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How to Create a Welcoming Atmosphere for New Dancers

We love that lindy hop is a bit of a niche hobby, a little too geeky and involved to appeal to the mainstream perhaps and that suits us just fine BUT we also love having new people to dance with. So how can we make sure that those that do work up the courage to venture into our little subculture stick around long enough to become excellent dance partners? How do we make sure that our dance communities continue to grow? Here are a few things that anyone can do to help keep new dancers coming back for more.

  1. Be seen. Try to find a way to hold at least a few events in public spaces; outdoor dances, a social dance held in a space that is also open to the public, a charity event in a public space. All of these give people an opportunity to see what you do and how fun it looks. Make sure you’ve got some fliers for local classes for anyone who’s interested.
  2. Keep on top of  Social Media Make sure you’ve got information about your classes online at least with a simple website and facebook page and keep the information up to date so that potential new dancers can find out where and when classes are held and how to get in touch.
  3. Make the first move. This is one that everyone can help with. Keep an eye out for new people that you don’t recognize at a social dance and make a point of asking them to dance or at least say hello and introduce yourself. Will you intimidate them? Possibly (more on that in a moment) but more importantly you’ll make them feel welcome and included.
  4. Be Gentle. Dancing with newbies can take a bit of skill but here are a few tips that can help. Whether you’re a follower or a leader try to have a really clear bounce to help your partner find the beat. Keep it simple, avoid crazy variations or tricky moves. Be ready take it slow, new leaders may spend ages just stepping before they attempt to lead a move, new followers may need time to recover between moves.
  5. Be Reassuring If you’re dancing with a beginner dancer chances are that they’ll be worried that they’re doing everything wrong and ruining the dance for you. Let them know that they are doing a great job, they’ll learn faster by getting out there and social dancing. Even if you’re just having a chat with a newbie on the sidelines you can reassure them that everyone on the dance floor was once a beginner, encourage them to ask someone to dance, maybe even point out dancers that you know are good at dancing with newbies.
  6. Avoid unsolicited feedback Whether you’re having a social dance with a beginner dancer or dancing with them in a class, the one thing to avoid is giving them feedback or tips on their dancing. It might sound a bit counter-intuitive because you know they just want to get it right. However getting lots of unsolicited feedback can be overwhelming for any dancer and can make them feel very unwelcome. When you already feel like a clumsy octopus surrounded by graceful swans, and you’re desperately trying to keep up with what’s going on, the last thing you need is for every partner you dance with to let you know just how terrible you are. The most welcoming and effective way to help new dancers in a class is to be reassuring, make sure they are able to listen to what the teacher is saying, and help them practice by doing only what is being taught in a consistent way.
  7. Play music they can dance to. If you’re DJing a dance that has newer dancers in attendance make sure to periodically play some music that they can dance to–this might mean playing some slower tempo music or playing tracks that you know they’ve heard in class. If the event starts with a taster make sure the first few tracks at the start of the social dance are are the right style and tempo for whatever style was taught in the taster.
  8. Invite them along. Getting invited to go along with a group of dancers to the pub after a dance or for lunch between classes can easily be THE THING that tips the scale for a new dancer and makes them feel like they want to invest their time in becoming part of our community. Even though it was more than 15 years ago now, I’ll never forget the first workshop I went to and the dancers who invited me to join them for lunch that day and told me about a dance happening in the evening–that, more than anything else, is what made me want to keep going.
  9. Give them the inside scoop. Another great way to help beginner dancers is by letting them know about other classes, events and social dances that they can go to. Let them know where to find information about what’s going on in the local area, if there is a facebook group they can join or a website or community calendar to check.
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Competitions

With the popularity of shows like Strictly Come Dancing people are often surprised to hear that Lindy Hop is not primarily about competing. Many keen lindy hoppers never enter a single competition and are happy social dancing for the joy of doing it. For other dancers competitions are an important and fun part of their lindy hop journey.  Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of dance competitions, some great insight for first time competitors, and why it’s awesome to be in a dance community that values both competitors and non-competitors.

