When I invite a teacher to lead a workshop at Lindy Jazz or DJam, I like to ask them lots of questions! It’s my way of getting to know what they think and it’s also because I hear these questions quite often. Questions about levels, auditions, competitions, dancing with teachers and the secret of being awesome! Here, Natalia Eristavi, a beautiful dancer, international teacher and competitor answers my inquisitive questions and I am really excited to share her guest blog with you.
I am so honored to have been asked to write a guest blog for Joo-Lee!
Firstly let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Natalia Eristavi and I have been Swing dancing for about 5 years starting in Orange County California when I was 17 years old. Since then, I have picked up Lindy Hop, Shag and Balboa and have had the pleasure of teaching it both locally and internationally as well as competing at multiple events around the world.
When it comes to watching videos of myself, I tend to be quite self critical and rarely enjoy the experience however I am quite proud of this Classic routine my partner Alex Parker and I choreographed and performed at ILHC in 2015. We spent quite some time refining this routine and I am certainly proud of it.
Having been to many international dance camps and having competed in most of them I have often been asked about taking that next step into high level competition.
If you’re going to venture into bigger waters yourself you’ll be faced with the sometimes intimidating world of level auditions for camp classes as well as prelims for competitions.
Looking back at when I was a newer dancer, I remember how nerve-wracking a first experience at competing can be. I remember my first dance camp, Camp Hollywood in Los Angeles California; It was exciting and scary at the same time! The energy was incredible and there were so many people from around the world that I had never met before. In my first competition, I didn’t make finals and to be honest, it upset me. But the reality was that I was nowhere near the level of the dancers I was competing against, and I knew that in time I would begin to make finals and eventually place or win at those competitions. I decided to start to enjoy the journey of improvement more than the destination.
So where to start …
What do I feel teachers are looking for in level auditions?
For me personally, I look for a good and solid understanding of basics and a good quality of movement. In my opinion, these elements take priority over styling and musicality.
What do I regard as an Improver, Intermediate or Advanced level?
I see the difference between these levels as summed up in three general elements; the quality of footwork, movement, and connection. The higher the level, the cleaner these elements.
For example; moving from Intermediate to Advance I’d be looking to see –
• Is your footwork under your body (are you balanced)?
• Are you using the floor to move efficiently through rhythm?
• Are your rhythms clean?
• Are you moving from your core?
• Does your body maintain a seated position?
• Are you using your fingers and back muscles to connect to your partner?
• Are you stretching and compressing through connection? And does this connection match that of your partners?
Most of us are familiar with watching high level dancers and being both secretly jealous and definitely inspired by them. But what is it that keeps us from achieving this level of dancing ourselves?
One habit that may stop you from achieving your goals is an unwillingness to criticize yourself and/or take criticism from others. It is important to trust your partners with feedback; they may offer you something you may not have thought of before!
Why do some competitors never get beyond the prelims?
Sometimes you can be the best follow/leader in the room, but you may not stand out enough aesthetically. The judges cannot feel how you feel because they’re watching you, not dancing with you. In order to stand out to the judges, you need to work on your quality of movement and shapes.
A big advantage of attending dance camps is being able to experience dancing with the weekend instructors and other high level dancers. Experiencing the connection, flow and rhythm of a professional dancer can give you a hands on understanding of what to aim for in your own dancing. However it can sometimes be intimidating to approach these individuals. From my experiences from starting out as a beginner dancer to growing to become an instructor myself, I can say quite confidently that instructors are happy to dance with you! Just walk up to them and politely ask as you would with any other dancer on the floor. If they promised the song to someone already, wait until the next one!
Then when you get that dance, relax and enjoy the dance; look into their faces instead of your feet, practice breathing in and out if you get nervous, and most importantly; smile!
We are often held up on trying to impress a high level dancer but what has always impressed me even more than fancy moves is just having a positive attitude. Smiling is underrated! If you connect with me visually and smile, the experience becomes a lot more enjoyable for the both of us!
Dancing like a pro doesn’t just happen over night but there are a few things to keep in mind on the journey – determination and patience.
If you want to push your dancing to the next level, I recommend attending as many camps as you can and taking as many private lessons as you can. However, the work doesn’t stop there; it is important to take everything you have learned and practise it consistently either with a partner, on the social dance floor or both. Video yourself dancing and compare it to a video of a leader/follower that inspires you. Individuality is a great thing and I encourage it but mimicking dancers for a short period of time is a great way to improve. Ask for feedback! Ask anyone and everyone! Your partners, your teachers… everyone! And when you get your feedback, work even more to improve! And lastly, enjoy the journey! Nothing makes me sadder than to see a discouraged and impatient Lindy Hopper. This is a fun dance! Every step is a joyful one!
I will be moving back to the US in the Summer but before I do, I have the wonderful privilege of teaching a workshop in Durham, home of DJam (which happens to be one of my favorite events!). I hope to see you all in person on the fourth of June.