So you want to learn to Swing Dance?

Before you read this, realize that although I am a very good swing dancer, I am not an expert. I'm sure there are things in this document with which many people would disagree. That being said, I'm about to attempt to teach a friend how to swing. And, since I'm going to write this out, I may as well let the world read it. First, Some web sites for the Boston Area:

DanceNet On The Web: Swing Dancing in Boston
Total Swing Online

Some studios at which I've taken lessons:

Lindy Babyin Cambridge, MA
MIT Ballroom Dance Team:Welcome
MIT Ballroom Dance Club
Harvard Medical Area Ballroom Dance Club
Harvard Ballroom Dance Team
The Dance Complex

The Big Picture

When you first try and learn to dance, you'll think, "Footwork is everything." After you've been dancing for a while, you'll think "footwork is almost nothing." Here's the progression I went through:

  • Learn Footwork: This is the stage where you go from knowing nothing to staring at your feet while you do the footwork, to eventually not staring at your feet.

  • Learn 3 basic moves: Learning a few basic moves and doing them reasonably well is sufficient to dance and enjoy it.

  • Learn Position and hold it: Ballroom swing is almost upright. Lindy Hop position is bent at the waist. Getting comfortable with your position and keep it constant during a dance takes a while.

  • Learn to stay at constant height: Swing can looks like there is a huge amount of motion involved even though there is often very little vertical motion. Having lots of vertical motion in your dance makes you look radiculous. It is also very difficult to dance with someone who jumps up and down.(Note: one foot should always be on the ground at any one time.)

  • Learn Connection: Swing is a partnered dance. Your connection to your partner is how you tell your partner what you are going to do. The keys are learning how not to cause your partner pain and how to make unambiguous leads.

  • Learn a few moves: Once you've got the basics down, you learn 3 or 4 basic moves to use with the basic moves.

  • Learn Styling. There is more to swing that just the basic footwork and lead/follow. You have a full body to move. You'll start to learn how to move it and make it look good.

  • Learn frame: When you start to learn to swing dance, you'll hear how motion always comes from your "center". You arms are actually extensions of your torso, they very rarely move seperately. It looks much better, and it feels much better to move your arm as extensions to your body, rather than moving your arms seperately from your body.

  • Learn music: Hearing "breaks" and tempo-changes in the music before they happen can take a lot of experince. When the music takes a break, your dancing should change to recognize it.

  • Learn Connection: Just when I thought I knew all about connection, I learned a lot more

  • Learn improvisational footwork: In the beginning, footwork was everything. But really, footwork is nothing. Just about anything that looks cool, feels good, and doesn't bother your partner is OK.

  • Learn smoothness: I used to lead in a jerky motion. But, really moves should blend together, without obvious breaks and starts between the steps.

  • Learn to bounce: Lindy Hop especially involves bouncing, pushing your feet into the ground, not jumping upwards. Thus, your body ends up following the rhythm. However, you're shoulders still shouldn't move very much vertically...

  • Learn lots of moves: After you get all of the above down well, you can lead almost anything. But, the more year learn, the more you learn you don't know.