Routine is a dancing performance to a particular song with a particular partner, both wearing special outfits. It is prepared in advance and performed spot light, i.e. one couple on the dancefloor.
In our West Coast Swing community, it is considered that a routine is something that requires titanic efforts associated with constant lack of time and constant arguing with your partner. Regularly at dance conventions, before routine division performances, MCs tend to creep everyone out saying, “This is the most important division, the guys have been preparing for loads of months, it’s a heck of a job… show some respect you useless JACK&JILLers” (okay, they do not actually say that).
I would like to share my own experience of making a routine because it was really exciting, useful, and it’s still fresh in my mind. Also, let’s take a look at popular
1. MAKING A ROUTINE IS SUPER HARD
All of us think so. Well, you know, it all depends on what to compare with. A lot of videos from American events just don’t reach most of dancers, especially non-American ones. There are lots of routines of different levels, lots of Pro-Ams (they are held spot light too), as after these shows participants get more approval from judges during Jack&Jill competitions (true story). But all that Russian dancers, for example, are able to watch are Classic finals of US Open Championship, and of course, making this kind of a routine is freaking hard.
These are made by really well-trained dancers. Sometimes by mentally ill ones. They train every day, hardly ever get tired, and drink disgusting green smoothies in the mornings. Why do you want that? A routine can be of any level, just evaluate yourself properly.
You need a quality dance, and it can be quite simple. And if someone tells you, “Ugh, it’s way too simple”, then just let them do at least the same thing. You don’t have to bring in anything new, remix a weird song, do original supports and lifts. Nobody expects that. It is not what audience wants. Audience wants to be entertained and empathize with dancers. They want to feel something sincere. And it’s not that complicated.
2. I DO WANT TO MAKE A ROUTINE, BUT I DON’T HAVE A PARTNER.
If there was a partner ready to make a routine, they would already start making a routine.
Well, it’s difficult to make such a decision out of thin air, people have to be talked into it!
How would you choose your partner? I think that you should like social dancing and communicating with this person. It is what you are going to do all the time. It should be a person of a similar body type and height to you. It’s always nice to watch people who match each other. Or people who transmit the same character. A coach may help you with this.
3. WE CAN’T DECIDE ON A SONG. MY PARTNER DOESN’T LIKE MY OPTIONS; I DON’T LIKE THEIRS
Well, I can’t deny it; choosing a song is exceptionally hard. Especially a song you won’t get sick of after 100 repeats on the loop along with a story, crisis, emotions, and WCS in it… In this case, the last ingredient is the most important one. Turn on your song and just dance to it. Is there WCS rhythm in it? And if your answer is yes, is it really IN the song, or are you creating it yourself? The “rule of a third” always works. Ask someone else, a third person. They could be your coach, or some teacher, a colleague in your group (believe me, no one will refuse to answer a question, “Do you think this song is suitable for a routine?”). However, it’s better to ask someone more authoritative.
The choice of our song for US Open occurred by accident. We’ve planned to use a contemporary song with elements of rock, but our coach said, “There will be 25 similar songs in the final because Rising star division is about young dancers nobody has ever heard of, and youth dances to contemporary. Would you like to be different? Take a classic song and show the judges what they really want but don’t expect to see anymore.” So, it seemed to be a specific task with specific strategy.
4. WE ARE GOING TO FIGHT ALL THE TIME, DRIVE EACH OTHER NUTS, AND QUIT DANCING
This is my favorite part. Well, you won’t get it right immediately, especially at the very beginning when it’s still not quite clear what to do. There will be good days and bad ones.
My rule was: never blame your partner (it looks like his rule was pretty much the same). We were just asking questions. What can I do? How can I help? What’s your opinion on why we can’t get it right?
Partnership has nothing to do with driving each other nuts, bringing up children together, or self-affirmation. You have a mutual goal, you are here to create something beautiful and do a particular job. Your partner has their own duties, and you have yours. Nobody has to waste energy to control each other’s job. Each of you is responsible for what he/she can do better, and you may teach each other this thing.
Every pattern is a scheme of actions. Finish a turn, make a strict diagonal, wait for him to spin you around… I remember, at some point I stopped and told him that I didn’t understand my job at that particular pattern, I was just waiting for him to turn me around. I asked, “What could I do?” And he replied he needed to have my arm in a more comfortable position to spin me faster. And I was like, ”OK”, adding one more point to my scheme: just turning my palm upwards on time.
After all, a whole routine is also a scheme of actions. Then you add looks, gestures, more details into it, and make it work. First, I glance this way, then I turn my head 30 degrees to the right…
By the way, you and your coach are going to change a lot in your scheme over and over again, so it’s really great if you’re able to learn new things fast. However, it works through practice only, it’s not talent what really matters for re-learning. Just some people need to repeat a pattern 15 times, other ones need 85. And each one of you has to respect the number of repetitions your partner needs. However, cool stuff can’t be done on the first try. NEVER. All cool things during Champions Jack&Jills are born “accidentally” just because earlier champs have tried them 500 times in their routines.
5. A ROUTINE IS TIME-CONSUMING, AND I HAVE A JOB, A FAMILY, A CAT
Always remember it’s a temporary project. You will find resources once you get into the flow. It is important to determine your time. You need to realize how many days or hours you have for it, otherwise your brain is going to get lazy. Smaller limitations also work; for example, you may say, “We need to come up with an idea for support until tomorrow”. And I can assure you, it always appears. And if it doesn’t, then start the morning with a nasty green smoothie, at least it’s useful.
My partner and me had strict time limits: less than 2 months (about 57 days) that I was spending in his country. We were practicing from 2 to 5 hours every day. 3 weeks before the US Open we were still not registered and didn’t know if we would participate. Of course, no one forced us. Of course, we could have quit any time.
Sometimes I was going out of the studio to think: “Alright, I don’t like anything about the routine. Well, let’s bail on everything. What’s then? Jany, you’re in the future champion’s house. He’ll continue to train, he has no options. And what are you going to do every day? You’re overseas with no friends, no car, your family is far away, you can’t go back to doing nothing. Are you afraid? Are your fears stronger than you? Are you ready to bail on a month full of trainings? Hell, NO! Do you need inspiration? Go and look at Gary and Susan’s run-through, or Glen and Kellese’s one. And suck it up!” And so I was going to look at them, and then back to my little sandbox.
It brings me to another advice. If the idea of making a routine scares you, persuade your friends to keep you company, make a routine for two pairs, it doesn’t matter! It’s so motivating! The idea is not new, training is always more productive when you are with a friend.
I do not think that I brought up something absolutely new in the article, but still, let’s summarize. To make a routine, you need:
1. Emotions, an idea that you are going to reflect. Technical level is secondary.
2. A partner that matches you physically.
3. A song with WCS rhythm in it.
4. A coach. This person will help you with 3 things mentioned above.
5. Determined time limits.
6. Green smoothies!
Why am I writing this?
I love art. I want to see more routines. I want people not to be afraid of creating them, of start, or trying. I believe a routine is quintessence of dance knowledge and skills. It is always more about process, not results. This is a tremendously powerful push in development, technique, musicality, and discovering your own style. A routine is going to level you up for Jack&Jills and just physically. Moreover, it gives great inspiration both to participants and audience. And, of course, videos! Well, yes, basically my purpose was having a nice video.
West Coast Swing is so flexible in requirements: level of dancing, a number of couples, music. And it’s sad that we almost don’t take the advantage of it.
Thank you for reading my article. Be creative!
P.S. It was a joke about smoothies, of course.