Here’s my best advice to Novice Jack and Jill competitors…
Are you getting ready to compete in Novice Jack and Jill and want to know how to train and what to do on competition day?
You’re not alone.
As someone who recently entered my first Jack and Jill competition, I had lots of questions, but very few answers.
So I thought I’d let you know what to expect and give you the best advice that I found or was told (as well as my own lessons from experience). These came on my way to a second place at my first ever West Coast Swing competition: Swingsation in 2021.
How you will be judged in Jack and Jill competitions
More than likely you’re going to get your ticket and accomodation sorted months before your event. Now that you have, you can focus your attention on preparing for your competition.
Correct preparation comes down to knowing how the judges will judge your dancing.
Gary Jobst who is a Champion and has been competing since 1994 and posted his last results in March 2020 gives a great breakdown in this video;
There are 6 judging criteria in West Coast Swing competitions. They are;
Newcomer and Novice Jack and Jill: You’ll be judged on your timing, technique and teamwork (more on these below).
Intermediate Jack and Jill: You’ll be judged on your timing, technique, teamwork and variety
Advanced Jack and Jill: You’ll be judged on your timing, technique, teamwork, variety and contrast.
All Star & Champion Jack and Jill: You’ll be judged on your timing, technique, teamwork, variety, contrast and showmanship/musicality.
These judging criteria breakdowns provide a lot of clarity so you know what you DO and DO NOT need to train…
For Novice dancers;
DO train your timing, technique and teamwork.
DO NOT WORRY ABOUT VARIETY, CONTRAST OR SHOWMANSHIP!!
Remember that incredible move you saw Jordan and Tatiana do in that video one time? Well, don’t try that on competition day and maybe stop training it for now… It’s not important and won’t help you in your competition. In fact, chances are, it’ll hurt your results if you and your partner mess it up.
Leave your fancy moves at home…
Instead, keep it simple.
How to prepare for Jack and Jill competitions
Lets break down the three T’s that Novice ranked competitors should focus on in Jack and Jill competions. That is: Timing, Technique and Teamwork.
Timing is simply your ability to step/transfer weight on the beat of the music. This means you’re not early or late, but simply ‘on time’ to the music. Timing is also extended to mean that you complete your double and triple steps ‘on time’ also.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t use syncopated rhythm or delayed rhythm as the music might suggest… it’s simply that you are on time with the music.
In Jack and Jill finals, you’re judged as a couple. If you’ve ever seen a couple dance where one or both dancers are off-time, you’ll see it’s a hot mess. It’s awkward to watch and very noticable.
But when both dancers are on-time, even basic movements look fantastic.
Simple movements like step-touch or touch-step are great training drill exercises that can help develop your timing and agility. Plus it’s a lot of fun to dance and experiment on your own to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.
Technique is how you perform your dance actions and movement. It’s where you demonstrate your ability in each component of your movement while you dance.
EG: When you step and transfer weight is an example of technique. As is how you roll your feet and settle on your anchor.
Ask yourself: Is your movement smooth or jarring? Do you have bent knees or straight? Are you engaging your core and maintaining your frame through your movement? Do you stumble through turns and spins or are you upright and spotting?
Have someone record you dancing with a partner so you can see what you look like. When I first did this, I saw myself stepping so far across the slot and leaning over to ‘catch’ my partner on whips that it was ridiculous. But I’d been doing that for three months and no one had told me I was doing it. As soon as I saw it, I corrected it and looked much better dancing afterwards.
Good technique is never awkward. It’s why we’re so attracted to pro’s in all dance forms and sports.
So many people I know who aren’t dancers enjoy watching Jakub & Emeline because their technique and musical interpretation is so amazing that they appreciate it as it’s own art form.
For novice technique as a leader; Focusing on rolling your feet, completing triple steps, having smooth weight transition and engaging your core and frame while using your body to lead instead of your arms/biceps will get you 99% of the way.
West Coast Swing is a partner dance and well… you’re supposed to dance together as a team. Not as two individuals.
In Novice levels of competition, this may simply boil down to being a good leader by clearly leading a pattern that your partner can follow. As a follow it’s as simple as following the lead the leader is giving.
If you’re both experienced, the follow may deviate from the standard pattern in an appropriate fashion to enhance the song and add flavour or musicality. The leader may then respond and extend the pattern to accomodate the followers deviation. This is an example of great teamwork.
But there are many times in a Jack and Jill competition where experience levels are different. So a more experienced Novice may be paired with a less experienced Novice competitor. When this happens, each dancer should aim to dance together, as a team. Being aware of each others limitations and dancing within those limitations is a great example of teamwork.
When you see the opposite… One partner dancing at a high level and ignoring their partners ability (or current lack of)… it looks terrible. It’s like watching a train wreck where one person makes their partner look bad, awkward, flabergasted or leaves them standing there wondering what the heck they’re supposed to be doing.
So for Novice Jack and Jill competitions, my best advice is to keep it simple.
Focus on the three T’s and forget everything else until you reach intermediate.
In doing so, your competition will be less overwhelming and more enjoyable. You may not feel like you’re pushing yourself or dancing to your full potential. I know I certainly feel a little robotic during my competitions. But I remind myself that I’m in a competition… and to compete is to play by the rules and do my best to win.
So keep it simple. Good timing, technique and teamwork will do it.
You’ll have plenty of social dances at the event to show off your fancy moves or experiment with some newly aquired skills. At the end of the day, having fun in your competition and dancing to the best of your ability is all that matters.
Judges will only see a small amount of your dancing as they don’t have enough time to watch everything you do. So as a rule, consistency is better than excellence.
Be consistently good in all areas of your dancing instead of being excellent at ‘spins’ or at ‘timing’. Work on every area and shore up your weaknesses. Then you’ll give yourself the best chance at placing.
I hope you have some more clarity on how to prepare and how you’ll be judged in your Novice Jack and Jill competition.
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 Novice Jack and Jill let me know in the comments below.
Good luck in your next West Coast Swing Novice competition!