all tempos of your abilities. For example, the first year of ILHC used a slow and fast spotlight. Westies test the range of a dancer’s abilities by using a classic and contemporary song. It would be nice to see more contests that show the entire range of tempos that lindyhop is danced to rather than fast and faster.

The tempos of contests is a separate issue, but the warm-up song has been filling the role of the slow song in previous contests. If the trend is to eliminate the warm-up song, then we need another way to show off lindyhop to slower tempos.” – David Lee

Laura Glaess an international instructor who regularly teaches, competes, and judges at competitions from ULHS to the Lonestar Championships.

“Hmm… I feel like I can kind of see both sides. As a competitor, you really want that warmup song. If it’s a Jack and Jill, you need to get an idea of what the other person is like. If it’s a strictly, you want to use it calm down. However, as an organizer, you’re considering all of the people who are sitting there, not dancing. If you’ve got a load of comps, all of those warmups can add up.

I think if the event doesn’t have that many comps, give everyone a warmup song. It’s only a minute. If the event is really stuffed, I think the Jack and Jills should still get one. It’s an investment in the show they’ll be putting on.” – Laura Glaess

Morgan Day a.k.a. Super Mario who  regularly competes in Lindy Hop, Balboa and Collegiate Shag competitions on the West Coast.

“As a competitor I’m for them. Personally, I think 90 seconds isn’t a significant time in the competition when you have a phrase battle that goes on for 6 minutes. Some event organizers might want to cut them so they can jump right into the “show” part of the competition, but a dance competition isn’t a pre-planned show (like what they do at Camp Jitterbug). A warm up songs lets dancers (especially amateur dancers) get into competition mode smoothly. That’s my $0.02.” – Morgan Day

Mary Freitag who writes for the blog Art and Dancing and who regularly competes and teaches at Lindy Hop and Balboa events across the United States.

“I like warm up songs for jack and jills, and I think that they aren’t really necessary for strictlys. Whenever I have done finals of a jack and jill and they don’t have a warm-up, I can never really get in the groove with my partner….even if I have danced with them a bunch before. Warm-ups really do help for jack and jills, even if it is just 1 minute! However, with strictlys you already know your partner and usually are dancing together for the songs right before the strictly anyways, so don’t really think they are needed.” – Mary Freitag

The Cost of Cutting out a Warm-Up Song

I agree from personal experience with the sentiment that most of the dancers who gave me responses wrote which is for Jack & Jill’s (especially in the case of newer dancers) that the warm-up song is an investment that organizers should put in to create a better quality experience for the audience that the competitors are trying to entertain and for the competitors who may be dancing with somebody for the first time in their lives.

Each choice has repercussions, the deciding factor is if the benefits outweigh the costs.

The opportunity cost for cutting out this warm-up means likely some of the competitors will have a case of the jitters and may not dance to their full potential that they would with one. As many of the dancers who responded agreed, that one minute is not a significant cost for the benefit of increased entertainment value for the crowd and a more likely positive experience for the competitors.

However in terms of a Stricly competition I would say like Laura wrote that it is a nice benefit to allow competitors to calm down with their partner. However like Mary wrote most people who compete in Strictly competitions already know their partner and usually dance with them right before the competition anyways. If there are not that many competitions that weekend and time allows for it, I can only see benefits from allowing for warm-up songs, but it is completely understandable if they are cut from the schedule due to time constraints during busy events like ILHC.

Alternative to Traditional Warm-Up

David Lee in my brief chat with him made a suggestion which I think has a lot of merit and has a similar format to what many people who enter Strictly competitions already do,

“One other option for warmups is to gather the competitors beforehand, match, and then give them one song of social dance time before the competition.” – David Lee 

What this does is not cut into social dance time, yet provides competitors a chance to know briefly the individuals they are dancing with. There is a third benefit that I realized the more I thought about this, which is this type of warm-up is also not in front of a crowd making it a much more low pressure environment then a traditional warm-up.

Warm-ups Worthy Investments

When it comes down to it at least for Jack & Jills’ if organizers are forced to cut out warm-up songs I think it would be more efficient to better organize the weekend then cut them because even if in the worst case scenario that there are 5 J&J divisions and each warm-up takes an unrealistic 3 minutes. That is still only 15 minutes out of an entire weekend to provide your attendees with a better quality experience. If that still seems like too much of an investment on part of organizers, implement David’s idea to still provide competitors with that sense of comfort and not cut into your event’s schedule.

I think a quote from my conversation with Alice best sums up my sentiment on the matter,

“You really have to choose the right corners to cut ’cause sometimes you think you’re cutting something out, but it’s actually holding a lot of other things in place…” – Alice Pye


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3 responses

  1. Valerie

    Perceptive, well-researched post! I hope event organizers are reading this!

    December 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm

  2. Well written. While I am not sure where to shoehorn this in, here is one last warm up song consideration that I am familiar with but which got left out.

    Competitors get judged on their warm up song. Oh it might not be overt, and judging instructions may say not to do so. But like an order to a jury telling them to ignore something improperly presented in a court of law, getting a judge to not actually judge that warm up dancing they are sitting there watching is hard. Impressions are being made and that is going to color the judging of the competition proper.

    So how do you want to be judging to work? Personally I really like David’s possible solution of warm up dancing during social dance time as it contains the additional benefit of not prejudicing the judges. Obviously the flip side to the coin is that the judges would have that much less information to make hard decisions.

    December 8, 2011 at 8:26 pm

  3. Pingback: Two Years Gone « It's The Way That You Do It

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