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Give or take.

I see a lot of advice thrown around on the internet and in classes about the art of competing. A lot of it is the same few concepts repackaged and retold, which is fine with me since I agree with most of it. I’ve even given it to my students when asked. Work on your basics, invite the audience into your dance, dance with your partner like they’re a unique snowflake (which they are), swing out more than once a song. All solid advice. Even stuff like “wear clothes that flatter you” and “choose colors that pop” and “dance where the judges can see you” and “wink at the judges at the beginning of every phrase” are great pieces of advice for getting noticed—although that last one may get you a restraining order rather than a place in the finals. The great thing about most of this advice is that it’s applicable no matter what type of competition it is; it’s great for J&Js, strictly comps, and level auditions. No matter what situation encourages a student to ask for help with competitions, the advice is pretty much the same.

In fact, using Tempest Storm as your inspiration during a lindy hop competition is generally a mistake.

Using Tempest Storm as your inspiration during a lindy hop competition is generally a mistake.

The problem I have is that level auditions are not the same as other competitions. The process is similar, often being modeled after a J&J—for non-dancers: that stands for Jack and Jill, a competition where both the music and the partnership are selected outside of competitor control—but the significance of it is very, very different. After a J&J, the action is more or less over. Some people won, others didn’t. You wait for the next level of comps or for results and that’s it. For level auditions, the competition is just the start. After the audition you have at least a weekend, sometimes even a whole week of classes ahead. You can win a competition by doing something novel or flashy. Sometimes a big move—in the finals—can make up for social-dancing ability. You are being judged in large part by how fun it was to watch you. In level auditions, judges are deliberately trying to look past big, flashy moves to the dancing on which they rest. They are trying to see both your current level and your potential so they can decide where you can grow the most and most benefit your fellow students. And they have to do it quickly, because there are many other dancers to evaluate along similar lines. Naturally, because level auditions potentially have so much impact on your growth as a dancer, they can be incredibly stressful.

Because of the significance of level auditions, when people ask me how to ace them I often interpret it as, “How can I game the system such that I end up in a level I’m not ready for and that will ultimately benefit me less, aside from stroking my ego—a dubious and ephemeral joy at best.” What can I say; I always credit my students with a fancy prose style.

In a similar way, when I see things like “Guaranteed Tips to Help You Murder Your Auditions,” I equate them in my head to ads like “Lose Belly Fat Without Lifting a Pound” or “Cut in Line at the Hospital, BECAUSE YOU CAN.” Okay, clearly I’m exaggerating. But the thing is I feel like a lot of this advice ends up being simultaneously:

  • Not Helpful, and
  • Kind of a Bit Unethical

The advice is great for being noticed, which is important for knowing that your placement is meaningful. But aside from being noticed and looking like a human being when you dance, the best advice to ensure you get to attend a high level of classes is Become a High-Level Dancer. Don’t work on your basics because you want to be in Advanced or Masters. Work on your basics because it’s an important part of growing as a dancer. Don’t ignore your basics and think that wearing a red top is going to get you in. And on the off chance that it does get you in, what then? You’re going to be in a level you can’t appreciate because you’re not ready. You will get frustrated with the speed of the class. Your fellow students may get frustrated because your level makes it harder for them to work on the material. The teachers may get frustrated that they have to slow down the class to bring you up to speed. Honestly, the Present-Yourself-Well type of advice is great for people who deserve to be in higher-level classes, but it doesn’t serve anyone else.

To the question of how to do well in auditions, the best piece of advice I can think of is almost never given, which is a shame because it applies to a much larger group of people. It’s a simple word: Don’t. Don’t audition just to audition. I used to tell people to audition for whatever they wanted because what was the harm? Then I saw someone who couldn’t swing out trying out for a master-level class and actually felt bad for his follower. He was so overwhelming and uncoordinated (like every new dancer) that the judges probably couldn’t evaluate her at all until she rotated to the next partner.

Batkid's results not typical. Wishing for things doesn't usually make them come true.

Batkid’s results not typical. Wishing for things doesn’t usually make them come true.

Don’t try to get to the highest level just because it’d be cool if you got it, or because you’ve been dancing for a long time, or because you don’t have other plans during audition time. Audition for a level because you think that’s where you can really grow the most, and you won’t be so behind that you interfere with anyone else’s growth. Don’t audition for a level because that’s what your friends are doing. Do it because that’s what your peers are doing. If you have trouble figuring out what level you should audition for, because it’s hard to self-evaluate and also Hodges knows that each event has a different definition of “advanced,” then ask a teacher, or somebody who’s been to that event before. If you feel like you could audition, but aren’t quite sure, then by all means audition. But if you really have no business being in that level, then please please please go to a level that will help you more. Stop trying to convince a bunch of strangers that you’re advanced and go become advanced. It’s a lot more fun, I promise.

Do you have advice on how to decide whether or not to audition? Do you have advice about doing your best during an audition once you’ve decided to do it? Do you think I’m a poo poo head who’s trying to crush your dreams? Comment and let me know!