Category Archives: Cats’ Corner

Our thoughts on lindy hop culture and pro tips to help you improve your dancing!

8 Ways to Improve Your Dancing Outside of Class

We try to make our classes fun and enjoyable but there’s more to Lindy Hop than just taking classes. Whether you’re in it for the fun and friends or you want train hard and really ramp up your skills here are some great ways to hone your dancing skills outside of class (in no particular order):

  1. Listen to swing music and learn more about it. A good place to start is Andy Lewis’s excellent DJ blog
  2. Social dance! Lindy Hop is a social dance so learning the moves in a classroom will only get you so far. In order to really work on your connection, reaction, improvisation, and musicality skills you’ve got to get out on the dance floor and dance a whole song or two (preferably way more!). Locally we recommend The Sunday Swing Set (and btw it’s FREE!) If you don’t have a well established social dance where you are see if you can get the room a bit longer after a class for a bit of practice time or try to find a local venue that would be willing to let you play some swing music on a typically quiet night. party
  3. Travel to events in other cities Even if your local teachers are international superstars it’s still good to get out and learn from other teachers. Because Lindy Hop has never been standardised, there are a wide variety of dancing styles and teaching styles out there and the dance is constantly evolving. So go out and experience a new perspective–see how other dancers and other teachers approach it. Dancing in a new place can also show you that you’re learning a truly international dance language that enables you to dance with other Lindy Hoppers all over the world!
  4. Watch other dancers Once you’ve got the basics down watching other dancers can be really inspiring, it can show you what’s possible and give you new ideas to try. When you go out to a social dance don’t forget to spend a little bit of time watching dancers that you like. Try to pick out what it is that you like about their dancing and try some of those things for yourself. There is also now a veritable smorgasbord of Lindy Hop videos available on the internet! You can see what Lindy Hop looked like “back in the day”. Bobby White’s blog is a great place to start. You can also catch hours and hours worth of performances, competitions and teachers demos from the past fifteen years or so. Here is an interesting blog post about some influential modern clips or just search for ILHC on Youtube and dive into the giant rabbit hole of related clips.tap
  5. Try other related dance styles At first the idea of learning yet another dance style might seem like it would make your head explode but once you get past that point it can be good to be a bit adventurous. Learning other swing era dances and/or dances that heavily influenced Lindy Hop can help you become a better dancer (they’re also lots of fun in their own right). Balboa can tighten up your footwork and help you explore new kinds of connection, Blues is great for working on control and improvisation, Charleston and vintage jazz are great for learning footwork variations, Tap can help develop your sense of rhythm and African dance can help you learn to loosen up and use your whole body.
  6. Strengthen your core. Core strength is super important for good connection and control so anything that strengthens those core muscles (yoga, pilates, pole dancing, aerial hoop, acrobalance, etc) will help your dancing as well.
  7. Build your endurance. Improving your technique and connection makes dancing faster much easier but even if you’re on top form dancing three songs in a row at 200 bpm is some serious cardio. Any activity that gets your heart rate up can help build your endurance–things like running, swimming, football and Zumba
  8. Invest in some decent dance shoes. This doesn’t have to be a costly effort but if you’re still wearing your Doc Martins to class getting a pair of  shoes specifically for dancing could make a big difference. Check out our recent blog about shoes for some good options to fit all budgets.
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Let’s Talk About Shoes

Whether you’re going for maximum performance and comfort or authentic vintage style shoes are a very important part of any dancers wardrobe. We’ll have a look at what options are out there, some popular brands, and how to find your perfect shoe!

You Gotta Have Sole

One of the most important features of your dance shoe is what’s on the bottom! You want a shoe that will allow your feet to slide around on the floor a bit but there’s a lot of room for personal preference here–some dancers like just enough slip to be able to spin easily while others want to glide through every move frictionlessly. At some point you will probably end up with a variety of shoes for dancing on different types of floors so that you can always achieve the perfect combination of shoe and dancefloor to create your desired amount of slippiness. Here’s a rundown of the basic options:

