Registration? Check. Time-off work? Check. Place to stay? Check. Excitement over spending the next 72 hours in Lindy Hop bliss? Triple check. Next, you read through the upcoming dance weekend’s schedule and you realize that one of the first items on the itinerary is Track Auditions. AKA Level Testing. AKA complete feeling of dread and terror. AKA the sorting hat of Lindy Hop meritocracy. For some, this may cause stress, nightmares, and panic. Or maybe you’re totally cool with it, but want a few tips for making it to the top tier. As the oft-called-upon sorter of students, let me help you a bit.

First, I will tell you this: Tests are imperfect. They are biased. They are somewhat good at showing where you should approximately be. Like an interview or a standardized test, you can get better at them. They are not science, but they may be a good wakeup call. In this blog I’d like to tell you what I think are the ways to get the highest level you can. Which incidentally, may or may not be the best place for you, but at least you won’t be placed lower than you want.

First off, you have my sympathies

Level testing is hard, and it’s a lot of pressure and energy expenditure you probably don’t want/need. It’s not particularly fun for the “judges” as I’ll call them either. I’ve been on both ends of level testing (as a testER and a testEE). As a tester, there is a lot of fear of getting it wrong. I remember on particular instance where I misplaced someone. I put them in a much lower level than I should have. I realized it about halfway through the weekend, when it was too late. I’ve felt terrible about it for years. But to be fair, they didn’t dance as well in the level test as the did in class, which brings me to my first tip:

Dance your best

This might seem like it should be a given, but sometimes it often seems like level tests are phoning it in. From the mindset of the judge, when I am looking out over a sea of maybe 200-600 people, and I have about 40 minutes to put everyone into multiple skill-based tiers, I need to decide on my outliers first. Almost all level testing will go top-down. In other words, the judges are going to pull out all the top-tier people first; the ones that make the instant impression that they deserve to be in the highest level will get a wristband and get out of the way. As the judges hand out wrist bands, the most advanced dancers will get their placement and leave the room, making it easier to make decisions on the remaining people.

As a person being tested, this is your ideal scenario. Dance as well as possible right away. Do well, and get out of there ASAP. Use your extra 30 minutes to stretch, get coffee, and get ready for the hardest material the weekend has to offer. This simple flowchart may be helpful:

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But what are you looking for?

If that flowchart wasn’t very helpful, let me be a little more clear about the kinds of things I look for as a track judge.

  • Your triple steps. It’s such an easy thing to get lazy about, but as an observer I can tell so much about your dancing by how much ease the triple steps have, how much swing they have, (SHOO pa da, not ta-ta-ta) and most importantly, whether or not you are doing them. If you use them fluidly, easily and without being lazy, then points for you. In fact, I’ve been in the position of having ONE single wristband to give out for an intermediate track, and I waited patiently for two songs, and gave it to the first (and only) triple step I saw. Seriously, don’t skip these.
  • Your pulse AKA bounce. I love watching dancing that has a “whole-body” aspect to it. The bounce you have should make sense with the song being played. It should look easy and unforced. Pulse takes energy, and like other things that take energy, it often normalizes to a lower medium place. My recommendation is to actively concentrate on this, ie do more of it.
  • Relaxation in limbs, especially hands. This tells me that you aren’t expending too much mental energy to complete what you’re doing, and that higher level material might not overwhelm you.
  • Good use of momentum. Traveling through “3&4” to make the swing outs and circles flow and work with ease.
  • Solid swing outs, gushy sugar pushes, flowing circles, rhythmic charlestons, nice tuck turns, nice passes
  • Quality of motion
  • Flow. From one move to the next, are the choices making good sense? Do circular things continue on in a circular fashion, and linear things progress in a linear fashion? Do you redirect or continue motion in ways that make sense and is this comfortable for your partner?
  • Do you understand the music? And by that I mean can you hear when the phrases start? Do you wait to really start dancing until the intro is over? Do you let your dancing “breathe” at the end of a phrase instead of starting into the next phrase right away?

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Things I’m definitely NOT looking for

  • Stomping
  • Showing off
  • Over styling
  • Fancy moves

Outside of dancing how can I maximize my chances?

Anytime your dancing is under scrutiny, and you care about the results of said scrutiny, I think there’s a good benefit in dressing in a way that flatters your body, whatever that means to you. If you have good lines, wear clothes that accentuate that. If you’re a good spinner then clothing that flows and moves can be very nice. Shorts and athletic shoes may be comfortable, but they almost never make your dancing look better.

Treat your partners well. Thank them in each rotation. Point out any anomalies in the rotation (such as a partnerless spot) if you are the non-rotating lead/follow role. Make your partners look good. Judges notice these things.


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So you didn’t make it as high up as you wanted

You have two choices when this happens:

1) Don’t spend another second of your life fretting about it. Enjoy your level, learn new things and concentrate on being the best one in your level.

2) Appeal the decision. Most camps will appoint someone for level appeals. Make a good case. Start with how many years you’ve been dancing, and how often you social dance. Make a good case for yourself, but accept the judge/referee’s final decision.

Final thought

Level tests are an imperfect test of your skills.  They show you roughly where you should be.  They place you in a groups with other dancers near your skill level.  If you placed lower than you thought you should have, then try to think of it as a wake-up call.  This is where you should be, not where you want to be.

If you did well, then don’t take it for granted, and do your best to really listen and understand what the teachers are trying to say.

I hope this article was helpful for those of you attending camps and weekends on a regular basis.  Share your thoughts with us. What have you done with respect to level tests?  What was your experience?