I remember my first-ever Jack n’ Jill competition in West Coast Swing. I was competing in Newcomer, but I had several years of dance experience before WCS. So, I had an ‘advantage’ over some of the people in the category.

I ended up making it to finals. I drew this sweet, older gentleman as a partner. He was very, very nervous. We competed, and in the end I think we came 5th. Not shabby.

Then, after the results, he came up to me and apologized for drawing me in competition. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of “You deserved a better partner. You would have placed higher.”

I felt so bad when he said that. He had this belief that somehow he was holding me back from my rightful place in the division.

Thing is, it wasn’t my ‘rightful’ place. I was perfectly content with 5th. The people in 1, 2, 3, and 4th deserved it.

Even though there was a disparity in the level of leads vs follows (there were far more follows competing), this gentleman was still strong enough in his role to make it to finals. Which means, unless I was lucky enough to draw one of the 1-2 leads who were dancing ‘below’ their natural level, I was dancing with someone who was approximately equal to the rest of the people in the division.


The idea of a ‘Bad Draw’

It’s often thought that, in any division, there will be people competing at, above, or below the division level. This is true – to an extent. In each event, the division at finals will be a reflection of the top ___% of each role competing. The difficulty for some people comes when there’s a big imbalance of leads/follows: wouldn’t it follow that the role with more people would therefore be more competitive?

Well, yes, also true. The thing is that aside from Newcomer (and sometimes Novice), people do have to actually get enough points to enter that level somehow. Which means that, in theory, they’re pre-qualified.  And, unless it is a straight-to-finals comp, they have been already separated to be the top ___% of the people who entered by the time you get to finals.

This means that the effect of ‘Bad Draws’ is very, very small.

Prelims you are judged individually – so it doesn’t really matter *who* you draw. Further, it’s a big disservice to claim that the judges can’t see *your* technique in prelims because of your partner. They’ve (hopefully) been doing this long enough that they know dance technique and quality of movement when they see it.

This isn’t speaking about the problem of “do the judges have enough time to assess me?” That is a separate issue. What I’m talking about is not blaming a lack of time – it’s blaming your drawn partners for your elimination or placement.

 Further, there is a difference between not getting a ‘Good Draw’ and getting a ‘Bad Draw’. ‘Bad Draw’ implies that the person you drew was somehow worse than everyone else in the division. By contrast, ‘Good Draw’ means you happened to get someone who is exceptional in comparison with the rest of the people in the division.

What I see sometimes is people complaining of a ‘Bad Draw’ when in reality they simply didn’t get a ‘Good Draw’. 

We need to change that conversation away from focusing on ‘Bad Draws’. Instead, focus on how lucky so-and-so was to draw that AWESOME dancer, or how lucky those two great dancers were to draw each other. It’s not about how badly your draw sucked; it’s about how very right their draw went.


The Conflation between an ‘Average Draw’ and ‘Bad Draw’

 At a JnJ competition, you will usually be drawing someone in finals who is at least dancing ‘averagely’ for that division at that event. Which means your ‘bad draw’ is actually an ‘average draw’. Otherwise they wouldn’t be in finals.

Instead of putting someone down as the cause of your undesired result, you should focus on what went so right for the people who won. Yes, it wasn’t you. Yes, it was lucky. But, by focusing on the winners, you can say “Yeah, they kinda deserved it.”

This is kinder to both you and your partner. Instead of tearing someone down, it gives you the great feeling of building someone else up and recognizing their accomplishments. It also serves the added bonus of making you feel less like you were ‘cheated’ out of a win.

We all hope for great draws, but let’s not conflate ‘average draw’ with ‘bad draw’.

Obviously, this article does not refer to an inappropriate partner who makes you scared or with whom you have a bad personal history. This is NOT the sense of ‘bad draw’ that I’m talking about.

As a matter of fact, let’s get away from the idea of ‘bad draw’ entirely. Instead, let’s look at ‘bad draws’ as a lack of compatibility between the partners. For example:

  • Connection styles didn’t mesh
  • Musical styles didn’t mesh
  • The general leveling between leads and follows in the division is off

Let’s take away the idea of blaming a partner in competition, and redistribute any blame towards either a failure in the system or a compliment of another couple’s luck and skill.

Trust me, it’s healthier for everyone. Blaming people just never gets anyone anywhere.