  • Rubber: A rubber sole without too much texture (think plimsolls not walking boots) can be a great option for newer dancers and those who prefer a less slippery shoe. Rubber soled shoes are generally softer so good for those who are worried about stepping on their partners’ feet or have yet to master the art of floorcraft. Pros: Soft, durable, and easy to clean, forces you to pick up your feet and be more precise with your footwork, Cons: May be too sticky for some dance floors.
  • Suede: So long as you have a suede brush you can have some control over the slipperiness of sueded shoes. Brush them regularly to give them a bit of grip or leave the suede to matt down for a bit more slip. You can purchase dance shoes with suede soles, get your favourite shoes sueded by a cobbler or even do it yourself with a bit of superglue. Pros: versatility, Cons: Do not get wet! Also hard to clean so not  great on sticky bar floors
  • Leather: Hard leather soles will give you the maximum slide on most floors, soft leather can be slightly less slippery but its not as hard-wearing. Pros: excellent for slides and slip slops, hard-wearing (hard leather), Cons: May be too slippery on some dance floors
  • Split soles: Split soled shoes are popular for many styles of dance so you may see them around a bit. Rather than being one piece the sole is in two sections to allow your foot to bend in the middle. Pros: Can be very comfy, Cons: Prevent you from using your whole foot on the floor
  • Heels: Heels aren’t strictly necessary for lindy hop but many dancers love the aesthetic. We would recommend flats to start with for most dancers but once you’ve been at it for a while you may want to experiment with heeled shoes. Wedges or chunky heels are your best bet. Pros: Can really change the look of your dancing, preferable for some styles like balboa Cons: Takes a bit of practice if you don’t normally wear heals, will have an effect on balance
  • Sole Hacks: These are temporary solutions–none of them ideal but good to be aware of. Earlier in the revival dancers often put gaffa tape on the bottom of their shoes to make rubber soled shoes a bit more slippery. It is cheap and effective! Though you do have to keep an eye on them to make sure the tape doesn’t start to wear down and get sticky. Also once you’ve put tape on the bottom of your shoes there is no going back the sticky gunk doesn’t come off easily. Socks over shoes–some people seem to make this work in a pinch but it is a VERY slippery option. Talc–you may see some dancers put talc on the floor to make it more slippery. As a general rule, if you are sharing the dance floor with other dancers who have not consented to the use of talc PLEASE DON’T DO THIS. It changes the floor for everyone, and not everyone want’s to slide around like Bambi. Change your shoes not the floor.

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Look the Part

If you want to go for an authentic vintage look. Here is a rundown of authentic swing era shoe styles.

For Men: Leather suit shoes are your best bet, two toned brogues are an authentic 30s style. Plimsolls are also an authentic vintage style for men and women as revealed in our last style feature.

For Women: Women’s shoes came in lots of styles in the 20s-40s. Heels were the norm for going out but flats are not inauthentic as there were sports shoes available with a very small heel. Iconic styles from the swing era include mary janes, oxfords, brogues, T-straps and wedges.

The Vintage Dancer website is a great resource with lots of photos of clothes and shoes from different eras.

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Where to Shop

First Shoes: If you’re just starting out we highly recommend picking up a pair of cheap plimsolls from Primark. They are an excellent first dance shoe! If you want something a bit fancier Keds and Toms and also great for this style.

Shoe retailers popular with lindy hoppers in the UK:

www.remixvintageshoes.com

www.slideandswing.es

www.swingdancestore.co.uk

https://www.swinggear.co.uk/

The DIY Option: In our experience, even some of the more reputable brands of dance shoes can be very pricey and at the same time not very well made so another good option is to make your own bespoke dance shoes. Find a pair of shoes that are comfortable and have the look you want on the high street or wherever you normally shop for shoes. If the sole is already appropriately slippy then you’re done! If not, take your shoes to a cobbler who will be able to grind them flat if they are too textured, or resole them with suede, leather, or whatever you want (Cobblers are awesome). Voila the perfect dance shoe!

 

 

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Kieron Finn on Vintage Fashion

Last month we picked up some excellent tips on vintage hair and make up from the Someday Sweethearts. This month we’ve got a second installment of vintage style for you from one of our lovely local dancers–Kieron Finn! Kieron has been a fan of vintage fashion since he was a teenager, starting with mod 60s fashion and then moving on to earlier eras. For a lot of people it’s lindy hop that inspires an interest in vintage fashion but for Kieron it was the other way round.

Breaking News Keds Are Legit!

I definitely learned a thing or two speaking to Kieron, the biggest being that canvas plimsolls are 100% authentic footwear for dancing lindy hop! They’ve been around since 1916 and were what Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers wore initially to practice and perform in. So wear your cheap plimsolls with pride and stop worrying that they don’t go with your outfit! For more details I’ll refer you to this excellent post on Swungover.

