For a Team competition:
Firstly, the first impression that the judges make is based on your music. When choosing a song, make sure to choose a song that is super high quality. You should be able to listen to it on the radio. From my experience, if you can find a song that you enjoy and search for a really cool remake from a modern band, then the quality of sound will be much higher. Choreographic songs should have many highs and lows, as well as a variety of instruments, and strong musical phrasing.
Next, I would suggest working on the quality of your jazz movement. Swing dancing stems from a strong background of jazz dancing, and it should be reflected in every move and movement that you do. Through practicing jazz movement, you will be able to develop a very strong sense of body awareness, and understand the limits of your body and its movements. Also, you will develop an inherent quality of contra-body movement, a pulse, and flow between moves and movements. One of the best ways to practice these movements in your lindy hop (not just traditional movements, but overall body movement), is to dance slow. It will help you practice filling up the music and timing with movement and not just moves. This skill is very apparent in all the best dancers out there. Remember that fast dancing is just slow dancing, but fast.
Another thing that I think a team needs to practice is overall technique. This includes posture, keeping a down pulse all throughout your dancing, triple stepping when the music gets fast, dancing lower, and making sure that everything is lead/follow even though it’s choreography. I feel that posture and making sure that everything is lead/follow are most important. The follows really need to “lag” behind the leads so that they (the leads) have a choice in what’s next and how it’s danced.
Also, something to keep in mind while choreographing is to choreograph to themes. This will allow the audience to become more involved in your routine and to understand what story is being told. Whenever I choreograph, I try to make each routine tell a story. This will also allow you to have costumes that make sense. I would like to see teams with costumes that are totally original and inspiring.
Lastly, but not as important as everything else, I would like to see really good technique in aerials. We, Nelle and I, delegate one practice a week to just aerials so that each aerial becomes not just a flashy move, but an actual step in our dancing. This includes dancing in and out of each and every aerial. This is pretty hard to do, so start early in the year.
For Jam Style competitions:
I think that the most important attribute that you can have in this style of competition is a very organic feeling between you and your partner. Often times a good strictly lead/follow partnership is much more entertaining than a strong partnership with choreography. However, it is much easier to have a short choreography and make it look like your social dancing, than to social dance and make it engaging and entertaining. I feel that the best thing you can do in a jam is to dance to the music. Often times, new competitors forget to dance to the music and only think about presenting cool moves. Albeit might be cool, but good musical dancing will always win over good choreography.
Also, I think that it is very important to have good technique. Almost routinely, when the music get’s fast, competitors tend to tense up, and begin pulling on their partners. Remember that fast dancing is just slow dancing, but fast. It’s really important to continue having good posture, down pulsing, triple stepping, dancing lower, and making sure that everything is lead/follow even when it’s choreography.
Lastly… energy! Whenever I do performances or competitions, the number one thing that I try to project to my audience is energy. It’s the energy you bring to your dancing that makes people respond equally; which in turn will make you try harder, do better, or even jump, jive and wail. Inherent in jam music is so much energy, and when someone matches it with dancing, it’s really exciting! It’s compelling to watch, and somewhere in the process of watching you feel like you are the person in the middle of the circle, dancing every cool move and movement right along with the couple dancing. It’s why I can’t always clap on beat… I feel the rhythm of their movements in my body. If they do something syncopated, I’m right there with them. I feel like a part of their creation, and wail, clap and feel like I’m going to explode. I think that’s where the term jitterbug comes from; the feeling you get when you just can’t stop moving when you hear something that really swings, or see dancers that dance from the heart.