Do you remember that time during primary school you got asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? I do. Every time someone asked I would always say without a doubt an astronaut, just like half of my class.
Greetings! I’m John-Paul Masson and everyone calls me JP and I hope this helps someone out there get over the issues I faced as a junior dancer.
Although they may seem unrelated at first, it was this dream of becoming an astronaut that inadvertently led me to West Coast Swing. It’s what prompted me a 11 year old Australian schoolboy, to go to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Space camp was amazing, but my U.S. trip didn’t end there. Afterwards, my mother demanded we go to Boogie by the Bay in San Francisco for this little thing called ‘West Coast Swing’.
So, without any experience with partner dancing or even taking a west coast swing class, I got thrown into a workshop at Boogie by the Bay, promptly followed by a private lesson with Sarah Van Drake. You know, just the standard smooth entry into partner dancing…
Despite the rough start that terrified me of dancing, with lots of encouragement from my mother I kept dancing and I would urge anyone who wants to be a dancer to do the same. The West Coast Swing community is so close and inclusive, that by immersing yourself in the dance, you will get so much out of it if you just keep at it.
The hardest part of establishing my WCS addiction was establishing who I was as a dancer. Being the only under 18 WCS dancer in my state, and only 1 of 2 youth dancers in all of Australia when I started, made it really hard to escape from two descriptions: “That young kid” and “Laura’s son” (Laura being my mother). The only way I eventually overcame these was by solidifying who I was and this goes hand in hand with establishing your dancing style.
Try to avoid the temptation of imitating the WCS pro’s that you see at events or on youtube. Try to avoid copying anyone else’s style at all. I fell into the trap of trying to be like Zac Skinner [The only other under 18 WCS dancer in Australia. He’s pretty amazing btw ;)]. Zac was my idol and all I thought about was how can I make my dancing look like his, which resulted in me never developing my own identity in the WCS community.
It was no coincidence that when I stopped trying to be someone else, my dancing improved and I finally broke out of my moulds. Chuck Brown phrased this idea perfectly to me at the Asian West Coast Swing Open this year, “You’ll never be able to beat Jordan at being Jordan, or any other dancer. So just be you”. The most important thing that I can say I learnt over the past 6 years being a junior is that you will always be the “kid” or the “child” in your community, until you figure out who you are as a person and then as a dancer.
You will notice it.
One day at dancing it will happen, no longer will you be “the kid”, but you’ll be you. I went from being the youngest dancer in my community to just being JP, because I had a personality. In doing so I also gained confidence in my dancing because I knew who I was. No longer would my mum be the one going up to Pro’s at events and asking them if they’d dance with me, because I had the confidence in my dancing to ask anyone and everyone to dance.
The final advice I’d like to offer is just that: dance with everyone. It doesn’t matter how old they are/you are or how good they are. Dance with everyone and get to know them. I got a really strong ‘dance family’, because I not only danced with everyone, but I talked to everyone as well. WCS isn’t school, there is’t the sub-division and grouping of close friends, everyone gets along because we are all bonded by our love for this amazing dance!
Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. If you ever want to talk about literally anything just send me a message on Facebook.
In conclusion, I’d like to share this quote by Oscar Wilde:
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”