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How to Dress for the Savoy

  • If you want to find inspiration for clothing tips, search the internet for photographs of what people actually wore and find a style that suits you.
  • Wide legged chinos with a cuff and double pleats are an accurate and practical vintage style of trousers. The pleats give you movement room and the wide legs assist in ventilation.
  • Button braces look more authentic than clip on braces. Hot tip: If your trousers don’t have brace buttons, all you need to do is sew 6 buttons on the waistband.
  • Waistcoats are traditionally worn with the bottom button left undone.
  • If you wear a tie, wear a tie clip, in between the 3rd and 4th shirt button.
  • Single breasted suit jackets with the traditional 3 buttons follow a similar rule for being buttoned, starting from the top, working down, the rule is “sometimes, always, never.”
  • If you want to stick to Savoy Ballroom rules, suit jackets are to be kept on, as a mark of respect for your dance partners. Note: this is an extremely warm option.
  • If you can’t hack it with a jacket, it’s good manners to wear an undershirt if you are wearing a shirt without a jacket or a waistcoat. This helps to minimise sweat transference to your partner when dancing.
  • Shirt sleeves, if they are rolled up, should be rolled below the elbow.

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Where Kieron Shops for Vintage Duds

http://www.chestercordite.com
Makes very good quality clothing, especially his repro spearpoint shirts.

http://www.froggywentcourting.co.uk
Has a great line of knitwear, accessories and caps. He always makes sure he gets his items made in the uk.

https://simonjamescathcart.com
Is worth checking out for his regular 50% sales. There’s no point paying full price. The polos are good for dancing, but only at the sale price.

https://www.saintsavoy.com/en/
These make amazing dance shoes in male and female styles. They are quite expensive, but very good and with good vintage styling.

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A Lesson in Vintage Glamour from the Someday Sweethearts

You don’t have to be into vintage style to to enjoy vintage dancing but we thought we’d do a couple of features on how to acheive a vintage look for those who want to give it a go! We got in touch with Nina Elkin, Artistic Director of the Someday Sweethearts, to ask if she had any top tips to share. Her response: “Oh…I have more then one” 

The Someday Sweethearts are a chorus line dance troupe based in San Francisco that perform routines inspired by 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. The group was started back in 2014 by Gaby Cook (and originally called the Sweet Sixteen). They are still going strong today. Part of their mission as a group is to promote all women in lindy hop and support the growth of female performers, community leaders and choreographers.

ss 20's look

Signature Sweethearts Style

Their version of vintage style is about what looks good for performances rather than about being 100% historically accurate. Depending on what they are performing the Sweethearts have three general looks:

1920’s Flapper: Smoky Eye Makeup, darker red lip color in cupids bow, Finger Waves / Marcel Waves in the front.

1930’s Chorus Line: 1-3 Pin curls in the front. Bun, Gibson Tuck or Chignon in the back. Neutral earth tone eye makeup & red lip color with a hint of pink in it.

1940’s USO Show: Victory rolls in front, Bun, Gibson Tuck or Chignon in the back. Neutral earth tone eye makeup & bright fire engine / victory red lip color with full lip.

What do the Sweethearts keep in their hair styling kits?

  • Bobby Pins
  • Setting Lotion for Hot Iron
  • Setting Lotion for wet set
  • Curling Iron
  • Hair / U-Pins
  • Rat Tail Comb
  • Bristle Brush (for smoothing)
  • Hair Spray
  • Pomade
  • Marcel / Duck Clips : for 1920’s Marcel Waves / Finger Waves.
  • Dry Shampoo (A must for extra texture & body)

Videos, books and other resources they recommend:

Top tips for Vintage Makeup:

For performance/vintage look the Sweethearts to go with earth tones for 30’s-40’s and smokey eye for 20’s. NO SPARKLES. Vintage make up was matte. They recommend this website for research: Vintage Makeup Guides

Their makeup bag includes:

  • Matte Foundation
  • Concealer
  • Primer (for eyelids – Urban Decay Primer. The colorless one)
  • Powder – loose (clinique)
  • Blush – with bright pink / orange tones
  • Matte eye shadow – e.g. Naked Basics by Urban Decay
  • Eyeliner – (brush tip marker)
  • Lipstick – Besame! Vintage makeup shop, LipSense in a red lip for a non-smear option
  • Makeup Fixer (Mac Pro Fix Plus)
  • Brush Set

 

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Dance Weekends 101

If you’ve been taking classes and maybe even started venturing out to try social dancing the next adventure for you should be traveling to a dance weekend. You now speak the international language of dance and one of the most fun things you can do with this new found skill is to travel to another city anywhere in the world, have a dance with someone you’ve never met, and be amazed at how well it goes! Not sure where to start or what to expect here’s a handy guide:

