Category Archives: Cats’ Corner

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

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.

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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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On Lindy Hop and Motherhood

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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All Are Welcome!

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”

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