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  • Writer's pictureAbigail Haresign

Lindy Focus XX

While some might think it is cruel and unusual punishment to attend a dance event and not dance, apparently it is absolutely normal for those behind the scenes. In 2019, I left Lindy Focus content with my experience as a competitor and finalist in the Newcomer and Intermediate Mix and Matches as a Lead and Follow. In 2022 I returned to Lindy Focus XX as one of the Directors of Competitions alongside Jamica Zion and Rebecca Strickland. Here I will give you a little insight into what it was like to be the clip bitch for the week and what it was like to spend five days in a 6x8 closet with no windows and the most intense florescent lighting you can imagine.

Now, how did I get from consumer to producer? Thank you for asking. There were more than a few triple steps that I took from pinning numbers on my back to organizing competitions at this scale. First was organizing a local crowd judged mix and match competition in New Orleans in partnership with Creole Connection. This was followed by organizing my first international festival and hosting Sixty Second Showcases and a Late Late Night Dance Battle at Lindy Autonomous Zone. From here I was invited to Direct the competitions at Lindy Focus XX. Boom-bada-bam! Once our team began to meet regularly there were a number of steps we took before arriving in Ashville. This included -but was not limited to- choosing competitions & names, determining rules, coordinating formats with the music team which included Michael Gamble, Keenen Mckenzie, DJ coordinator Allison Meeks, and the man who wears many hats; Jon Tigert. I am thankful for their expertise and skill to provide framework and music for all of the competitions, prelims, and finals. Jamica and I went on to schedule competitions and judges which was quite a unique puzzle to piece together. We reached out to events across the country to secure prizes for our competitors and Jamica designed beautiful certificates to be printed and framed.

The title of the Messaround came about in reference to a dance move where one bops their hips around in a circle to the beat. This was a Luck of the Draw comp and included prelims and finals each scored using relative placement scoring. Serious intensive props and thanks to Rebecca for giving me the crash course on Scott's Relative Placement Software--and by crash course I mean I quite literally crashed on day two when we had to score three contests and I had spent the morning in a pretty intensive dance practice that left my whole body broken down and ready to be rebuilt stronger than before.

Growing up I used to spend my weekends and evenings as a Girls Softball Umpire for my township. During this time I learned the importance of standing firm as an officiant and being an impartial judge. As the 'head umpire' of Lindy Focus I was responsible for overseeing that all rules were followed, all contestants were accounted for, and all scores were kept private and input correctly into the system. Rebecca and I would take the judges clipboards right away, cover them up, and scurry on over to our little office where we worked to make sure no mistakes were made with inputting the data. While people were out and about thinking of what outfits to wear to accentuate their lines, dishing about who matched with who in the prelims, and gushing over how well their friends danced, we were condensing everything to a series of 1's and 2's for prelims and 1-5 for finalists. In prelims judges were allocated a certain amount of yes definitelys=1 and ranked alternates=2. In the case of a tie there would be a number of factors we would then determine such as which judges scores were worth more, how many times dancers had been seen, and where they were ranked as alternates. For example if contestant 202 has two 1's and one 2, and contestant 208 has two 1's and one 2- we might have to go back to the hand written sheets to see where they were ranked as alternates. If 208 is alternate 1 and 202 is alternate 3, than 208 is a finalist and 202 is an alternate. This was a new mathematic language for my brain to absorb and I am so thankful for Rebecca's patience.

It is very important for me to mention how detached from these competitions I truly felt in certain ways and where being impartial comes into play because my roommate Hannah was first place in the Messaround with her partner Sean whose name she pulled out of my hat. My week was truly condensed to a series of numbers and a desperate attempt to remember to drink water. I say this because the day after the prizes were awarded (which was a day after finalists had been scored) I was leaving our hotel room when I noticed a framed prize for Messaround first place sitting on the dresser. I had been at the competition for every stage and had even calculated the results and had not paid any mind to the names attached to the numbers. I did not know my own roommate had won until I saw the framed prize in our room two days after the contest. I was shocked at how far away I felt from the musical movers filling the floor with shapes and connection. 'At least nobody could say it was rigged', I shrugged to myself as I ran off to do more math homework.

Balboa Contest: To be quite honest I have no memory of this contest except sweaty finalists mostly out of breath standing to the side while I coordinated with them the order they would go in for the final round. Thanks Hussain Jaffery for this photo and congratulations to the winners. This contest was on the first late night of the event and I believe the judges tapped out dancers until we reached the finalists who then each had spotlights followed by an all skate. I hope that the judges, competitors, and viewers enjoyed it. On this day I wore a red jumpsuit with a belt made by my pal Grace over at PegnPedal.

The Ins-PAIR-ation! This was a fun take on the classic pro-am where a dancer invites another dancer who inspires them and uplifts them to compete. The dancer with less experience (although often still quite experienced dancers themselves) are judged independently as leads or follows and in the final round the amateur finalists are judged against one another. This was a relatively smooth competition to score - or maybe there were some ties we had to break- again this was all just a bunch of numbers and I really couldn't tell one contest or competitor from another once we returned to our little yellow booth. I do know that Jeff got this great photo of Mary and Kimby dancing together while their shared InsPAIRation partner Jon stands in the back and taps his toe to the tempo.

At this point I still had not danced much at all so I forced myself to go into the jam to see what would happen. I was wearing my ILHC Norma 100 shirt that I was pleasantly surprised to find out Rebecca had designed. My Jazz Attack jersey cause PHILLLLLLYYYYY (aka my hometown) and my New Orleans hat to honor the home I built for myself in this strange pandemic life I have lived.

