• Welcome to The Fedora Lounge!

Learning to Dance

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by Paisley, Mar 19, 2007.

  1. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    I'm not Juliet Prouse, but since there seems to be a fair amount of interest in dancing here, I'll pass along some tips I think will be helpful.

    Finding an instructor
    It's hard to know whether an instructor is a good dancer if you are a newbie. You can ask for credentials (the winners of regional or national competitions will be happy to tell you about their victories). Or, if you see someone whose dancing you really like, ask where they learned to dance. Don't assume that great instructors are hard to get a lesson with. The national lindy champs (23 Skidoo) offer $1 East Coast lessons to all (that's to get you hooked).

    Frankie Manning and Erin Stevens made three or four instructional lindy hop tapes. I think they do a good job of showing the steps and breaking them down. Who is Frankie Manning? One of the creators of the lindy hop, the grandfather of all swing dances. (At this writing, he is 93 years old and still teaching.)

    At the other end of the spectrum, most people I see teaching on the dance floor (that is, not in classes) are not very good dancers.

    What Kind of Classes to Take
    Some studios try to get people to sign contracts for lots of classes and dances (kind of like gym contracts--the kind that most people use for a few months but pay on for a year). Before you do that, make sure you are going to have the time and desire for all those classes and events. Make sure you like, and can learn from, the instructors. I think it's better to take a small number of classes first and see if you like it.

    Preparing for the Class
    Swing dancing (and lindy hop especially) is fast, sometimes athletic dance. Your shoes should have a sole you can pivot on, they should lace or buckle to stay on your feet, and they should be comfortable. Professional dancers might wear stiletto heels, but the rest of us find it easier to dance in padded, low-heeled shoes. As for vintage shoes, keep in mind that shoes take a beating on a crowded dance floor.

    You should wear something you can move around in and you don't mind sweating in. If you wear a skirt, wear something under it that you don't mind other people seeing. Skirts fly up higher than you might think.

    Getting the Most out of Classes

    Unless you come to the class with a terrific partner, rotate and dance with the other students. It's really hard to learn when you are with someone who likewise does not know what they are doing--it's the blind leading (or following) the blind. Dance with your teachers, too, if possible.

    Watch and listen to your instructors. This sounds really obvious, but I find that teachers are constantly having to tell the students to be quiet.

    Practice in front of the mirror. It may sound silly or vain, but it's the only way to tell whether you look hot or ridiculous. For example, I see many ladies doing a sugar step with their knees far apart, which makes them look like a diver with the bends. If they'd only practice a little in front of the mirror, they'd get their knees together and look 100% better.

    Stay and dance, or find a club to practice what you've learned. That means you go out and dance with other people. You may be shy, but how far do you think you'll get without practicing?

    Videotape yourself. It's painful to do. It's difficult to watch. But this will save you months of dance lessons. (I know--I've tried it, and I'm glad I did!)
  2. My personal feeling about dance schools are as follows: Someone bamboozled me into taking ballroom dance lessons 21 years ago, and it changed my life. It's well worth the feeling of utter klutziness that may wash over your entire being at times. But I find the whole "Ballroom Dancing" scene kind of creepy. The purpose of dancing is to have FUN, and experience PLEASURE, not to pose with your head looking like a sneering camel! The ballroom dancing competitions you see on TV just pervert the whole romance and sociability of dancing, in my opinion. Yes, absolutely take dance lessons, learn from your fellow dancers as well as your instructors.
    One more point, if you're learning the basic Lindy Hop step, and your teacher tries to start you on the triple step style of basic step, go somewhere else. I've seen so many beginners tangling themselves up on that. The basic swing step is just a simple 1, 2 rock back, 1, 2 rock back. That's all you need. It's 3 beats, not 4. Lindy can be fast, but the best dance music has a moderate beat. Like any other swinging activity (swinging a baseball bat or golfclub) one key is to keep your shoulders over the balls of your feet. That way you'll feel that "swing sensation".
    Keep it simple, hold your partner close (but not too close!) and you'll have a wonderful time!

    Frankie will be 94 in May, and still going strong! My hero!
  3. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Yes, yes!

    Lindy is step, step, triple step; step, step, triple step. It is an eight count dance where the man usually starts with a rock step and the lady usually starts with a sugar step (or some other styling).

    East coast (or jitterbug) is side, side, rock step (or slow, slow, quick-quick). It's a six-count dance that's kind of an intro to swing dance. It's a good dance for those who have never social danced before.

    Charleston is rock step, kick, step, kick, kick, kick, step. It's an eight count dance with about 4 million different tricks you can do and work into lindy, east coast or a solo dance.

