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Gettin' Nasty

It's no secret: I love competing. For me, it is an opportunity to push myself harder, and to push my friends harder, and to push all of us to push the artform of blues. It's an opportunity to be inspired and to inspire and show each other how we understand the blues.

In terms of how we compete, and what leads to someone winning, there are two parts to competing: technical prowess, and gettin' nasty. These two things can pull at each other and create a tension for judges. Technical prowess is the thing of hours of training, and is an incredibly important foundation for dancing all dancing. Nastiness, to me, is that moment when a competitor is so confident in their dancing that they release their hold on their perceptions of what a movement looks like, and just do the damn thing, throwing all of their skill and passion at it as the same time.

When a dancer has a certain level of skill, the abandon of nastiness pulls the dance out of performance and into a real expression of the music. There is risk in going nasty when you don't have sufficient body awareness. Do the judges think you were being weird on purpose, making a deliberate choice in this exact moment to just throw everything you have at it, or did it read as sloppy, out of control in a bad way? This risk can drive some dancers to preferring purely technical dances in competitions, but for me, letting the nastiness pour out is the only way to enjoy competitions.

If you'll allow me just a little bit of narcism, I'm going to cite my own competition dancing as an example of nastiness.

The gif above is from the 2016 Winter Blues Open Jack and Jill, and I would argue, my nastiest moment in the whole competition. My low downs aren't sloppy, they aren't missing the beat, but that free arm is doing some naaaaasty stuff. What makes it nasty is that the shape is coming from the music, and is aggressive and big. It isn't a safe choice: it doesn't look like your standard free arm movement choice for a low down, even a fast one like this. The pulse of the music is actually most clearly visualized in that arm, and not as much in my chest. Elizabeth comes right with me, her own free arm taking more space and making more deliberate angles, and she layers a shimmy on at the end that cues me that this moment should be over now as the phrase ends just a moment after. The contrast between Elizabeth's polish and my almost thrown movements is one of the things that makes this moment work so well for me as a spotlight.

I know that I split judges a lot because of this. There are definitely judges that prioritize clean aesthetics and want technical skills of partnering to be more highly prized than this sort of aggressive throw down. There are other judges who dig on this even harder.

To me, however, the beauty of nastiness in competitions is it reminds me why I have internalized the identity of dancer. In those moments, I'm not just enacting a set of consistently practiced skills, I'm finding the thing in the music that moves me, and tapping into it. I know I've got room to improve my leading and body control skills sufficiently such that I can seal that split right up, by being both extremely technical and tapped into the nasty.

And that room for improvement keeps me excited to keep competing.

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