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.
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!
- 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.
So while everyone else is out dancing to a live band tonight I thought I’d spend Mothers’ Day evening writing about my experience so far of balancing motherhood and dancing. I left it quite late to have a child, partially because I hadn’t met the right person and partially because I wasn’t ready to give up dancing, traveling, and all those other fun things that are much easier without children. Fortunately, once our daughter was born, crazy hormones completely took over my brain and made it so that all I could care about was my baby. Well, okay for the first few weeks I do remember getting annoyed when people said things like “Don’t you wonder what you did with your time before having kids?” Nope, I didn’t wonder–I knew exactly what I’d have been doing if I weren’t feeding a tiny baby round the clock, thank you very much! After those first weeks though, I now only get occasional twinges of disappointment about missing out on dance weekends and even those are quickly replaced by a genuine and overwhelming feeling of “aw my baby needs me though so it’s okay”. Those are some seriously strong hormones! Also I know it won’t be forever.
I danced throughout my pregnancy (even in the delivery room). We stopped doing performances with aerials when I started showing because we didn’t want people to worry. I kept waiting for balance to become a problem but it never really did, though I did need to slow down a bit, take more breaks, and in the later months avoid moves that required a lot of core strength. Keeping active in that way was fantastic for my body and soul! I think it helped me avoid a lot of aches and pains, helped with labour and recovery. I’m not yet back to my pre-baby figure and I still feel like my core is a bit weak but it will come with time. On the plus side, I think I’ve gained slightly better balance as a result of having to focus on protecting a small baby, first in my belly and then on the outside, whilst also adjusting to a changing centre of gravity.
You think that as a parent you’ll get to make all the choices but really a lot is shaped by your circumstances. Rob and I wanted to continue teaching together after having Talia but we don’t have any family nearby so we’ve ended up having her with us most of the time in classes and at social dances. It’s an ever-evolving experience that has so far worked out alright. At first she was most content being attached to one of us and would happily drift off to sleep during classes, eventually we were able to sit her down with some toys for half the time, then she started crawling and we found ourselves building a variety of barricades to try to contain her, now at 12 months she spends most classes licking the mirror or careening around the studio with a walker. As a result, she loves swing music–it makes her feel like clapping, stomping and wiggling. It’s been great to be able to listen to Naomi and her Handsome Devils in the car rather than nursery rhymes. We’ve enjoyed sharing dances with her and it’s given her Daddy a great way to put her to sleep.
We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reactions we get to Talia’s presence in the room when we’re teaching. When you spend most of your time in the normal adult world I think it’s quite easy to never really encounter babies or children. Even though our little one is calm and happy in a dance environment, I worried that people might be annoyed by the presence of a baby in an adult space but everyone seems to love having her around. Some of our beginners have said that they enjoyed having her in class because it gave them something else to focus on besides being nervous. I’ve started thinking of it as a way of normalising parenthood, giving people the opportunity to interact with a baby and to see breastfeeding and as part of normal life, showing how we can make space for families and that being a parent doesn’t mean you have to only do baby things and be home by 6pm.
What Does a Lindy Hopper Look Like?
On a fairly regular basis we get emails from folks asking if they would be welcome in a lindy hop class if they don’t happen to look like either of the people in this silhouette. So here’s a quick run down of what to expect from lindy hop classes and socials that will hopefully reassure you that this dance is for everyone! I can’t guarantee that what I say here will be true of every class everywhere you go but this what you can expect from the classes and events listed on our website (and this is the trend in the wider lindy hop scene in general).
Sometimes when people think of vintage partner dancing, they think of big frilly skirts, dapper hats, two-toned shoes and traditional gender roles. However, just because lindy hop is a vintage dance it does not mean that we all act as though we’re living in the 1930s. Some dancers go in for victory roles and seamed stockings but many dress in jeans and T-shirts or whatever else they feel like wearing. Lindy hop is still typically danced as a partnership between a leader and a follower, though it has become completely normal to see dancers dancing whichever role they choose regardless of gender. At a lindy hop class or social dance it is the norm to change partners regularly through the evening rather than to have one set partner. This gives everyone a bit more freedom to choose the role that suits them and to dance with a variety of partners. Some dancers prefer to focus exclusively on leading or exclusively on following while others start with one role and then learn the opposite role as well so that they can dance with everyone. Occasionally you may even come across an ambidancestrous class in which everyone dances both roles throughout the class.
So, how do you know who you can dance with?
In classes we’ll usually ask that you choose one role (lead or follow) and stick with that role throughout the class. Followers and leaders may be asked to gather at opposite ends of the room at the start or there will be some other mechanism to help everyone find an appropriate partner such as having leaders raise their hands to identify themselves. At a social dance the best policy is to watch and see. Once you’ve been to a dance a few times you’ll quickly become familiar with the dancers who attend regularly and will know who dances which roles. If you’re new you’ll need to pay a bit closer attention. If you are a follower look out for anyone who’s leading, those are the people you can ask to dance and vice versa. If you want to be extra sure, it’s fine to approach someone and say something like “Hi, would you like to dance? I’m a leader”
We’re adding a new feature to the Swing Dance Leeds website. Traditionally the “Cat’s Corner” is the area of the dance floor where the cool kids, the keenest dancers, hang out. We’re adding a space on our website to discuss lindy hop culture, swing music, and pro tips to help improve your dancing. If that sounds interesting to you watch this space! If you have a topic you want to see us cover let us know!