It's that time of year again.
Around the same time I'm frustrated with my own dancing and my brain is mushy from learning a routine, it's inevitably time for ILHC again. The International Lindy Hop Championships weekend is, without a doubt, the most popular and beloved competition weekend in the crazy strange world we call our own.
It can also be the most frustrating, emotional, and intense weekend for some of us. There's lots of crying, but there's also lots of joy and happiness.
Whether you're an all-star competitor or a newbie checking this thing out because someone else dragged you to a random hotel in Washington, D.C., there's a lot of things to keep in mind to stay sane during the weekend.
Rule 1: It's about inspiration, not winning.
BUT IT'S A COMPETITION WEEKEND, JEFFCAT. THERE ARE CHAMPIONSHIPS! THERE ARE PEOPLE THAT I HAVE TO PROVE THAT I'M BETTER THAN!
First, whoa, calm down.
Second, yeah, winning's great. But chances are, you're not going to win or place. Chances are, I'm not going to win or place. I'm in the process of making peace with that, but we'll see how that actually goes when the weekend actually begins.
Let's get it out of the way first: there's stuff you need to work on as a dancer. This is true for you, and it's true for me. It's true for Skye and Frida. It's true for that awesome dancer that you keep going to YouTube to watch videos of and talk about all the time (you Lindy stalker).
Plus, there's going to be you and a huge floor full of your peers. Maybe the judges will see you, maybe they won't. Maybe they'll love what you do, or maybe they'll hate it. That's fine. They're judges. They judge.
Making it to the finals is hard. Placing is harder. Winning? A different story entirely.
With all that in mind, I've found the best way to think of ILHC isn't as a place where I have to prove that I'm better than everyone else and use competition placement as a way to validate myself. That gets stressful, and honestly, it gets overly frustrating.
Instead, treat ILHC as a place to gain inspiration.
There's a reason why I always look for ILHC videos when I'm in a bit of a rut with my own dancing. The invitational-level pros are at the top of their game, strutting their stuff and doing their thing. Amazing things happen.
The 2011 Lindy Hoppers Dozen routine made me want to be in a dance troupe. I'm in one now.
The 2013 Invitational Strictly Finals, apparently the most-watched ILHC competition on YouTube, made me want to work even harder with my partner, Mimi. Everyone's insane badassery is on display here, with a pretty incredible mix of improvised and choreographed moments. (We can save the #improvrespect discussion for a different post).
Kevin & Jo's 2011 Classic routine served as a major inspiration for a classic routine I later ended up doing.
There's no shortage of inspiration from the past several years of competitions, and one of the things you begin to notice is that your favorites aren't always necessary the ones who place first. Maybe they don't even place at all.
Competition placements, in the end, are numbers and perhaps rights with which you can brag. But the dancers who win aren't always the ones who inspire everyone else. There are some Invitational-level dancers whom I respect deeply but don't particularly want to dance like. Meanwhile, there are amateurs breaking through the All-Star level that I watch every moment I can get.
Don't try to win. Try to inspire, and tried to be inspired.
Rule 2: Meet people.
One of the things ILHC does best is gathering people from all around the globe for several days in a single place. You can use the time to catch up with friends, but it also becomes an opportunity to dance and chat with folks you never thought you'd be able to meet before.
Mimi joked before that ILHC is basically a Herrang reunion, and that's not incorrect. ILHC is often the only time we'll see friends from abroad on our side of the Atlantic.
Talk to people in line next to you for competitions. Grab dinner with friends and friends of friends. Dance with people you don't know.
Move around the floor between songs, rather than just sticking to one corner or another. It's easy for dancers to find a spot they're comfortable with, populated largely by other dancers who are within a similar peer bracket. Challenge yourself. Find the pros and ask them to dance. Find newbies and show them how awesome Lindy hop is.
One friend of mine had an interesting rule for weekends like ILHC: no social dances with anyone from your home scene. While this may be a more direct way of meeting new people, it's also not a bad idea. I've tried it out in the past before, too. Just don't be a jerk about it!
Rule 3: Get some rest. You too, Baltimore.
Yes, yes, yes, ILHC can also be a really big party weekend. Everyone wants to hang out and do something. Baltimore inevitably has something going on. Because Baltimore.
The dances go on really late, too, and the bands? Incredible. I can dance to the Boilermakers, Jonathan Stout, and Naomi Uyama forever.
Which is why it's also really important to get some rest.
ILHC's schedule is packed. There are competitions going on almost every hour. Competitors' meetings take up a surprising amount of time. People are practicing and taking private lessons.
You still need to find time to eat, sleep, and, yes, poop.
I have two important pieces of advice for these: get out of the hotel for a little, and take naps.
I'm not sure what the new hotel is going to be like--for the past few years, ILHC has been at the same hotel, which had decent access to some good bites to eat nearby. The new hotel is even closer to public transportation, so it may be a lot easier to check out food farther away. If anything, it's nice to remind yourself that, yes, there is a world outside of the hotel. It's easy to go stir crazy inside those walls.
Naps are also a pretty vital tool for survival. It's nearly impossible to get a good night's sleep, if you're the type that wants to party and dance and maybe even hang out with some musicians having a late night pickup jam session. (It happens). Take naps. Naps can be your best friend.
Rule 4: Don't be a dick!
You're gonna be around a lot of people. A surefire way to make this weekend not great is by being a dick.
The dancers around you have their own personal stories, their own conflicts and struggles. Competitors may be feeling more pressure than they let on. Emotions can be running high. Be kind! Be a nice person!
Also, people work really hard to get this event going and keep it going. Be nice to the hotel staff. Clean up after yourself in your rooms, if you're staying in the hotel. Or treat your host to a nice dinner or at least leave a token of your appreciation.
Most of all, though, be kind to the event's organizers, especially Sylvia Sykes, Nina Gilkensen, and Tena Morales. Try not to make the staff's lives any harder than it already is. The behind-the-scenes work is something truly amazing, between making sure that everyone and everything is where it needs to be at the time it needs to be there, and ensuring that all the attendees are having a good time. There's a lot of magic going on back there.
Pretty much: don't be a dick.
Rule 5: Share the bacon.
Let's be honest: Midnight Breakfast is about 95% of the reason why a lot of dancers go to ILHC in the first place. Enjoy the bacon. Share the bacon. With me. Please?
Enjoy the experience.
Ultimately, ILHC is going to be the experience you carve out for yourself. Party hard (but not too hard)! If you're a competitor, take the time to breathe and relax and remember how fun dancing is. If you're there to watch, cheer your friends on. Competitors and performers rely so much on the energy of the crowd. You're as vital to the event as everything else.
And if this is your first time out, prepare to be amazed.
I've walked away from every ILHC I've been to with enough inspiration for the next 365 days. I'm always left wondering: what's going to happen next?