    These are all vernacular dances (as opposed to ballroom dances). The stance for these dances is a more athletic and less upright--think of shooting a basketball or swinging a baseball bat.

    You also use each other's weight: in east coast, you and your partner pull against each other on the rock step. In lindy, you pull against each other on 1, 2, 7 and 8. On 3 and 4, the lead pulls the follow into him while the follow pulls away. If the teacher isn't familiar with "leverage" or "equal and opposite weight," among other things, go elsewhere.

    Once again, you can buy, rent or check out Frankie Manning's instructional videos--you'll see what I mean.
  4. Controversy!!!

    Overreaction here (on my part, sorry): this phrase East Coast makes me a little nuts. What is now called East Coast was the basic dance done by everyone in the country in the Swing era. The triple step is a nice variation on the basic step. The term East Coast came in about 15 years ago, when a new dance, called West Coast Swing came in. Personally it's not my cup of tea. But people started calling basic swing or lindy or jitterbig "East Coast". It never was a particulary early east coast dance. The music (32 bar blues as opposed to 8 bar blues) started in Kansas City, but I don't know where the dance evolved from. The terms Lindy Hop and Jitterbug are their own mishagas of controversy, also. Originally (according to what I've been told) the slick smooth African American dancers made fun of the young white kids leaping about like maniacs, and called them Jitterbugs. In the 40's the term referred to the dancers as much as the dance. You might be asked to dance by someone saying "You want to jitter?" The term Swing Dance only came into usage in the 80's, with the revival of Big Band music, to describe any dance done to Swing music (and to avoid such bootless controversies as described above). Anyhow, as long as we're having fun, who cares. And dancing is just dancing, after all, isn't it?
  5. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Music to Practice By

    You should follow your own taste in music and play what makes you feel like dancing, even if it's silly. Today's culture is Very Serious; during the Depression and WWII, life was serious enough and many people danced with craziness to relieve stress. It doesn't matter if your favorite music isn't "authentic" or vintage or in the hippest taste. However, you may enjoy vintage music CDs longer than neo-swing or non-swing music. I know find it more inspiring.

    One of my favorite CDs is "Uptown" with Anita O'Day, Gene Krupa and Roy Eldridge. I also love "The Very Best of Benny Goodman," although most of the songs are rather fast. My best guy friend loves Frank Sinatra (they're both Italian).

    You'll need slower music for lindy and faster music for east coast.

    Some swing DJs sell mix CDs for practice music. You can also check out CDs at your library. These are the two best ways to get a lot of practice music for a little (or no) money.
  6. reetpleat

    reetpleat Call Me a Cab

    Good advice. Too many teachers don't really don't know how to teach. I am not all that impressed with a lot of contest winners either. And just because someone can dance does not mean they can teach.

    I very much agree that a teacher who does not teach tension and counterbalance is also doing a great disservice. In the late nineties there was a big movement in the lindy scene to dance with such a light connection you were barely touching, and merely suggesting, not leading. Not authentic and no fun. I like to lead physically. You can only do careflully choreographed moves that way, or confine yourself to the ten steps everyone in the lindy world knows. thank god for the LA "hollywood style for bringing back fast dancing and connection with your partner.

    Have to disagree with you on one point there. While it is commonly said that the lindy is an eight count dance, I think this does a big disservice to learners. THe lindy is a two count dance. A common element of the lindy is an eight count swing out, but many other steps are part of the lindy hop in that it incorporates many other dance stepes, african dance steps and improvisation. The six count sugar push or east coast swing step is definitely a part of the lindy.

    Too many dancers are taught lindy where every move they do is carefully counted out as eight counts. It is not organic and not authentic.

    Dancing follows the music and as long as you are with the beat, you can do just about anything you want.

    Lindy is an evolution of the charleston anyway, so I see the count as not really different from the count of the charleston. (but who's counting?)
  7. reetpleat

    reetpleat Call Me a Cab

    Not quite accurate. The most popular original dance of the era was the lindy hop, while many others were also popular.

    By the fifties, dancers were dropping the eight count swingout and doing an six count which is what is called east coast now. Correct in that ity was not called that then. And yes you are right, most dancers just "danced"

    What is called west coast swing is a derivative of the lindy hop, having been made popular in the thirties in LA by Dean Collins and other dancers. Most of what you see in the movies is DC and friends.

    West coast, with its oval or slotted eight count step is an obvious lindy hop swing out with smoother style and alot of ballroom style head twisting and upright posture. Can't stand it myself.

