10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me

When I first started dancing I was super enthusiastic, much to the dismay of many a follow’s arms. I wanted to know big and flashy moves, and for me that meant the Texas Tommy. Now, as I look back at that green well-spring of passion and flailing arms from eleven years ago, there’s so much I wish someone had told me. I mentioned this to Susanne, and she helped me compile this list of things that don’t often get talked about in the lindy world.

10 ) Murphy’s law of extra shirts. You will always need one more extra shirt than you bring with you. Those days where you forget an extra will be the time you need it most. So always keep one extra shirt tucked away in your car or your dance bag. Or maybe just leave one for yourself in the lost and found of every venue where you dance.

9 ) Not everyone is what they seem. Not all creepy guys and girls, aka “creepers,” are actually creepy. Most of them are just socially awkward people that gravitate to swing for the structured social interaction. Some of them are amazingly awesome people that will become friends over time. Likewise, there are some seemingly super cool and suave people out there that are total lotharios. Then, there are the actual creepers out there.

8 ) Get feedback. You are not an impartial observer of yourself. What you think you look like may be very different than what you actually look like. What it feels like to a partner might be vastly different to what it feels like to you. Ask people for input. Ask friends to videotape you dancing. Open up lines of communication for critical feedback with people whose dancing  you respect and admire, and who you trust to be both honest and caring.

7 ) Good technique trumps lots of moves. It doesn’t matter how many awesome moves you know if you can’t lead them. It doesn’t matter how awesome your styling is if you never follow. Master the 6-count basic, tuck turn, swingout, lindy circle, charleston basic, and an inside and outside turn. A move isn’t worth doing if you aren’t doing it well.

6 ) Lindy hop is hard and worth it. Lindy hop is one of the hardest dances out there which is why it isn’t regularly featured on shows like So You Think You Can Dance. Check out this clip from the BBC version of the show where they tried it. These are professionally trained dancers doing their best to do lindy hop, and while they do a respectable job, it still doesn’t look that great. There are no other dances I know of that use shared body weight and momentum in the same way. Its tough. Professionally trained dancers struggle with it, and you’re gonna struggle with it, too.

5 ) What happens on the dance floor doesn’t always translate off the dance floor. I have made some great connections on the dance floor, fallen in and out of love more times than I can count. When I walk off the dance floor, none of that matters any more. Being able to express yourself on the dance floor doesn’t mean you have any capacity to have honest communication with words when the music stops.

4 ) Get comfortable shoes, and learn to maintain your body. Lindy hop is demanding, and the repetitive movements of dancing take their toll over time. Comfortable shoes help a lot. So does good stretching, and exercises that help to strengthen all of the muscles you are using and especially the ones you’re not using. When you start feeling aches and soreness, your body is begging for your attention. Learn how to give it the attention it deserves.

3 ) Expand your ear. Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are great when you’re starting out. “Zoot Suit Riot” is great when you’re still trying to find the beat, but getting better at dancing requires getting better at listening. As you improve as a dancer, you won’t need that pounding steady beat, and will actually start to enjoy music that’s more subtle and intricate because you’ll know how to use your body to express all of those nuances.

2 ) You are good enough. Not everyone is going to be a master, but everyone can be passionate about the dance and continue to improve themselves. No matter what your level, you will go through plateaus and dance slumps. Sometimes something will snap you out of it, and sometimes you have to push yourself through. Hold on to that spark that lit your passion, and remember that it is always about finding your best expression.

1 ) The way of no way. There as many philosophies, theories, approaches to technique and the like as there are dancers. Keep an open mind. Listen to everyone, and always seek the truth and value in what they are saying or in how they are dancing. Synthesize it all into your own approach to the dance. At the end of the day, this is about your expression of the dance, and finding a way to share that thoughtfully with others.



Filed under C-Jam, Charleston, community, lindy hop, Music, Technique, Theory, tools of the trade

18 responses to “10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me

  1. christina

    “Traveling is awesome. We’re going to X event in three weeks, you should come with us.” I danced a couple nights a week for about three years in college, but never anywhere other than my local scene. And I was vaguely aware that there were out of town events that the not-college-kids in the scene went to, because this was like 1.5 from Asheville, NC. But nobody ever invited me to travel with them or even encouraged me to attend out of town events.

