AJC Reflections

Posted by matthew on Apr 17, 2005 in dance |

Dozza and The Crinkulator have provided some interesting insights into competing in the AJC last night. I’m still reflecting on my first AJC as Head Judge. I’ve judged at all 3 AJCs in various events. This was different because I was responsible for the whole judging team. Of course I’ve done similar things with AHP and last year’s Hellz, which is no doubt why I was asked. But it was a different experience to be responsible for the conduct of the judging but not responible for the entire event. In many ways it was a relief. I didn’t have to feel like the criteria, the scoring system, or even the judging and adjudicating processes were down to me. They were provided by the organisers. I simply had the job of applying those things to the competition.

I decided that I wanted to have the judge’s briefing early, so the night started at 6.30pm for me. It was a good decision I reckon, because there was enough time to get things done without feeling like we were under stress. Stress is definitely one of the enemies of a happy judging team.

The most difficult event to judge, the Jack & Jill heats, was first on the program. This is where you have about 9 couples on the floor in each of 4 heats. There are 3 all skates in each heat, with a total of about 3 mins to assess 9 dancers, meaning you have a total of roughly 20 seconds per dancer to make a decision about whether to call them back for the finals. Needless to say, it’s a process of elimination, but you have to spend the greatest time on the toughest decisions. You might take one look at a dancer and realise in the first few seconds that they have no hope of getting through, so you have to move on. All skates are tough to judge, but it’s efficient.

Just about all the events were tough to judge, with a lot of places being very difficult to split. The beginner events were judged on all skates alone, and I found myself again having a hard time getting to see everyone for long enough. The rest of the events had shines, which helps so much. You really get a feeling that you have been able to see how they are performing and whether the partnership is working well.

Today I guess I’m thinking about how things could have been better. The night could have been shorter — two whole beginner events plus an amateur award seems like overkill to me. I’d prefer to see the values of the contest made more explicit so that everyone knows what’s expected of AJC winners, including the judges. More emphasis on the raw energy of lindy hop that inspires people would be more comfortable to me. This probably all sounds a bit like the Hellzapoppin’ ideals, but there’s a good reason for that. A lot of people in the US decided that contests were getting too far away from the ones that were around during the 30s and 40s.

I recognise as much as anyone that AJC should be different from AHP — for one thing it has a connection to US jitterbug contests which are usually associated with the dance scenes in Washington and California as opposed to the roots that AHP traces from the early Harvest Moon Ball contests in New York. This is definitely going to result in a different feel, and the inclusion of Quirky 30s in AJC is a good example of that I think, and one that I really enjoyed. However I still think the particular values that AJC does embody should be clear to everyone. The best example of where this can create confusion continues to be Showcase event, where there is always a fairly liberal interpretation of “swing styles” — mostly because the competitors can choose their own music of course. Is this a swing dance contest or not? If it’s not, why is it in AJC? If it is, should a couple be marked down for including a significant amount of non-swing content? These are tricky questions, of course, but ones that have to be dealt with if people are going to be kept happy.

Hellz gets around the problem by a) carefully choosing all the music and b) by allowing absolutely anything (avoiding the mess of disqualifcations) while embodying the values that are associated with the most famous lindy clip of all time, from the movie Hellzapoppin’. If anyone ever wanted to know how they should be dancing, they have the prime example right there in the name of the contest. Not having any rules often surpises people, but of all social dances, lindy hop is surely the most permissive of all — you can quite easily make up a move or a sequence nobody else has ever done and call it lindy hop. What’s important is that people realise they are supposed to be doing something that is still identifiably lindy hop. I’ve never seen anyone winn at a Hellz event after busting out a lengthy jazz routine or doing a cha cha or something. Just imagine.