    As for the jitterbugs, that was a term most likely coined and used by adults to make fun of the kids. But the african american dancers, while doing it with a certain style and grace, were quite jittery if you will. Much of it dates back to african dance. THe white kids never would haved moved beyond ballroom style, and many never did. IN fact, the majority of any dancers of the era were closed ballroom position stepping back nad forth one foot to the other fast or slow. That was dancing and it is actually pretty fun.

    But African Americans were more crazy and wild than most white kids. I have loads of great video demonstrating a lot of wild stuff.
  8. reetpleat

    reetpleat Call Me a Cab

    I agree. I have heard a lot of neoswing, and it doesn't usually hold a candle in terms of beat and musicianship. As well as timelessness.

    I disagree about tempo though. While beginning dancers can't dance too fast, many people are of the impression that lindy can not be done to fast music. While balboa is a great dance, I like to lindy fast and many followers can't do it anymore. OF course this is often because they are trying to do non stop swingouts instead of relaxing a bit.

    Benny Goodman was a great musician and I love his stuff. He played arrangements by Fletcher Henderson who also arranged for Chick Webb, who headed the house band at the Savoy Ballroom where and when Lindy was first developed into a world known dance. Only difference was CHick Webb played them faster. Check out Both versions of FH's arrangement of Stompin' At The Savoy. Great stuff.

    According to Nora Miller, when they had The "Battle of the Bands" between BG and CW, all the white kids were sure BG won, and all the black kids insisted it was CW. Of course the real winners were the club owners and everyone who got to see them. What I wouldn't give to have been there.
  9. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    "The young man knows the rules; the old man knows the exceptions."

    My suggestions here are geared toward beginners on the idea that it's better to start out slow and structured and then move on to different counts and faster beats when the basics are mastered.

    I enjoyed reading your posts, though, Dhermann and Reetpleat. I think they do a good service to both newbie and more seasoned dancers.
  10. Cousin Hepcat

    Cousin Hepcat Practically Family

    Thanks Paisley for taking the time out for all the tips, sounds like good advice I've not seen anywhere else. Saved for future reference :) Really want to have a go at swing dancing, when time allows; I'm sure this will be of great help for myself & others.

    PS. Having taken general ballroom dancing long enough to know good teaching, & previewed many instructional tapes, I've found the "Big City Swing" series of 3 instructional DVDs on Amazon to be the most helpful & make the fewest assumptions about what you should already know.

    - C H
  11. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Avoiding Typical Newbie Mistakes

    Take Little Steps. Yes, there's a time to go big, but when you're learning the basic steps, you'll probably have to avoid taking high, wide steps. If you watch your teachers, you'll probably see that they keep their feet under their shoulders and their shoes just clear the floor on the basic step. This helps you keep from stepping on your partner's feet, taking steps that are hard for your partner to follow, and it keeps you from wearing yourself out.

    Don't conduct the orchestra. Again, when you're learning the basic step, it isn't time to go big and wave your arms. Why not? It makes it hard for your follower to know when you are leading a move. During a basic step, you should be able to place a quarter on the follow's hand without having the quarter fall off.

    Have a good frame, or don't be spaghetti arms. When you let your arms become too flexible, you and your partner cannot use each other's weight--and you cannot get that swing. It also makes it very difficult to lead and follow. Here's a trick to help you know if you are using your weight: instead of holding each other's hands during east coast (or the guy's left/girl's right in lindy), each of you can hold onto a handkerchief. Your hands should not be touching during this exercise. There should be tension in the handkerchief. If there isn't, you need to use more of your weight, or counterbalance.

    You need to appropriately touch your partner. There are a few creeps out there who want to get too close, but there are far more people who are afraid to touch their partner--especially one they don't know. Remember that it's just dancing, not a come-on, not an invitation to go away for the weekend. You must touch each other to have good frame and to lead and follow. If you don't know what is appropriate, ask your teacher. And guys, if you touch your partner like she is made of glass, you will risk making her think that you find her icky. That's not chivalrous!
  12. This is all amazingly helpful, and about 3 years too late for me.I have mentioned this sad experience before, but...

    I signed up for a lindyhop class about 3 years ago, and was not told(and did not have enough sense to ask) that this was an advance class.I have never taken a dance lesson of any kind, and was completely overwhelmed.I struggled through 4 classes and dropped out.This dance school is considered the best in town, yet i was disappointed that no one took the time to help me find the right fit for my level of experience.I hope to find another class eventually,but just a word of caution...make sure the level you are signing up for is appropriate for you, or that they are willing to accomodate all levels..
  13. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Well, bummer!