    It wasn’t until nearly 6 years after I first learned a swingout, when I finally found my new local scene in grad school, on my very first night out, that somebody was like “This event, about an hour away, is next weekend. We’ll all be there, you should come!” And traveling makes such a difference! I have the swing addiction far worse this time, and my dancing has improved more in the last year of traveling than it did in three years of dancing in the same place all the time. Lately, I’ve been inviting some of the newer local dancers, who seem like they’ll stick around for a while, to travel with me.

    • craigsparks

      I totally agree that travel is awesome and can make a huge impact on someone’s dancing. I moved to Pittsburgh the same year as the very first Pittstop, so I got addicted to travel when the travel came to me. And that was very early on in my dancing.

  2. But the Texas Tommy is an EXCELLENT move…

  3. Fenn

    I think there is more to the dance shows not featuring lindy than it being complicated. Samba is VERY complicated and featured weekly.

    I wish the world would forget the Texas Tommy. It’s such an unnecessary move that is rarely done well. I think it’s a very advanced move, and not something that should be part of a beginner’s or intermediate’s repertoire.

    • craigsparks

      I agree that the Texas Tommy is an advanced move, but I don’t think it should be forgotten! I still have a love affair with that move.

  4. Maryam Sodeifi

    This is awesome you guys!! We’re going to try to make it up to a Friday night dance soon. 🙂

  5. Tom Koerner

    As an extra point, one thing I learned as a young male dancer is that the older ladies are much more fun to dance with. Many of them have been around the dance floor and their dancing reflects it. You can learn alot from dancing with them. The downside is that some of them refuse to follow since they may have spent most of their lives back-leading their husbands (or ex-husbands).

  6. Don’t fall in love with dancing on high traction floors.

    You will forever be looked at with a mixture of pity and incredulity whenever you tell people that your favorite dance floor is worn brick. You also will be treated to comments like “Ack! My knees hurt just thinking about it.” because for whatever reason most dancers learn how to handle dancing on floors of ice but don’t learn how to handle floors where sliding is not an option.

    • Intriguing, Jason. How exactly did you fall in love with dancing on high traction floors? I made a horrible mistake this past weekend of not taking my sueded shoes to a dance. The floor turned out to be what I would describe as sticky, but high traction is more descriptive. I couldn’t spin at all and spent most of the night feeling like a cat. Tough, but instructive.

      • I don’t know if it’s still going on, but Boston used to have outdoor dances every summer in Copley Square. It was Boston’s analog to the Lindy in the Park sorts of events that NY or SF have. I lived maybe 5 blocks from Copley for most of my time in Boston, and the lure of a free dance in walking distance from my home was irresistable.

        I quickly fell in love with the Copley dances. I will pick a little sun, a little shade, and a bit of wind over dimly lit (and often poorly ventilated) rooms on most days. An unlimited dance floor with no risk of collision with anyone else was another perk.

        But Copley did come with that brick floor. So I learned to dance on it and came to love what it had to offer. Some of it for me is just pleasant associations between the floor and my dances there. But I can dig in on a high traction surface in ways that I normally can’t on wood floors. Also there is no cheating on brick. If you want to move and don’t want to die, you need to pick your feet up to travel. This makes tracking my partner’s weight a lot easier. It also changes a lot of people’s approach to dancing. For instance most spins are going to be slower multi step affairs that may extend over 4 beats instead of 720 degrees in 2 beat deals. So the dancing, even on faster tunes, often tends to be a bit more laid back.

  7. Great article and really helpful! Thank you so much!


  8. Fenn

    I agree with jkmeller about high traction floors. They are difficult, and sadly, no one really knows how to dance on them. I think a lot of people see sliding and spinning as advanced moves and therefore, the ultimate in dance ability. I see versatility and an understanding of surface as difficult skills.

    It makes me think of my modern dance teacher from college. Whenever someone would complain about being in one of the classrooms with a less than desirable floor and the inability to spin on that floor, she would just tell us to go find some dirt and work it out. I try to remember that, if I could dance on a “sticky” floor as a modern dancer, then I should be able to do the same as a lindy hopper. Although, I need to be dancing with someone who understands that type of surface.

  9. Pingback: Put on Your Dancin’ Shoes | All the Cats Join In

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