One of the central social aspects of West Coast Swing is the points system. There are five ranks: novice, intermediate, advanced, all stars and champions. In order to advance from one rank to the next, you need a certain number of points that you earn by doing well in “jack and jill” competitions (random partner and random music).

The organization that awards points, the World Swing Dance Council awards them in the following way:

5-15 Competitors:

  • 5 points to 1st place
  • 4 points to 2nd place
  • 3 points to 3rd place
  • 2 points to 4th place
  • 1 point to 5th place

16-39 Competitors:

  • 10 points to 1st place
  • 8 points to 2nd place
  • 6 points to 3rd place
  • 4 points to 4th place
  • 2 points to 5th place
  • 1 point to 6-10th place

40+ Competitors:

  • 15 points to 1st place
  • 12 points to 2nd place
  • 10 points to 3rd place
  • 8 points to 4th place
  • 6 points to 5th place
  • 1 point to 6th-15th place

It is pretty clear that smaller competitions are better for the average competitor, although not as beneficial to the people who end up placing. This becomes even more obvious when we divide the total points awarded in the competition and plot it against the number of competitors like so:

Points per Competitor

In theory, it should be possible to game the system by finding events with low numbers of participants and grinding out points. I think this doesn’t work for a couple of reasons.

First, there is a practical minimum limit to the size of events. Events have to be held at hotels and hotels are expensive places to host events. Since most people are beginners, this means that it should hardly ever be the case that Novice or Intermediate competitions have an extremely small number of competitors.

Secondly, this is a very expensive strategy to follow. Going to lots of small conventions involves paying for lots of tickets, hotel rooms and airfare. It is also generally quite physically taxing.

Lastly, I suspect that “grinding” points doesn’t work very well. A person might make it to the next highest level via grinding, but then they’d be stranded among much better peers.

All that said, if there is a smaller convention near you, it might be more worth while to go than you otherwise thought. I personally prefer larger conventions for social dancing, but the sweet, sweet taste of external validation can help make the long journey of improvement just a bit more palatable.