Apples of all variety are still apples
A quick search on the Internet to watch West Coast Swing (WCS) videos will reveal an evolution. WCS is not what it was 10 years ago. The older the video the less it looks like today's WCS and the more it looks like Lindy. To some they look like crab apples and to others they are Bardsey Island apples, the rarest and purest in the world. As a social dance, WCS lacks an international governing body to standardize the dance. Many fear such oversight, yet few will deny that there should be clearer definitions of what is swing content. While encouraging WCS development, there should be accountability to ensure such development retains swing content, the core of WCS. Just as apples have cultivated to over 2500 varieties, they are still apples and all have an apple core. Until a governing body evolves to be responsible for defining swing in WCS, the BTO Open has listed “core” elements in general terms that characterize WCS. Our judges will assess the competitors less on how well dancers express their peachy dancing, more on demonstrating core WCS elements while dancing like today’s popular apples like Galla or Red delicious.
Ripe for the picking
The competition floor is an evolving environment that needs stability to know what and how judges assess dancers for each competition division — not an overgrown apple orchard being encroached by other popular fruit trees like peaches and pears. The BTO Open Rules and regulations is a product of the event's vision, ensuring a purer environment for WCS, like a groomed orchard for apples of all species to grow. The BTO Open website advises dancers on the judging criteria for each division — picking the right apple for the right demand. The BTO Open instructs judges to assess dancers based on the BTO Open defined core elements of WCS and the expected proficiencies for all competition levels — becoming a real apple picker. These efforts reflect a vision for dancers to better focus on developing skills judges will be assessing in their divisions — keeping peaches and pears out of the apple barrels.
Like an apple blossom
WCS competitions are formal efforts to reward dance excellence. The influences for determining excellence varies from event to event as does judging criteria amongst the levels judged and amongst the judges themselves. Such a formal process needs no distractions. Let’s not shake that apple tree to risk harming the apple blossoms. The competition environment should remain formal in contrast to the social dancing scene. Competitors should demonstrate respect. Be available and ready to go come show time. Being the cause of delaying a completion will likely get you removed from the competition. Don’t just be ready, look ready. Your attire should characterize respect for the judges and your dance partners. Leave the casual wear for the social dance floor: no jeans, no hats, no wearing your undersized Baby Gap. You wouldn’t wear flip-flops to pick apples from a ladder: so show up, dress up.
Just an apple picking minute
The average length a song plays in Jack and Jill competitions is under two minutes, including its intro. Typically there are three songs for a judge to score on average 20 or more leaders or followers, allowing 15 or less seconds to score a dancer and record it on the judge’s score sheet as a yes, no, or alternate choice — barely enough time to eat an apple. After several competitions, asking a judge to recall what he or she thought of a particular dancer would likely result in silence or an answer relying on memory that science tells us not to trust. While watching the comps, what bite of the apple was most bitter to you?
Watch a movie and two hours later have someone ask you to recall a specific 15 seconds portion to describe what you liked and didn’t like about it. Good luck! Or, maybe we can use science as an advantage. The BTO wants to help competitors improve on the pillars of observing, formulating, and empowering, while giving Judges a tool to ensure their feedback was easy and accurate. BTO Open created scoring sheets for Judges to tick off while observing areas for improvement with non-finalist: empowering the judges with a voice, recorded during judgment for you to hear. It’s like choosing an apple as it turns ripe for the picking.
The Judges’ selections are collected and formulated as sub-subjects related to timing, technique, and teamwork, providing non-finalist Judges’ Feedback cards. Empowerment is the key pillar and is most rewarding when properly acted. The best time to take action for improving your dance is after the competitions, permitting sufficient practice time to implement lasting changes in your dance. It’s like collecting apples seeds for next season. The Edge intensive at the BTO Open integrates the Judge’s Feedback cards to help dancers interpret the reports to create self development plans complete with drills and mental preparation processes. Even for those that made finals, Sonya Dessureault’s intensive is an experience not to be missed. She will introduce new ways of making this dance yours to standout as the one to watch during competitions. You may soon be hearing, “You are the apple of my eye.”
K. Bradley Willis CD
BTOOpen.ca Event Director
Credit note: Brandi Guild 2018-11-02 interview on The Naked Truth, Real talk about WCS was an inspiration for writing this article. https://thenakedtruthwcs.com/2018/11/07/brandi-guild/