Types of Events

Dance Camps: These are weekends or even a whole week with classes from one or more sets of teachers and often social dancing as well. This kind of event is great for those that like intensive/immersive learning opportunities. They’re also really great for getting to know other dancers since you will spend a lot of time with the group of dancers in your classes. Some events have leveled streams, others are multilevel, some offer taster classes in other related dance styles. Some events may also include competitions as a small part of the event or even as a focus. There are several camps that run over Christmas/New Years and in the summer that offer a whole week or multiple weeks of classes and events. Examples of dance camps: Swing Revolution, London Swing Festival, Lindy Shock, Herrang, Swing Summit

Exchanges: An exchange is a full weekend of social dancing (usually without any classed). These often feature live bands, and some combination of evening dances, late night dances, daytime dancing and social events. Exchanges are great for dancers who want to dance dance dance as much as possible and also chill out and meet new people from all over. Examples exchanges: Leeds Swing Exchange, London Lindy Exchange, Arctic Lindy Exchange

Top Tips for Attending Dance Festivals

Where to Look: If you’re looking for an event to attend, Swing Planit is a good one-stop-shop. Your local teachers may be able to recommend events that are popular with dancers in your area. If you want to know what events we’ll be teaching at have a look at our Dance Weekends page.

Plan Ahead: If you’re a single leader you may be able to spontaneously book an event the week before but be aware that some sell out way in advance. It’s a good idea to be looking ahead several months and take note of when bookings open for events you want to attend. If you’re a single follower, booking onto events in Europe can be a challenge–try to register as soon as bookings open to avoid being put on a waiting list. Or, even better, try to find a leader to book with either by asking around in your local scene or posting a message on the event’s facebook page or in a group like Followers & Leaders Let’s Book Together

What to Bring: Let’s just start by saying it’s totally fine to pack twice the amount of clothing and shoes for a dance weekend that you would for any other weekend trip! If you haven’t been dancing for very long be prepared for your feet to take a bit of a beating. Definitely bring more than one pair of shoes to dance in, in case one pair becomes uncomfortable or isn’t a good match for the floor at a venue. It’s also a good idea to bring some plasters and moleskin tape or blister plasters. Bring cool comfy clothes for classes. Depending on where you are staying you may need to bring a sleeping bag, towels, ear plugs/sleep mask. Evening socials may have a theme, if you plan to go to a dance in fancy dress plan a costume that will be comfortable to dance in. If there are no themes you may want to just bring some nicer outfits for the social dances. (Pro tip for those who wear dresses: lot’s of dancers wear shorts under their dresses so that they don’t have to worry about showing their pants). Social dances may be a bit more crowded and hot and sweaty than what you’re used to so you may also want to consider bringing extra tops, a fan or a sweat rag.

Make the Most of It: The best way to make the most of your dance event experience is to DO ALL OF THE THINGS–especially the things that make you a bit nervous! Ask strangers to dance, enter a competition, take a tour of the city, take advantage of all of the learning opportunities. If you are taking classes bring along something to take notes on after class or make sure you have space on your phone to film the recap that many teachers will do at the end of a class. Dance weekends are also a great opportunity to take private classes from teachers you like. If meeting new people is a priority, try to stay with local dancers rather than in a hotel if that’s an option, volunteering at the event is another great way to meet people (if volunteering isn’t offered as an option when you register just ask the organiser), taking classes is also a good way to get to know people or if you’re attending an event with no classes make sure to take part in whatever tasters or social activities are offered.

Avoid Burnout: Dance weekends can be pretty full on! Here are our best tips for avoiding fatigue: If possible try to stay as close to the venues as possible (to minimise travel time and maximise napping time!). Scope out the food options ahead of time for lunch and dinner (and consider how many other dancers will be there at the same time) to avoid having to wait a long time to your food. More waiting=less napping. If you prefer less crowded dance floors and a good night’s sleep, you’ll probably want to arrive right at the start of the evening dance. If you want to be able to make it to the end of the late night (and get up for class the next morning) you may want to have a good rest over the dinner break and arrive a bit later to the evening dance. Either way, you might want to consider booking the day after the event off of work so that you have a day to recover! If you’re taking classes don’t be too hard on yourself! Get geeky about your dancing during the classes and have a bit of a practice of your new skills at the social dances, but make sure you also give yourself a bit of a break to just enjoy dancing so that your head doesn’t explode.

