The Old Format
For those who are not familiar, the typical Mix & Match format has competitors enter as either a lead or follow to show how they partner with others. For the preliminary round, competitors are lined up in a set order by role and then rotated a certain number chosen at random to be paired with 3 different competitors, each for about 30-60 seconds of a song. Competitors are ranked in each role by a panel of judges and finalists are chosen. For the final round, competitors are either randomly paired with one partner for the duration or rotate through finalists to dance to a few different songs.
The Reason for Change
This format works quite well for the goal of seeing how well someone dances with partners at a variety of levels and to different songs. But it has its drawbacks and I’d like to walk you through the reasoning behind my format change. I’ve been a dancer, competitor, and event organizer for about 15 years now. I’ve drawn folks in competitions that I swore I would never dance with again due to past trauma and I’ve had to pretend to enjoy myself and make them look good in the name of competition, at times helping them win and giving them more power and credibility. I’ve watched this happen to countless other friends and dancers as well.
Sometimes event organizers are aware of existing conflict and intentionally adjust the pairings to split folks up. But how does that help those who are quiet about their personal life or who organizers don’t know? I’ve heard stories from dancers who were paired with someone who injured them, either in that very competition or previously in a competition or social dance, but because they never made it to finals it was never brought to anyone’s attention. When the goal of the competition is to see how well someone dances with a variety of partners and to a variety of songs, it is unnecessary and careless to force someone to dance with someone who has caused them harm.
The New Format
For our new format at bamBLOOZled, dancers were informed of the change and it’s intentions on the website, in a Facebook post, and at the competitors meeting just prior.
The Facebook announcement: “At Capital Blues, we like to be innovative with our competitions. From having the first Solo Riffin' comp, to our past Showcase competition, and Aries changing the Jack & Jill name to Jam & Jelly, we're constantly thinking about how we can do better. That's why this year we're incorporating our consent values into the Jam & Jelly competition!
All too often we've seen a competition where someone gets stuck in rotation dancing with someone they'd never say yes to on the social floor (due to unsafe dancing or past trauma). This year at bamBLOOZled, prelims will allow dancers to find a new partner themselves and then contestants will have the ability to inform us of anyone they wouldn't want to dance with. Finalists will be selected and rotation set accordingly (and any finalist receiving a majority of refusals will be disqualified and an alternate selected). If you have thoughts on our structure or ideas on how to improve it, please let us know through email. We strive for a safe and comfortable environment for all who compete!”
After all the preliminary songs were finished, leads and follows lined back up how they were originally called out for judges to take notes, this time with everyone facing the same wall (for example, everyone faces the north wall and follows are looking at leads’ backs, able to take a mental note of any lead’s competition number who they would not want to dance with due to trauma or injury). Then we had competitors face the other direction (so folks turn to face the south wall and now leads are looking at follows’ numbers, able to take a mental note).
Competitors were asked to turn in their numbers once the preliminary round concluded and anyone who made a mental note of a partner they did not want to be paired with would write that on the back of their number before turning it in. Anyone receiving a majority of declined dances from finalists in the other role would be disqualified. Collecting numbers in this way allowed us to gather data on anyone in the competition not just those making it into finals, for folks to feel safe sharing that information, and also for us to prevent the potential of someone making it into finals only to find out that the majority will not pair with them and having to publicly disqualify them and select an alternate. With all the refusals by competitors taken into account, finalists can be paired or rotated during the final round to ensure safe partnerships.
I made it very clear during the competitors meeting that this was for the purpose of making folks who don’t feel comfortable or safe competing due to trauma feel taken care of as they don’t need to dance with someone who isn’t safe for them. It is explicitly *not* for someone to just opt out of dancing with someone whose dancing they don’t care for or who they think isn’t going to improve their chances of winning. I asked “Do you understand?” and had competitors verbally confirm “Yes.” I made sure to state again slightly different and got verbal agreement from the competitors again.
Final Thoughts and Reflections
That last piece was the crux of all the concerned criticism I received upon announcing the format change. Folks felt it would defeat the purpose of a Mix & Match and that competitors would abuse the system. I’ve already explained how this new format still fulfills the purpose of seeing someone dance with a variety of dancers, even more so than usual. No competitors submitted the number of someone they didn’t want to dance with at bamBLOOZled and only one competitor submitted a number at Rose City Blues, which tells me that our competitors did not take this lightly. And I received so much positive feedback and support both from folks who are too afraid to compete due to the chance of drawing someone unsafe and also folks who relive that potential trauma every time they compete because they don’t want to have to stop competing.
“It is still a J&J competition in that folks are being judged on their ability to dance with a wide range of dancers. You never dance with everyone in a J&J competition, so not dancing with one specific person in a competition does not change that. Our goal is to make the people who've experienced trauma feel safer competing, and have faith it will not be misused by folks to refuse a dance because it will improve their odds at winning.
So many times in a J&J competition I've seen someone forced to dance with someone who's caused them physical injury and/or trauma when there were other people they could have just as easily been paired with. And as organizers, we want to know if there is someone who is causing many people physical injury or trauma so that we can protect others in our community.” (My response to a concern that this format change took away from the spirit of the Jam & Jelly competition)
Thanks for reading and please share with organizers and other competitors so we can keep this conversation going. Feel free to contact me with any comments and thoughts. Anyone is welcome to reference the wording I used here from bamBLOOZled announcements, please use proper attribution.
From the bamBLOOZled website:
New structure and name for our Jam & Jelly Competition!
You may be curious about our new Jam & Jelly competition. It’s our formerly known Jack & Jill competition with a new name since the old name implies a gender for our lead/follow roles and we encourage anyone to enter as a lead or follow. Aries Indenbaum coined the catchy name years ago when MC’ing a competition at our weekly Thursday night Back Room dance. We have also adjusted the structure of our competition to align more with our values of safer spaces. In many competitions, when you rotate to an assigned partner sometimes you are forced to dance with someone you would never dance with on the social floor, due to them causing a previous injury, making you feel unsafe, or being the perpetrator of past trauma. We want to make sure everyone has an enjoyable time competing and gets to dance with who they want to. For this reason our prelims will allow competitors to find themselves a new partner when we rotate and our finals will allow finalists to refuse dancing with another competitor (and if the majority of finalists in that role refuse to dance with a competitor, that competitor will be disqualified and an alternate will be selected). If you have thoughts on our structure or ideas on how to improve it, please let us know. We strive to make the best blues event we can with a safe and inclusive environment.