The other night, I was helping my friend Akemi teach a basic lesson to some older people, and was observing the many things that were tripping people up — how to dance on the beat, how to listen to your partner, how to move from your center, etc. It reminded me that for people who have no background at all with social dancing, it's pretty intimidating getting started lindy hopping.
That said, there's more resources and help available than ever before for someone who wants to start swinging today. Here's some tips from a 12 year veteran of the dance…
You Can't Learn Online or on DVD
Lindy hop is not like club dancing, line dancing or the Macarena. You can't learn it just by watching someone on YouTube doing it or buying an instructional DVD. Lindy is a social dance, which means it involves a relationship between two people and the music on the social dancefloor. There is a kinesthetic feeling you get from doing it right that can't be taught just through mimicking the actions by yourself.
That said, it's great to watch amazing dance footage to get inspired about what you want to learn. Some clips that inspire me: Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, Skye and Frida and the fast lindy round at ULHS 2006.
And when you get some fundamentals down, DVDs can add to your dance vocabulary. But these are definitely supplementary to regular instruction and practice in a social dance setting.
Do I Need A Partner?
Absolutely not. In fact, having a set partner can set you back as a dancer because you can reinforce each other's bad habits. I've known couples who have literally spent years going to classes together and they haven't improved in all that time because they only dance with each other.
That said, having a friend who is willing to go with you to classes and dances is good motivation to keep at it. But be sure and mix it up. Lindy is a social dance!
Finding a Good Instructor and a Beginner Class
The bad news is that learning lindy, like most things, involves finding someone who's a good teacher and taking classes. There are lots of different kinds of schools and instructors out there, and everyone learns in their own fashion. But in general, here's some things to look out for when looking for a swing instructor and a class:
- Not All Swing is Lindy: There are various "flavors" of swing dancing, from "west coast swing," to "east coast swing" to "country swing." So when you encounter a school that teaches swing dancing, be sure and ask what style they focus on.
- Learn from your Peers: For the first couple of months, the learning experience will be much more satisfying if you are with a bunch of people who are learning together. So look for a school with a fairly stable population of beginner and intermediate dancers.
- Private Lessons: Again, everyone learns differently. But in my opinion, private lessons aren't that helpful until you've acquired a basic set of social dancing skills that can only come from a class and a social setting. If your school tries to push you into signing up for privates immediately, I'd find another school.
Hit the Dancefloor Early!
As soon as you feel comfortable, and certainly within the first two months of classes, make sure that you go out to a social dance. The sooner you get in the practice of dancing socially, the faster you will improve. I know some people who are "career students" who never go out socially, and thus never improve beyond a certain point.
Dance with People at a Variety of "Levels"
Becoming a good lindy hopper involves understanding the feeling of leading and following properly. You will only find that feeling by dancing with people from rank beginner to 20-year veteran. It can be intimidating to ask an "advanced" dancer to dance. But most everyone is happy to oblige a new dancer, because we all were there once.
Learn the Opposite Role
Understanding the experience of a follower will make you a much better leader, and vice versa. That sounds like some kind of zen thing, but it's actually true. Any leader who has ever had to follow someone spinning them five times in a row ("stirring the pot") will learn not to ever lead that socially.
Listen to the Music
Perhaps this seems elementary, but lindy is primarily danced to swing music. If you don't understand or appreciate swing music, you won't really be dancing lindy. So get some compilations of big band music by Basie, Ellington, Calloway and Armstrong. Find a local radio station that plays swing, or listen online to shows like Yehoodi radio. Catch a jazz group playing in your town and just listen.
Lots of new dancers I've met want to get really good really fast. Lindy is a dance you can keep doing for your entire life. So don't rush. Enjoy the music, learn at your own pace, make friends. That's how you will get the most out of this amazing artform that almost anyone can participate in.
If you are thinking of learning lindy, I hope these tips were helpful. It's really an amazing dance that can change your whole life. Lindy is at its heart a happy dance, designed to bring delight. I hope you get to experience that for yourself.