You’ve seen Jack and Jill competitions. Maybe you’ve competed, maybe you think you may do one, and maybe you swear you’ll never do it. Regardless of which camp you fall into, it can be helpful to understand the nature and structure of a Jack and Jill. Here, I’ve compiled ten of the most asked questions I’ve heard about Jack and Jills.

Should I compete?

That’s a personal decision. Your attitude, expectations, and outlook on competitions should be your primary factors in determining whether or not to compete.

The guideline I give my students looking at competing for the first time is that if you will be crushed by not making finals, don’t compete – because you likely won’t make finals, especially in your first competition. Some people don’t make finals for years, and are fine with it (or only minorly bummed) because they have fun anyway. Some don’t make finals once, and are totally ripped up about it and never want to compete again!

For me, I compete to win – but I don’t expect it. This is an important distinction. Because of the mixed luck and skill nature, you can’t reasonably expect to win – or even do well. Someone will come last – and it will probably be you at some point. It may even be you for an extended period of time. To illustrate this point, there’s a notorious story of a very good follow placed last for an entire year in the early days of Zouk’s intermediate division. She then went on to win several international high-profile competitions in a row, and still made it to advanced before everyone else.

Competitions can also be stressful. Some people love that sense of adrenaline and challenge – especially people from a performative or competitive background. I know I LOVE it – regardless of outcome. There are also people who love performing but not competing because of the judging element. Some people also use it as a personal challenge to get over things like stage fright and anxiety, and couldn’t give a damn if they make finals or not. For example, I know one competitor (who now competes in an often spotlighted division, where couples dance one at a time) who is doing competitions as a personal challenge to get over his competition-blackouts (aka not remembering his competition AT ALL).

At the end of the day, regardless of whether everyone else is competing, your decision should be motivated by your needs and outlook. I strongly recommend competing only if your sense of self-worth is not tied up in the results of the competition.

How long should I have been dancing before I compete?

Any length of time. I’ve seen competitors start after only a few hours of lessons and have a great experience/competition mindset, and others who have been dancing years who just are not mentally ready. It has almost nothing to do with your dance proficiency, and everything to do with headspace. If you think you will have fun, go ahead and do it – even if you’re new!

Why aren’t the scores consistent?

Relative Placement is based on ordering people first, second, third, etc. Raw scoring can be used to determine that placement, but raw scores won’t show up on the posted placements. When you see results where dancers are placed very similarly by all judges, it usually means it was TOTALLY obvious who did well and not so well. This can also apply to groupings. For example, if the top placement is all 1’s, it means they were very distinctly ahead of the pack. Then, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th may be mixed between the judges. This would show that those three were about comparable, and it was small differences in scoring that determined the difference.

Sometimes, divisions are so close in skill that the same dancer can get a first and last place. In a heated division, this may also be affected by when each judge was looking at you. For example, one judge may have seen the best 30 seconds of your dancing, and another may have seen the worst 30 seconds. This is one of the elements of luck inherent in a Jack and Jill competition.

People like my social dancing. Why can’t I make finals?

While Jack and Jill competitions use a lot of social dance elements, they are not only social dancing. Good social dancers who also have strong personal technique may often appear at the top of the board because their connection elevates their partner and they have strong individual skillsets. However, some great connection dancers who struggle with personal movement quality may often find themselves shut out of the finals because preliminary rounds judge individually, including on personal quality of movement and technique. Therefore, while their connection may be visible, what they look like/how they affect their partner may not be enough to overcome individual deficiencies in technique. Conversely, some dancers who struggle with connection can do well based on their personal technique and aesthetics, while a partner with great coping skills covers for their connection deficiencies.

Isn’t it unfair that I’m not being judged on my WHOLE dance?

If you take into account that it is a competition with both luck and skill elements, no. To be OK with Jack and Jill scoring, it is necessary to recognize the competition isn’t entirely based on personal/partnership virtue. If you’re not OK with the luck element, you should probably consider a routine division where all of the attention is focused on you – and only you.

How do I make myself less stressed?

Everyone has a different way of relaxing their mind and body before competition. I personally take a little bit of quiet time to stretch and warm up solo. Other people like to chat or do warm-up dances to relax, and others completely ignore the competition environment until it’s their turn.

Unless you’re a regular drinker (or other substances), I don’t generally recommend that as a relaxation tool because it can also alter your perception, but everyone is different.

Overall, the more competitions you do, the less stressed most people become. It also makes it less stressful if you realize that people aren’t going to think you’re a bad dancer even if you have a really poor competition.

When I just do basic stuff, I don’t do well. But, I also don’t do well when I pull out everything! What gives?

Competitions are a place where clean AND (not OR) difficult movements pay off. So, on an individual level, you need to figure out how much you (and your partner) have the ability to handle well. And, depending on your field, you’ll have to decide whether to push for risk, or play it safe. If someone else pulls out more difficult things that are just as clean as your most difficult movements or your basics, they will probably place higher. But, if you’re on a field where everyone goes risky and it doesn’t pay off, the simpler but clean dance will likely do better. This is part of competition strategy.

Why doesn’t the judge have better feedback for me?

When I judge heats, I basically don’t recognize individual people. I’m also not committing what I see to memory; I formulate a score, and then move on. This, combined with the fact that the judges aren’t looking at you the whole time, means that they may not have that much (if any) individual feedback for you. In a spotlight division, they may remember you, but not a specific reason for your placement.

Now, some judges have a great memory and can remember a lot more than I can. But, a lot are like me, and may not remember much. In those cases, some judges may be willing to review a video for you. Some charge for this; some do not. If you are looking for individual feedback, you can always bring a video of your competition to a private lesson.

Will being a good competitor mean people want to dance with me more?

Some people might.Doing well regularly definitely will give you some additional visibility, but it’s not necessary to make an impression as a desirable dance partner. You can accomplish the same thing by becoming just a great social dancer, creating demo videos, and cultivating your presence in other ways.

I don’t generally take note of who does well in competitions. I might see someone’s style or vibe that I like, but it has less to do with their placement and more to do with how I like their dancing individually.

Why are good competitors snobby?

There are some competitors who are snobby and unwilling to give to lower-level partners socially. But, there are also many who do give a lot of themselves to all partners – and that’s part of how those people developed their skills. I personally think this has less to do with competitions, and more to do with the individual nature of different people.

After all, even among people who don’t (or don’t like to) compete, you’ll find snobs and givers.

At the end of the day, competitions are supposed to be a fun way for you to explore your more performative side, meet people, and set goals for your dancing. Whether they do accomplish those things for you depends on what you make of competitions. So, explore the idea (if you want to). Give it a try. See if it’s something that adds to your event experience.

Hopefully this article helped answer your questions about Jack and Jill – but if you still have questions, feel free to write in the comments below.