Jack N’ Jill competitions are fun opportunities to dance in front of an onlooking audience and demonstrate how well your improvisational skills gel on the dance floor with a complete stranger. For some it’s a platform to perform with ease and spontaneity. Many others lock up with nervousness, dry mouth, and suffer from brain freezing repetitive movements.
Social dancing for me displays the heart of Lindy Hop, and provides a template for dancers to create physical conversations with unexpected twist and turns, that forever keep dancers yearning for more. Jack N’ Jill’s emit a mix of that heart for a brief moment in front of an audience, and are embellished with a jolt of exciting “performance” energy.
So what if your not a performer, or may not have many moves that you can pull out at any moment with anybody? How does one create the magic moments in Jack N Jill’s? Plainly stated, the big T. Timing.
Dancers dance to music, and swing music is somewhat designed with a predictable format. This is a tremendous asset for dancers. Many dancers have many moves, others have fewer, but ideally it’s all about how you use them in time with the music and with your partner. Some dancers who come from a solo background tend to understand this more naturally do to their experience.
This doesn’t disqualify those without solo movement experience, it simply provides a heightened sensitivity to how music naturally flows. (Read my article: Benefits of Solo dancing to speed up your sensitivity) Dancing as one is one thing, dancing with a partner in time with the music is a skill that can be developed. Anything that has been done once can be learned.
I’ve done it many times and will share my methods with you in the proceeding paragraphs. Now I’m giving you my secrets for free, and they’ve worked for me numerous times and will work if you do them:)
4 eight counts at a time
When speaking in dance terminology I like to keep in my mind that everytime I do a J n’ J that there are 4 eight count patterns that continually repeat throughout the song. Since swing music is predictable, try listening with this template in mind. The first is your greeting. “Hi my name is ____, what’s yours?”
The second is for rapport with the audience and with your partner. This is to help them get a glimpse of who you are without the powerful “performance” injection yet. Remember it’s all about timing. If you’re natural style is like the flavor of neapolitan ice cream, trying being very vanilla at this point. Build your visual song with the melody of the music. Don’t rush it.
The third is when you can feel the conversation starting to come to a close or change topics. This is when you or your partner share your last words. Lastly you have the 4th eight count which in my opinion is where you can add the fuel to the fire. This is where you place your performance stamp either as a lead or a follow. Here is a shortened example: 1st. get acquainted casually, 2nd vanilla swingout, 3rd you or your partner talk, 4th explosion of performance juice by you or your partner.
After the first 4 eight counts of introduction and sizzle of where the performance could go, began oscillating between vanilla, and neapolitan throughout the remainder of the minute and a half. You talk, then let your follow talk, or vice versa. It’s that simple.
If you began practicing with a template as such, you will be able to use nervous energy for your benefit. Instead of walking into the dance blindly, you will have a mindset, posture and clear vision walking into the dark room of uncertainty on the dance floor. This will eventually allow you to “use” the nervous energy by eliminating negative thoughts about yourself.
Repetition is the mother of all learning. Keep practicing this pattern and place your special phrases of movements accordingly. Subsequently, once you remove your negative thoughts, you have nothing but energy left, and if you do the next thing I’m going to mention you will grant yourself creative permission any time you want.
Relaxing is something that must be a priority whenever you dance in J N J’s. I’ve seen dancers forget that breathing is a critical part of the dance, let alone staying alive. I relax first by doing daily what I mentioned in the above paragraph, and also by moving just a little slower with my partner than I normally would.
It will feel like you’re dragging at first, but this will help you appear more in control, and will give you some eye attention from the judges who focus on the “quality of movement” aspects of the JnJ. Think about it. Moving slow allows you to hide ruff edges as you and your partner share energy on the floor.
You will also be able to find pockets where you can slide in expressions of creativity that would normally be hard to see because of the rushed pacing that comes with being nervous. You want to be the Terminator on the inside and James Bond on the outside.
People want you to do well, and you have to believe that first by changing the way you think before you even step on the stage. This will produce confidence in you the more familiar you are with this technique, and will allow you to express the real you instead of the nervous one.
Unlock the real you
Speaking of the real you. Lindy Hop is a living dance and you like me are contributing to its growth. One thing that will keep it alive and fresh is you being yourself when you dance. Utilize the inspiration you receive from dancers to unlock you. If you do the above principles, this will allow you to focus on expressing your creative contribution to the dance.
The funny thing is that If you develop quality of movement and focus on it too much you will over glorify things that you’re supposed to be able to do just to enjoy dancing the lindy hop. If you omit quality of movement, you will make learning harder for the future generations of dancers. There is a distinct balance of learning what is and creating what isn’t.
By doing the above techniques well, you will gradually be thrusted into a scary position of knowing what to do, but not what to do when the “unexpected” happens. Einstein said it best: “The imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge can take you to and fro, but with the imagination you can go anywhere.”
Use the technique to bring you to the point of plateauing and remain poised to eventually meet your roadblock with readiness and without fear to unlock your creative expression. Think about it. If everyone simply had quality of movement, how would the competition be judged? That’s right. It’s not just about how well you can master the technique, but also about unlocking the future of the dance by taking risk on the dance floor creatively.
When I judge a competition, and if everyone has great technique how do I judge it? For me, I’m looking for the risk taker who’s willing to do something “special” with well communicated technique that will add to the dance and not take away. Frankie did it with the aerial, and you can do it tomorrow morning or at your weekly dance. Just don’t be afraid to try something new.
You will be amazed at what happens when you unlock the skills of being comfortable in your uncomfortableness. I’ve included a link providing a template of what I’ve done in the passed during a JnJ, and happened to win first.
I won’t guarantee you will win every time, but I will guarantee you will inspire many who are bored and wanting their creative abilities to be unlocked but are afraid to move outside of their comfort of zone. You can do it. We are all waiting on you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbbNSXafeyc
Some dancers prefer many shapes, others prefer few. Both however shine well when the priority of dancing as “one” is the focus. Remember, have a template, and grant yourself permission to get excited and create at certain points. Relax, move slower and find those sweets spots that usually are undermined by nervous acceleration. Let me know how your JnJ develops as you add your creative mark on the dance.
Again, I’m sharing with you the ideas behind my successful experiences so that you can use them to inspire a new perspective in you or to help shorten your learning curve. (Make sure to review the article: How to master the Lindy Hop as a part time dancer, if you want practical practice advice) If you have a Social Media profile, share this with dancers you know who can benefit. Have a stress free week!