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The Pro-Am Experience

January 24, 2012

Because I was recruited to start teaching West Coast Swing quite soon after starting to take classes, I never had the opportunity to dance as an Amateur in Pro-Am competitions. (Many events define a “Professional” as anyone who teaches the dance even on a small scale, so I have rarely qualified as an Am).

But at SwingCouver 2012 (a Champion-led weekend of WCS workshops and competitions in Vancouver in January), I finally got the chance to experience a Pro-Am competition from the amateur’s perspective. This was thanks to a charity Pro-Am Jack & Jill contest. It was a raffle – those of us who qualified as Amateurs got to buy tickets to be entered into a raffle to dance in the competition. If our name was drawn, we were randomly paired with one of the Champions on staff, and the competition was run like a Jack & Jill except that the partner you got in preliminaries was the same partner that you advanced with to finals. (All the proceeds went to Canadian Diabetes Foundation).

I bought 3 tickets, my name was the first drawn, and I was paired with Jordan Frisbee (the top leader in the world currently, and for the last 8-10 years). In the second draw, my name was called again and I danced with Sean McKeever, a hot up-and-coming pro leader also from California.

The anxiety of dancing multiple competition dances with these amazing leaders – without any preparation – was coupled with the usual excitement of a Jack & Jill competition. I was shaking with energy but I felt proud (although not content) of how I danced in both preliminary heats. I made finals with both leaders and ended up taking first place with Jordan.

Of course, that kind of success is incredibly thrilling, but believe it or not, the thing I’m most excited about is that I feel a renewed sense of opportunity to progress and advance my dance. Although I theoretically understood the value of Pro-Am competitions, I now understand it from the Amateur’s perspective and it makes me even more enthusiastic about encouraging my students to dance in Pro-Am competitions. I wanted to take this opportunity to explain why.

  1. You get the Pro at his/her best. This was different from having a social dance with a Pro, when they are relaxed or perhaps inattentive or reluctant or tired or sore. These two were in competition mode and their reputation as pros and Champions was on the line (in a Pro-Am, one’s peers, students and potential students all see how effective you are at making a less experienced dancer look their best). The Pros feel the pressure and so they pull out all of their partnering skills in a Pro-Am. It was quite a different experience than what I have had in social dances with Champions.
  2. You get to evaluate your dance and only your dance. I was able to observe how the leaders adjusted to me and that tells me an awful lot about my own dance. I can’t WAIT to get the event DVD so that I can evaluate my dances visually. It will tell me where I’m at in terms of the things I have been working on lately, and it will show me exactly where I want to go next.
  3. You get to assess your “competition personality”. I still struggle to dance as freely in a competition as I do socially. This experience has allowed me to reflect on that better than ever before because I was dancing with what I’ll call “neutral” partners – I feel I can take my performance and evaluate it separately from the partnership and in absence of issues at the other end of the connection, such as a nervous or incapable leader.

Based on this experience, I can even more enthusiastically recommend the Pro-Am experience to my students – and to dancers of any stripe!