Most Lindy Hoppers start out assuming that the dance is made up of a finite number of moves and variations and that becoming a pro is simply a matter of learning all of them. Somewhere along the line we discover that it’s both simpler and more complicated than this. There are actually an infinite number of possible moves and an infinite number of variations and being a great dancer has very little to do with how many of these you know. Having an extensive repertoire can be useful but you also need to develop your communication skills, reaction time, control and balance, expression and musicality. How quickly you pick up moves and develop these skills will depend a lot on how you learn and the amount of time you’re able to put in. If you make it to one class a week and attend a social dance every couple of months that’s awesome—enjoy every minute of it! Obviously, you can’t expect to progress at the same speed as someone who attends several classes, and weekend workshops, has private lessons, goes social dancing 3 nights a week and trains with a team. But who cares? Both of you are dancing and having a great time. The beauty of lindy hop is that regardless of where you’re at there is always more to learn so you might as well take it at your own pace.
What Level Am I?
So how do you know what level you’re at? Most of the time
this isn’t worth worrying about. Find a class that feels like a good fit. When
you feel you’ve mastered the material being taught at that class, ask your
teacher what the next best step is for you. If you’re going to a big weekend
event it gets a bit trickier. If you asked a bunch of international teachers
you might get some consensus about what it means to be an “Intermediate dancer”
or an “Advanced dancer” but there is a huge amount of variation in how these
terms are used in local scenes and at dance weekends. In a newer scene where
nearly everyone is a complete beginner, dancers who have learned enough to make
it through a social dance may be considered “advanced”, in other scenes dancers
might be expected to put in several years of focused training and be competing
and performing in order to earn that label. It can be a real challenge for
event organisers to navigate when trying to help dancers sort themselves into levelled
groups of dancers with similar abilities and experience.
Our best tips for choosing a level are to keep in mind that
the goal should be to maximise your learning not to go for the highest level
that you can get away with. Choosing a higher or lower level doesn’t make you a
better or worse dancer. For newer dancers there can be a temptation to think
that progress will happen more quickly if you always go for the highest level—because
you love a good challenge! The danger to this approach is that you get only a
very superficial idea of what is being taught in class and you miss out on the opportunity
to learn the skills and technique that would really make your dancing work. You’ll
get the most out of classes that build on the skills that you have at a pace
that works for you. To get the most out of an event follow these steps: Read
the level descriptions (which should
include a list of skills that you should know and/or be working on and not just
the length of time you’ve been dancing). Choose the one that honestly describes
you as a dancer at that moment (not where you hope to be in a few months). Don’t
worry about what the label says.
How to be the Best
Hopefully it’s starting to become clear that no one can give you a list of boxes to tick in order to call yourself “Advanced”. We know that being “Advanced” isn’t about how many moves you know or how many years you’ve been taking classes, and that the definition can vary depending on where you are. Instead of focusing on getting your Advanced Dancer Certificate (not a thing) here is a list of higher level skills to work towards. These are skills that we think are essential for progressing as a dancer and they have no pre-requisites so you can start working on them at any time to be the best dancer you can be. In our experience its these skills that intermediate dancers often struggle with. So if you’ve been dancing for a while and feel like you’re ready for the next challenge read on and hopefully these tips will help you continue to move forward.
Deconstructing Moves: Because lindy hop is an improvisational dance, the “moves” that you learn in class are only a starting point. It’s helpful at first to have a common repertoire of moves that lots of dancers know but once you really start to understand how the connection works and how different rhythms fit together you can make up all sorts of things and really make the dance your own. Think about how a move might be broken down into its component parts. How do the moves you know relate to each other? What parts of a move could be replaced with something else? How can you put the parts together in different ways? Can you take the start of one move and the end of another move and make it work? You can do some experimenting on the social dance floor but if you can find another dancer to practice with occasionally you can discover all sorts of things.
Musicality: We like to think of lindy hop as a three way conversation between a leader an follower and the music. Most dancers start out by focusing on learning how to communicate with a partner to lead and follow different moves. Once you’ve got a few moves under your belt and you can make it through a social dance without losing the plot, you’re ready to start thinking about that third element—music. Feeling something happening in the music comes natural for some but even those lucky few need a bit of practice at translating what they hear into a physical action that looks cool and doesn’t throw their partner off. How do you work on this skill? Listen to lots of music, think about how each track sounds similar or different to the one before, try to notice changes and themes within a song. Social dance and try to take notice of how different people react to the music. Practice connecting what you do to what you hear instead of just executing moves the same way every time. We run a Musicality Course once per year that works on these skills.
Self-awareness: When you’re just starting out you need to put yourself out there and be brave enough to make mistakes so a little confidence can go a long way. As you progress though developing a critical eye becomes equally important. Some dancers start to take more notice of other dancers’ “shortcomings” at this point when really they should be starting to think about what is and isn’t working in their own dancing. Are there moves that seem to go wrong consistently? Are there common themes in the feedback you get from teachers or partners? When you see a video of your dancing what do you like, what makes you cringe? What do you see other dancers doing that you don’t know how to do? (if you answered nothing, widen your scope from your local scene to attending or watching videos from larger events). Like most other things in life, the more experienced you become the more you should become aware of what you don’t know. If you get to the point that you feel like you’ve learned all you can at the classes you attend, take a private lesson to help you focus on just the things you need to work on. If you feel like you’ve heard everything that your local teachers have to say, travel to a larger scene or a weekend event with other teachers. No matter how long you’ve been dancing, or how many moves you know there is always more to learn and there will always be things that you need to work on. At first you may need help identifying areas that need work but you should eventually get better at noticing these things for yourself.
Troubleshooting and Partnership Skills: Once you start to feel more confident with your lindy hop its easy to assume that if something doesn’t work it’s probably your partner’s fault, especially if they haven’t been dancing as long as you. Until you’ve properly mastered a move it can be nearly impossible to determine who is to blame when things go wrong. That’s why its important to develop the ability to work through a difficulty without blaming your partner. Honing this skill is about developing the right mindset (neither of us is perfect, we’re need to support each other to get it right, etc..) and the right language (“something doesn’t seem quite right”, “Maybe I can try…”, etc). It’s also about being able to experiment and make changes which comes as you develop more body-awareness and a better understanding of how the dance works.
Taking Responsibility: Most dancers go through a phase where they can dance well with their teacher or more experienced dancers in their scene but struggle to dance with other dancers in their classes or less experienced dancers. It’s an exciting time when you really start to feel like you know what you’re doing “with a good partner”. As you continue to work on your dancing the range of dancers that you can dance well with will get larger until you get to the point where you can have an awesome dance with an international teacher and an equally awesome dance with a complete newbie. Dancing well with new dancers requires the development of a range of different skills including control of your own balance, confidence in holding the rhythm on your own, being able to react to whatever your partner does without being thrown, and being able to dance musically on your own.
Active Learning: Once you’ve moved through the beginner and improver/intermediate classes in your local scene the natural progression may become less clear. At some point you’ll need to start to think about how you learn best and take control of creating a path that works for you. Try out different classes, some move faster than others, this isn’t good or bad, but you’ll get more out of a class that moves at the right pace for you. Do you do well in a big class or do you do better one-on-one? Can you learn from old videos or do you need someone to break things down? Does working towards a performance or a competition inspire you to work harder? Do you need a practice partner to keep you motivated?