Competing in a West Coast Swing Newcomer event was an amazing experience, but nerve-racking at the same time!
For the first time in almost 30 years I entered a dance competition in a new dance I’d been learning – West Coast Swing (WCS).
Thankfully new dancers have their own competition titled ‘Newcomers’. It’s open for those people who have been dancing West Coast Swing for 1 year or less.
So given I hadn’t danced in front of so many people (and judges) for almost 30 years, I was really excited and equally as nervous.
Back when I was nineteen years old, I’d perform in front of 500 people three nights a week with my rap/hip-hop and break dance moves without a care in the world.
Oh how things change!
The competition was at Australia’s premiere event – Swingsation on the Gold Coast.
The event is organised by Allan Skinner and the team from Raw Connection who all did an amazing job with the event.
In this post, I’d like to share the story of the competition as well as giving Newcomers tips for how to prepare, and compete, in their first West Coast Swing event.
My West Coast Swing Newcomer Story
One of the dance schools I go to has a bunch of die hard West Coast Swing practitioners who crave events for the social dances and connections, competitions and learning opportunities with the pros. So lucky for me I wasn’t attending alone.
The first day of the event was filled with workshops, private lessons with the pro’s, social dancing and the Strictly Swing competition.
I had decided not to enter Strictly Swing as I wasn’t confident given I’d been dancing less than a year. In hindsight, it’s something I probably should have done to at least calm my nerves for the following days Jack and Jill competitions.
When Saturday came around, I was nursing an ankle injury and to say I was nervous in the Newcomer event was an understatement.
As Brad Whelan began announcing the Newcomer heats I sat with my Perth crew and could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Checking my smartwatch showed my heart rate had elevated to 127 beats per minute (up from the usual walk-around rate of 70ish) as my nerves and adrenaline began to kick in.
I showed my watch to a few of the team behind me and they simply pat me on the shoulder and told me to take a deep breath because everything would be OK.
Having their support meant a lot that entire weekend and the few weeks leading up to the event. If you are attending your first West Coast Swing event, I highly recommend going with friends or quickly making a few before competition time for additional support.
How Newcomers – Jack & Jill Works
The way the West Coast Swing Newcomer Jack and Jill event works is that you are assigned a random partner in each of the three rounds in the heats and dance to a random song for 90-120 seconds.
During the heats you’re scored as an individual and if you dance well you hope to get a callback to dance in the finals.
In a smaller than usual event (due to Covid), I was lucky enough to make the final of the Newcomers event.
The final is similar in that you’ll get a random dance partner but you stay dancing with them for all three songs and you’re judged as a couple.
I consider myself very fortunate to partner with Megan from Adelaide and also started dancing West Coast Swing around the same time as me.
We quickly introduced ourselves in a matter of seconds had to find a place on the dance floor to begin dancing.
Three songs flew by so quickly, with Megan following everything I led like a champion. Megan wore a huge smile on her face the whole time – helping me relax and able to enjoy each dance.
In what was a very close result, we found out on Sunday night that we took first place which blew us away.
Results from your WCS competitions can be viewed if your event uses Dance Convention. Each judge will place the contestants in order from 1st to last and using a semi-complex algorithm, the winners are calculated.
In the above you can see two judges scored us in 1st place, two judges scored us in 2nd place and one judge scored us in 4th place. Keep in mind that you are judged as a couple in the finals, not as individuals.
Top Tips for Newcomers
These are my top 8 tips if you’re entering a Newcomer competition dancing West Coast Swing. Your friends at your dance school may also give you other tips and advice from when they attended their first event. Hopefully these will give you some confidence and practical tips to help you succeed and enjoy your first competition.
1. Enjoy Yourself
While this is a competition, chances are it won’t be your last. The most important rule is to enjoy each moment, each song and each partner. Time will pass by so quickly, so soak up the moment and enjoy yourself.
It’s natural that nerves will kick in if you’re entering your first West Coast Swing competition. My advice would be to drink some water right before you get called up (you might get an adrenaline rush which will dry your mouth). Then remember to breathe. A few deep breaths will help relax the nerves.
3. Be Warm & Kind To Your Partner
Your parter is probably as nervous as you. Give them a big hug and remember to smile. They may be more or less skilled than you are – either way, you’re in this together. If you want my advice, focus your full attention on them. It will help settle your nerves, the crowd and judges won’t crowd your mind and you’ll have better dances!
4. Focus On Your Basics
Newcomers are judged the same way Novices are. Judges are looking for the three T’s. Timing, Technique and Teamwork. They don’t need to see the latest or coolest move you just learned in yesterdays workshop… Instead simply do the basics and do them well. Be on time to the music, perform your footwork well and pay attention to your parter. For Newcomers, it really is that simple!
5. Keep Eye Contact
As new dancers, we often have a tendency to look at our feet or at the floor. That’s OK sometimes, but it’s not the best way to dance and it doesn’t look as good as two people who dance and look at each others faces. Remember to keep returning to make eye contact as you dance. It will help stay connected with your parter, keep better posture and looks better to the judges.
6. If (When) Mistakes Happen
One of my teachers would often say “It’s OK… it’s OK” when I made a mistake in our private lessons. Her voice rang in my head for months when I made a mistake. Her advice was great ‘Just smile and keep dancing’. Mistakes will happen during a dance no matter what level you are. So if you make a mistake or your partner does, just smile and keep dancing. It’s OK.
7. Stay Positive
You may feel things aren’t going too well. You or your partner may have made some mistakes, gotten off time, or just feel like there are better dancers on the floor. At the end of the day, you’ll be judged by several judges and you won’t know what they’re thinking till the winners are announced. Stay positive because you never know what they saw. You might just be surprised with your results!
8. Be Courteous
There’s a very good chance you won’t always be matched with someone who has the same level of skill in West Coast Swing as you. Remember to be kind and courteous no matter what their skill level. Welcome everyone the same way and let them know you enjoyed your dance. It’s very likely you’ll both improve over time and you’re more than likely going to meet them at future events.
I hope these tips and sharing my experience gives you confidence for your Newcomer event. If it does help, share this with your friends so they too can benefit. You never know, you might just get paired with someone who has read this and you’ll be on the same page!
If there’s anything else you’d like to know about Newcomers let me know in the comments below.
Good luck in your next West Coast Swing Newcomers competition!