    Everyone might have been focused on what they themselves were doing. Or they might have been afraid to say, "You know, there are some basic level classes here that might suit you better" for fear of offending you. Like pretty much anything else in life, you have to ask for what you want.

    I hope you get back on the horse, Olive Bleu. :)
  14. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Phoning in your Moves

    Perhaps one reason that today's lindy hop doesn't look as it once did is that our sensibilities are so much different. Dancers used to get wild and crazy; today, a lot of people want to be tragically hip, or at least very serious, and that doesn't work well with what I think is a dance of joy.

    Now, I am not a fan of the shim sham, but if you are going to do it, you should do it like you mean it. Watching people do it with enthusiasm and skill is a joy; watching them shuffle backward instead of doing boogie backs and shuffle forward instead of doing boogie forwards and acting relieved when it's over and they get to dance with a partner is slightly more entertaining than a graduation speech.

    Those solo jazz moves are moves where you need to go big!

    Perhaps another issue is white women today with body image problems: they may not want to call attention to themselves with their dancing.
  15. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Learning Solo Jazz Moves

    Once again, I'm not an expert on what I'm writing here. I'm a regular gal who likes to dance. But I've found a few things that are helpful for learning some solo jazz moves and dances (like the shim-sham).

    Use a full-length mirror. If you haven't been using a mirror when you practice dancing, it's time to start. You might feel like you are making the moves a lot bigger than you really are. Using a mirror (or taping yourself) is the only way you can tell.

    Practice, practice, practice. Even good dancers need a lot of practice to get their moves to look the way they want them to.

    Write down the moves. The other day, I looked at some notes from a class I took last year. I'd forgotten about some of those moves! Write them down in language you can understand.

    Go big. Guys especially: guys who look tentative look to me like they've been dragged to dance class by their wife or mother. Without going into a historical discussion of dance moves, let's just say these moves were meant to be done big, and they look better that way. Try it both ways and see.

    You don't have to dance precisely like the person next to you or in front of you. I'm told by those who know that it's a good thing to stand out a little. It's an informal dance, not a chorus line.
  16. Adelaidey

    Adelaidey One of the Regulars


    *Soo much information.... head spinning....*

    But seriously, thanks for all the info Paisley... I've been meaning to find some lessons to learn to dance properly-- I've been limping by with my lame-duck Jitterbug for too long, I want some lessons!
  17. Marq

    Marq Familiar Face

    Actually 4 count is country style or barrel house dancing.Over in the uk we still have what the US troops left after the war.We call it Jive here but the correct term of the time was Jitterbug jive after a 1930's mickey mouse cartoon where minnie and mickey were dancing.This type of dancing was eventually adopted all over by rock n rollers but was always done to swing out in the hicks.As there were no television and only radio people danced how they knew.Most of the jive moves are old English country dance moves where the male and female cross over from one end of the square to the other and as they cross they join and the female is led under the males arm.We also have the English country dance society here and have proved this theory to be true.All partner dance is a european idea that africans didnt originally have.All these Dances Charleston,Shag,Lindyhop and Balboa derive from cake walk whereas the fast furious 4 count jitterbug derives from a far older country origin that can be seen in action at some English country dance festivals where couples break away from the main group and dance as a pair for a while to show thier stuff.That is where the term Break-away comes from.As for Lindyhop Harlem style is best done to fast frantic early swing pre35 and the later collins style or hollywood as some call it is better off danced to sweet swing from 35 on or Rhythm and blues such as Lucky millinder.Gene Krupa band with Anita oday is good but Hampton has some real great tunes to dance to one of my favorites Fiddle dee dee.I personally have been learning Balboa recently and am ok at it but it is real bloody difficult but great for real fast swing.................Paul
  18. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Marq, welcome to the Fedora Lounge and thanks for your interest in dance.

    We do try to stay on topic here. There's another thread here that is for discussing dance styles, history, etc. (The thread is made up of off-topic posts I asked the bartenders to pull from this thread. Neophyte dancers just found the discussion of history and styles confusing.)

    As to your comment about having difficulty learning balboa, I've heard a few leads say they found it hard to learn. As a follow, I find that most guys who don't lead it very well don't have the proper frame. They're too far apart from their partner. You need to be rather firmly connected on the right side of your chest, hand firmly on your follow's back, right over her bra hooks. Then the lead has to lead with his whole body, not just move his feet around. I hope this helps.
  19. Rooster

    Rooster Practically Family

  20. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    I can't see Youtube from work. However, there is a video of me dancing that was taken after a miserable summer when my following had really gone downhill. I couldn't have been more nervous and serious if I were about to be fired from my job. I hope that video never makes it onto Youtube!

Share This Page