The Solo Battle I am told that for many this was a magical moment. I am thankful to hear that and also I did not watch this competition. I mean, I did in fact stand there and with my eyeballs look at everything that was happening, but by the end of this day I was fried as a little potato. To recap, I had an intensive dance practice in the morning that left my body exhausted, followed by the InsPAIRation prelims, Messaround Finals, and Late night Solo contest. That's three contests and three sets of scores to run through the system and print for those counting. Alas, rumor has it and I believe it to be true that people did in fact feel good about participating in the solo comp. The judges were La Tasha Barnes , Anthony Chen, Alice Bourgasser, Marie N'diaye, and Joshua Mclean. Each judge chose their champion and finalists danced against one another in battle format spotlights with a final all skate. Here is the iconic photo by Samantha Kunz.

By day three I had made it through the roughest part of the growth period, by now I was feeling comfortable in my new role and gaining confidence now that I was an expert at putting papers onto clipboards with pencils facing down. Oh and most importantly- Rebecca and the magic of airdrop saved us massive amounts of time and tears over the printer that required one to disconnect from the hotel wifi and connect to the printer wifi each time they needed to print the rosters, MC sheets, and Judge Sheets.

Things were beginning to run smoothly and the Switch finals were the moment for me when I realized what I had visualized so many months earlier (to the dream team that hired me aka Tessa and Mallory) had become a reality. A queer AF comp that allowed people to showcase their skills leading, following, switching, and most importantly dancing in connection with their partner. For ILHC 2021 Sarah St. Ores and I were the only couple to Switch in the Open Strictly. As a switch dancer I think there is a unique and special feeling that can only be found in that brief moment of transition and communication with your partner. I wanted to see that at the Lindy Focus level and it was such a sigh of relief to see that dream come true. It was this night that I was finally able to truly dance, feel joy, and join the LFXX breakfast club. Usually I am a daily breakfast club attendee and I was feeling quite some shame about going to sleep the previous nights.

The Ballroomin' Comp went through a series of identity crisis before ultimately coming to the conclusion that the name mattered very little compared to the integrity of the judges. Jamica and I were confident our judge lineup would ensure that any tomfoolery that might appear in the slow dance contest would not be welcome in what was destined to be a respectable final lineup of dancers. Jon came through in his cozy clothes to count them in and the finals did not disappoint.

Last, but never least, we had the Newcomer Comp. This one seemed to spark the most discussion as post-pandemic levels have shifted everyone's understanding of Newcomer drastically. The pandemic offered a strange opportunity where recovery mode created a smaller pool of traveling dancers-mostly made up of people privileged enough to work remotely, whose financial situations may not have been drastically impacted by the global stand still. This led to a small pool of people gaining a lot of competition experience and elevating their 'level' (whatever that may mean to you). The newcomer for Lindy Focus XX was intended for those who haven't had much experience with finals at larger events. Maybe they have made finals or placed at smaller regional events, but we specifically were targeting those without experience in finals at Lindy Focus, ILHC, or Camp Hollywood. This allowed us to see who the up and comers are, those who may or may not have been on the floor for a while, but have yet to be in the light. Thank you to those that shared their light with us in the Newcomer comp.

The Newcomer prelims were the only prelims this year to happen in the afternoon. During this day I was having the most intense chronic illness flare up with pain in my body radiating somewhere around an 8/10. I could hardly stand or move and I was thankful I was able to communicate this to my team so I could sit as still as possible on the stage while we ran through the heats. Something unexpected happened where someone from the third heat got in line with the second heat. I was the one to catch the mistake and we were able to line everyone up in the correct numerical order. It was a very small catch that would have made a big difference. If I hadn't caught it, that dancer would have danced without being recorded on the judges sheet. It felt good to have made it to the final day of the event, to have learned so much, and to have been on top of the officiating game even while I was practically paralyzed with pain. It was nice to have a feeling of calm and control over the situation and nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the success of our whole team.

Once the Newcomer Contest was over, Rebecca and I tabulated the scores behind stage so we could turn around and produce the winners immediately. We were pushed for time since it was New Years Eve. While they announced the Ballroomin' winners we were prepared to score by hand in case the wifi was out (which was pretty cool). Then Rebecca told me we were finished until after midnight breakfast, this was different from every other contest in which we would run to our room to print results asap. After the countdown, the champagne, the kisses, the dances, the breakfast, and some more socialization, Rebecca and I were back in our box, printing, prepping, and finalizing the scores for the book and the wall. One of the coolest moments of the whole experience was taping the scoresheets up as people began to swarm around us to see the results. Seeing months of hard work printed out into such neat and organized papers with gathering viewers felt really satisfying. I was really proud of all that I had envisioned and created and I was thankful for the team that made that possible. I was thankful for the people that thanked me for my work while also enjoying the feeling of being an invisible hand behind the curtain knowing the show was enjoyed by many.

Once everything was all tied up I realized a whole new world of Lindy Hop had been opened up to me. With joy in my heart and friends by my side I danced until dawn and went to bed somewhere around 10:30 am New Years Day.

I want to give one last quick shout out to Giselle Anguizola (a member of our team for a brief moment) who reminded me a few months ago that Lindy Hop can often be a labor of love. There is so much truth in that phrase. I have been so fortunate to work in this dance world over the past few years in a number of roles sometimes earning cold hard cash and sometimes breaking my literal feet, but I do have to say sometimes the less you get paid, the harder you work, the more love that gets spread, and I am thankful for the floors to dance on-- even when I am not the one dancing. Thank you to everyone who participated in this vision and supported me along the way. Lindy Focus XX was one for the books and I am glad I got to help write the history.

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