On Being a Non-Competitive Lindy Hopper

If you know us well, you’ll know that Rob and I don’t really enter competitions. It’s mostly my fault–they’re just not for me. I’m not massively keen on performing, I don’t like the pressure, and I feel conflicted about the role that competitions play in our dance community. When I go to an event and feel like I’m spending more time watching competitions than actually dancing I worry  that the competitive element will take over, that Lindy Hop will become just another “dance sport” that is only done to win awards and not danced socially. I worry that too much competitive dancing puts the focus on dancers connecting with an audience and working up flashy bits of choreography rather than connecting with their partner and the music in a spontaneous way. I also worry that competitions end up putting too much emphasis on dressing a certain way, having a certain body shape and following trends rather than letting individuality shine. When I’m asked to judge at events I usually decline if possible. Competitions are tricky to organise, it’s even trickier to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and I really struggle with this. I hate to see lovely dancers have their confidence shaken because they weren’t what the judges were looking for or even worse because they just fell through the cracks of a very casual judging system. What I love about the lindy hop community though is that competition is just one aspect of the dance, you can take it or leave it and still be a “real” lindy hopper. So for those of you that prefer the social dance floor, I’m right there with you–keep being awesome! To talk about some of the positives of competitive dancing I’ve recruited a couple of friends to help out .

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Liam and Grace, Mersey Swing Smackdown. Photo by: Cheeky Rastall

Why Competing is Awesome: An Interview with Fran Santilli and Liam Craddock

I called up Fran and Liam for this story because they are both lovely humans and keen competitors. Fran is based in Bristol and is part of the Bristol Swing Riot team. Her recent competitive accolades include taking 2nd place in the Leeds Swing Revolution Open Mix & Match 2018, and 2nd in the Gastroswing Jack & Jill 2018. Liam is based in Liverpool and teaches for Mersey Swing  Some of his recent competitive achievements include taking 1st place in the 2017 Birmingham Swing Festival Mix & Match and 1st place in the DJam Jack & Jill 2017 and 2016.

Why do you like competing?

Liam: 1) It’s a scary, vulnerable thing to do! Scary fun is the best kind of fun. It pushes me outside of my comfort zone to make myself visible. 2) It puts me into the buzz and excitement of the event. 3) It gives me great pictures and videos of me dancing my best and lets me see how I actually look when dancing in the wild. 4) Putting myself in the spotlight with somebody else as a team is a bonding experience, and I’ve found some wonderful friends with people I’ve competed with. 5) It’s a healthy check for my ego to regularly get results I don’t want. I learn from the times I don’t dance my best or make mistakes as it makes me aware of how little I really know and how much more I have to learn.

Fran: I love performing and competing gives me the chance to do that but there is also a challenge in that moment, in that you need to push yourself a bit. If the music isn’t inspiring then you need to listen harder and find something in the song that does make you want to dance. You’ve got to read the situation in front of you and maybe take some risks, try a move that you’re not sure about or be a bit silly. Sometimes it goes a bit wrong, but that’s when the real magic happens, when you’re out of your safe zone and you can create something new!

Do you think having a competition makes an event better?

Fran: I think having competitions tends to attract different types of dancers. When I’m looking at which events I want to go to I will check if they have competitions and what types. If I’m looking to have some serious dancing and feel a bit challenged then I’ll look for events with more competitions that are at higher levels; but if I just want to go on a dancing holiday that’s pretty relaxed I would look for an event with either no competitions or just a mix and match. It depends what you are looking for each time.

In general I’m in favour of having at least one competition at an event, even if it’s a silly one (e.g. how long can you keep a serious face). Lindy hop was created on the social floor but competitions and jam circles were a big part of that – it was all about showing off to the other dancers what you could do and what you’d worked on, and the other dancers needing to up their game to be able to beat them. It’s fun to see other people having fun and showcasing their styles – you can pick up new moves or even a whole new way of dancing if you see something that you like.

Liam: I really enjoy watching comps as part of the evening entertainment. That works best when the organisers get them done efficiently and keep the number of them under control. It’s also often the only time when newer dancers get to see higher levels of dancing in person, instead of curated snippets of international comp highlights on youtube

What tips would you give to someone considering entering their first competition?

Fran: If you’re tempted then give it a go! Chances are that your first comp might be a bit terrifying and you might forget what you’re doing, but that happens to EVERYONE! It’s just the little hurdle at the start but once you’re over it you can really start to enjoy yourself. Also we’re amazingly lucky in the swing scene to have a really supportive feel to competitions. Every time I’ve competed I’ve always felt like the audience and the other contestants just want you to have fun and enjoy it. We’re all part of the same community and we’re all doing the same dance that we love so there is no need for negativity, only encouragement!