 

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How to Spread the Lindy Love

Don’t ask what your dance community can do for you, ask what you can do for your dance community! So you’ve been bitten by the Lindy Hop bug and you want to shout it from the rooftops! Here’s a list of things both big and small that you can do if you want to get more involved in your local lindy scene:

  • Welcome new dancers They may be a bit awkward at first but they’ll get better. All they need is a little bit of encouragement. If you see someone you don’t recognise at a class or a social, go over and introduce yourself, ask them to dance, invite them to the pub, and be encouraging so that they’ll see what a lovely community of dancers they’ve found and want to come back.
  • Tell your friends Let your friends know what a great time you’re having! Invite them to come with you to beginner friendly events. Share dance events on social media.
  • Help beginners by being a top-notch dance partner Having more experienced dancers in a beginners’ class or a taster can be really helpful because it helps newbies see how the moves should look and feel. The best way you can help with the class is to dance the moves through accurately and consistently exactly as they are being taught so that the newbies get the chance to practice with a really good partner. If you are dancing with someone who seems to need a bit of extra help, be encouraging–let them know they are doing great and will get there with a bit more practice! You might also encourage them to listen to the teacher (who is likely to be aware that they are struggling and will be giving them extra time to practice or tips to help). Avoid giving instruction yourself as that will often make new dancers feel self-conscious and can be quite disruptive and disrespectful to the teacher.
  • Volunteer your time It’s likely that at least some of the classes or social dancing events that you attend are not for profit and rely on volunteers to do things like setting up, tidying up, or taking money on the door. Maybe you’ve got a special skill that could be put to good use like designing logos or making eye catching room decorations or maybe you are just really great at making people feel welcome. Ask the organiser of your favourite event what you can do to help or just pitch in and stack some chairs.
  • DJ If you’ve started to enjoy building a collection of music that you like to dance to its worth asking your local organisers if they need new DJs. Expect to start small with early slots at smaller events. If you can, try to get some mentoring from one of the more experienced DJs in your scene or attend a DJ workshop at a dance weekend.
  • Start something new Do you have a great idea for something that seems to be lacking in your local scene? Sometimes the best way to contribute to your scene is by becoming an organiser yourself. The truth is many of us are stretched a bit thin and just don’t have the capacity to run everything we’d like while also working, studying etc… Pitch your idea to the organisers in your scene. They’ll probably be thrilled to see someone else stepping up and should be able to offer tips, support, maybe even funding. Do make sure that you are aware of what else is going on in your area so that you can avoid competing with other events.

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Flying Solo

I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve heard “I’ll never be a good dancer because I don’t have a partner.” Please do not let yourself believe this nonsense! Sure, Lindy Hop is a partner dance, but it’s also a social dance that offers a whole range of opportunites for anyone–with or without a dedicated dance partner. Especially if you’ve only been dancing for a year or less, there is no reason to think that you need to have a regular dance partner in order to improve. We rotate partners in all our classes because it’s better for everyone’s learning. New dancers are less likely to develop bad habits, couples don’t get the chance to argue, and those who need a little extra help benefit from dancing with more experienced partners. Still not convinced? Here’s a whole list of things that anyone at any level can do to improve their dancing—no partner required!

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  • Focus on your feet Practice the basic footwork patterns on your own so that you can do your footwork consistently without having to put any thought into it. For an extra challenge, really push the tempo!
  • Get yourself out there Get out to social dances whenever you can and ask everyone to dance. Learning to dance is a lot like learning a language—at some point you need to leave the classroom and attempt to have a real conversation. Social dancing will help you work on important skills like adjusting to different partners, and reacting in real time. It’s also a great way to make friends with other dancers
  • Get it together Organise a practice group. Maybe you’ve got some space in your house or know of a public space with a good floor. Invite some of your dance mates to meet up and work on some moves that you’ve learnt recently or just try out ideas on each other.
  • Up your solo game Have a go at some solo Charleston, Vernacular Jazz, or solo Blues—these are all great vintage dances that don’t require a partner. These dances offer a great opportunity to challenge yourself, work on your quality of movement and build your repertoire of useful steps.
  • Switch it up If you’re feeling quite confident with the basics and want a new challenge, have a go at dancing the other role. Then you’ll be able to dance to every song because you can partner with anyone!
  • Get competitive If your aspiration is to dance competitively, never fear! Most lindy hop events with competitions will have a Mix & Match (or Jack & Jill) Competition where you enter as an individual and get matched with a random partner.
  • Invest in the next generation If you’ve tried all these other ideas and still have things you really want to work on with one consistent partner, consider mentoring a newer dancer. Find a keen newbie that you get on well with and help them develop into your ideal dance partner.

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