I am no stranger to not making finals. Since qualifying for All Star, 7 months ago, I have competed in both All Star (for four) and Advanced (for three) Jack and Jills (seven in total). Right after qualifying, I competed in three All Star J&Js where I did not make finals, so in the next few events I decided to go back to Advanced where the next few competition would either have planned spotlight finals, or would be very large competitions, where it would still be quite a personal achievement to make finals in Advanced (even though I qualified for the division higher). It was certainly a little nerve wracking with the pressure of my peers assuming I would make these advanced finals given that I have had plenty of success in the division. As it turned out, I did not make finals in two of these three advanced competitions.
Was I disappointed I didn’t make finals? Of course, I was. But I also don’t let that ruin my weekend. I do however, often evaluate the situation and try to make sense of what it means. Here are some of the things that really help me keep my perspective:
Reasons I Compete
Competition has always been fun for me. It puts me in a situation where I get to dance with a handful of strangers and meet new people. It takes the choice of partner away (at least in J&J) from me and I get to focus on just having a fun dance with this possibly new individual. I have ended up meeting some of my favorite dance partners and close friends through finding them on the competition floor, but of course, since I lead in competition primarily, I meet mostly followers this way. However, what isn’t talked about a whole lot, in competition, is meeting the people in your own role while lining up for your division. I have certainly found a lot of comradely among my leader peers, lining up, wishing each other luck, and maybe some light heckling. Competition is a nice way to almost be “forced” to get out there and socialize and make some new friends. And I think we could all use that little shove sometimes.
Outside of the social benefits, it also pushes me in my dance. It gives me a criteria to achieve (the judges expectations), random partner draws, random music, and the expectation to bring out your best dance on command. Is it a great scale for measuring success? Not really. Is it a flawless system that rewards only the best dancers? Absolutely not. But it is the system we have and it, at least, gives a vague structure for measured progression.
Always Get Video
My beliefs are, if I competed, and I didn’t get a video of at least one of the competitions that I competed in that weekend, I can only learn so much from it. I try to make every competition a learning experience, and without video, it certainly makes learning from my dance quite a bit harder. If I get a video I can appreciate how far I have come, look for the things I want to improve on, show it to a coach and see what they want me to work on, or even just record the experience. There are certainly things you can take away from your competitions without seeing yourself including how you felt or how you handled something internally or mentally. However, this is one of the areas where we, as social dancers, get to focus on the visual aesthetic. Unfortunately, the judges are not dancing with you and letting you know how fun you are to dance with, so they are looking at how competent you look as a dancer.
At the end of the day, the only person that really needs to love your dance is yourself. The reason why we all choose to do this is because we love it, but we also probably love it for different reasons. When I don’t make a final, I always make sure to still show up and watch the final. You can learn a lot about what the judges saw and were possibly looking for (in trends) based on who ended up in the final. Sometimes I will look at the final and think to myself “If I were judging, I wouldn’t have put myself in this final either”. Not because I like to get down on myself, but I like to be very realistic about where my skills are at. Other times I will watch and think “I would not trade my dance for most of those finalist’s dances” and that is okay too. It is not about if I am better or worse than those dancers, it is about becoming the best version of the dancer that I want to be.
Whether I didn’t make the final, made the final, or placed, I generally think about what is next. If I wasn't happy with the results, what do I need to change or work harder on? If I did like the results, what worked and how can I continuously replicate it? Were the judges looking for something that I currently do not have in my dance? Is that something that aligns with my values in this dance (i.e. swing content, flash and trash, etc). If it doesn’t align with my values, is there a way to incorporate it without compromising who I am? Example - If I don’t want to add “flash and trash” but some judges appreciate it, maybe I can work on adding bigger moments at very intentional times into my dance to become a more well rounded dancer.
It may be the engineer in me, but it always comes back to having a plan, and collecting results that can be evaluated. Sometimes this can be super hard given how much we invest emotionally into things such as our progression in this dance. If you do find it challenging I highly suggest having a close friend (who can be very honest) or a coach that you trust help you with all of this. It can certainly save you a lot of time and money and avoid some unneeded stress.
I hope this helps you on your journey in dance. If you have any questions or would like to talk to me about any related topics please don’t hesitate to reach out!
My next post will be extending this topics, but with more of a focus on extrapolating quantitative (ish) data and how I go about doing that to properly evaluate (not measure) success (or failure).