I’ve also found it really helpful to have a clear aim on why I’m competing. I’m competitive, and I don’t like losing very much (does anyone?). But I don’t enter competitions with the goal to win – I enter to have a good time and dance with some cool people and maybe get to show off some moves. Then if I don’t get first place I’ve still had a really awesome time, and it can be filed away in the memory bank as a happy moment.

Liam: I’d say it’s enormous fun, and you won’t regret the experience. There are also few times in life when you’ll have as warm and supportive an audience as you get at Lindy events. The comps are there for entertainment and the accuracy of the results are very secondary, although it never seems that way when you’re waiting for the announcements. Outcomes are a mixture of many things; the partner, songs, where the judges were looking at what moments, the artistic tastes of the judges, showmanship skills, who else is competing and of course, how you yourself actually dance in that moment. Most of those things are out of your control so as hard as it may be, care less about the comp results and more about what you personally think about your dancing, because that’s who’s opinion really matters.

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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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All I Want for Christmas is MORE DANCING!

Not sure what to ask Father Christmas for this year? Tired of your family bugging you for gift ideas? Tired of getting novelty socks and fancy soap? This year why not ask for a gift voucher from Swing Dance Leeds!

We do gift vouchers for Wednesday Courses as well as private classes. We’ve just announced our course schedule for 2019 so you check the dates on the courses you don’t want to miss. If you haven’t taken a private class before, it’s a lovely treat for any dancer–a whole hour focused on just what you need.

To purchase a gift voucher simply email swingdanceleeds@gmail.com or send a request through our web form. We’ll do the rest! We can send the voucher by post or by email so they make a great last minute gift!

Christmas voucher

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2019 Wednesday Courses!

Drum roll please! Rattatat-rattatat-rattatat! Now announcing our Wednesday Courses schedule for 2019! Put these dates in your diary folks. All of these courses are 8:30-9:30pm at Dance Studio Leeds. We’ll also have Lindy Hop Fundamentals running alongside these courses on the same dates in the 6:30-7:30pm slot.

  • 9 Jan – 30 Jan Intro to Partnered Charleston
  • 6 Feb – 27 Feb Swingouts
  • 6 Mar – 27 Mar Advanced Charleston
  • 3 Apr – 24 Apr Classic Moves (Frankie’s Moves)
  • 1 May – 22 May Musicality
  • 29 May – 19 Jun Swingouts
  • 31 Jul – 21 Aug Intro to Partnered Charleston
  • 28 Aug – 18 Sept Classic Moves (Tricky Moves)
  • 25 Sept – 16 Oct Swingouts
  • 23 Oct – 13 Nov Tandem Charleston
  • 20 Nov – 11 Dec California Routine    

If you put in a request for something that don’t see here don’t worry we’ll be adding in a few weekend workshops as well at some point for those things. For a more detailed description of any of these courses visit our Courses Page.

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What Does This Have To Do With Lindy Hop?

So one thing you may not know about me (Tina) is that I love, love, LOVE African Dance! So I was super excited when Nii Kwarty Owoo turned up in Leeds and started running weekly classes! His classes are brilliant and I want more people to know about them so I’ve organised a weekend workshop for him in November and I’m really hoping especially to see lots of Lindy Hoppers there.

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If you’re wondering, “What does West African Dance have to do with Lindy Hop”, the answer is “Basically everything!” Lindy hop is an African-American dance that grew out of earlier dance styles (Charleston, cake walk, tap, etc) that would have been heavily influenced by the traditional dances that came over from West Africa. This blog post does a much better job than I would of breaking down the influences and similarities that you might notice.

For me, personally I find that African Dance feels vibrant and joyful in the same way that lindy hop does and it uses the whole body in ways that feel strong and natural. Its also similarly geeky and challenging. I’ve taken classes all over the world but still struggle to hear the beat of the music correctly and have to work really hard to figure out how to make some movements look right–I love the challenge!

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I hope you can join us in November, either to explore the roots of lindy hop or just to try out a new dance style. There will also be a drumming workshop and Ghanaian lunch but you can pick and choose which bits of the day interest you most.

West African Dance & Drumming Workshop

24th November 2018

at Chapel Allerton Methodist Centre, LS7 4NB

10:00-11:30 Drumming Workshop
12:00-13:30 Dance Workshop
13:30-14:30 Lunch Break (Homemade Ghanaian food!)
14:30-16:00 Dance Workshop

 Please book your ticket in advance as it may sell out. You can book from the facebook event in the link above or go directly to the booking form

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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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