Swing Dance Hints

By Larry Colen

This is a collection of things to keep in mind when dancing. A lot of them are focused on my particular difficulties, but I welcome anyone to send me suggestions and comments for this page. The goal for this page is that each hint should be expressable in one or two sentences.

I got some of these by asking teachers about common mistakes, and some others by listening to what they kept emphasizing. Others came from my own, or friends observations.

Eventually I'd like to categorize the hints and notes, and maybe even pare them down to a few key critical things to remember. As someone who teaches (performance driving) there is a certain set of things that I see most students needing to keep in mind, I expect that there is a similar set of mistakes made by swing dancers.

I have been asking dance instructors about these issues and invite comments and suggestions.

The most important thing in social dance is connection.
If both partners have good connection then the leader can lead the follower through almost anything, and the follower usually does not even need to know the steps before hand.
Frame is the primary physical means of making connection.

Leaders should not grab a followers hand with their thumb. Connection should be from tension or compression, not grip.

Both partners should be square with each other on count 4 of the swingout (either style).

There will be moves where the leader specifically is not square to the follow, this only works if the follow is square to where the leader would be (her position does not change on the 4 count). It also does not work if his moving away from square is not a deviation from "normal".

One demonstration of how important frame is, would be to have two people hold each end of a short stick. The demonstrator should keep frame and allow the demonstrator to move them around. Then substitute a rag, hanky, belt or other flexible object for the stick. Note that it is much harder to lead someone into a rock-step by pushing on a rope.

Followers, place your left hand on the front of the leaders shoulder and push back into the leaders right hand for frame. Do not grab the back of the leader's right bicep.

-- Need a page listing various exercises for improving frame and connection. --

Leaders should make it clear whether they are pulling a follower forward for a savoy style swing out, or around for the follower to back out in a whip.

Followers should not turn around for a whip and back out unless they are led. There are two major categories of swing outs and you should dance the one that you are led.

Communication is through your hands. Keep your hands quiet unless you are trying to "say something".

Keep frame. This is neither spaghetti arms, nor what Kim & Dave call T-rex, where the elbows are glued to the ribcage with the forearms straight out.

Don't let your arm hyper extend. The arm connecting you with your partner should almost never be completely straight.

Your elbow should never be pushed back past your ribcage. Keep it in front of you.

Leaders should not travel, unless they specifically choose to. Mark and maintain your territory.

Followers cannot feel a leaders feet move (unless he steps on her).

Pull the follower in on the 1-2 of the lindy swing out. Many intermediate leaders move their left foot way back and extend their left arm so that it ends up staying in exactly the same place.

-- Make a section noting common mistakes on each count of the 8 count swing out. What you should look for at each point. --

Don't make sudden catches, reverses or changes of direction. Absorb the energy as if catching a water balloon. Be smooth and gentle.

Smoothness does not mean slowness, it means sudden changes in force, or in physics terms "discontinuities in the higher order derivitives".

Savoy style lindy is a low dance. Keep your weight low, your legs bent and bounce "down" rather than "up".

The beat on the triple steps, is not "square". In other words it is not evenly spaced: tri---ple---step, but rather stretched out: triiiii-ple-step

Songs are different. Dance differently to different songs.

Fill in "space" on the slow songs. Don't just move slower, use the time between the beats to put in flourishes.

To paraphrase a racing aphorism, still in the still parts, move in the moving parts.

Watch your partner. Play with what they do. Show that you are paying attention to them.

The leaders most important job is to help the follower have fun.

The leaders second most important job is to make the follower look good.

Hurting the follower is neither fun for her, nor does it look good.

There are no mistakes, only jazz, or possibly bonus improvisation.

It's easier to spin on the ball of your foot than the flat.

It's easier to spin on a bent leg than a straight leg.

Remember conservation of angular momentum, if you bring weight in towards the center of a spinning object, it will spin faster. (This bit of physics shows up in everything from free spins to aerials where the flier will tuck to rotate more, or untuck to slow down. A good example of this is to go to the "merry go round" of a play ground and get is spinning with you on the outside. Now climb into the center and watch how it speeds up. Likewise you can start a free spin with your arms straight out, then bring them in to your chest.)

-- Notes of things to watch for when performing --

Dance to the audience, dance with your partner.


Make eye contact.

Dance "open" to the audience.

Start dances from closed position.

Be aware of where you are on stage.

Less is more. Keep moves simple and clean.

-- Advice --
Don't just give unsolicited advice. It may be appropriate to ask someone (especially a beginner with no clue about frame) if they would be interested in "a hint that might help".

Don't pester instructors for free coaching while they are social dancing.

Don't be afraid to ask instructors for a dance. They got good enough to teach by dancing socially, and have practice dancing with people who aren't extremely well trained. Many people are so intimidated by instructors that they never ask them to dance, as friends.

-- Flirting ---
Dance!...the vertical expression of a horizontal desire. --George Bernard Shaw
And other good quotes from here.

While it is possible to dance without any sort of flirtation, just as it is possible to flirt without dancing, the combination of the two can be incredibly powerful and fun.

Is is crucial to remember that flirting, while dancing or not, is a game unto itself, and is not necessarily any sort of sexual invitation. Don't assume that because someone is flirting with you, that they want to jump your bones. Likewise, don't feel that you can only flirt with people that you have any sexual interest in. As in so many things, if you are interested in exploring further, ask.

The swing dance community is smaller and more tightly knit than some might think. People talk to each other. If you're rude, grope people inappropriately or are in general a pest, people will talk and won't want to dance with you.

The most important thing about flirting, on or off the dance floor, is eye contact.

-- Write up the essay that Johnny suggested "It's a lot like Aikido" that points out all the similarities between good lindy form and Aikido. --

Move from your center.

Move your partners from their centers.

It is difficult to catch a moving target as small as a hand, especially with your hand. It's much easier to catch a wrist or forearm and to let your grip slide into place.

Likewise, in many situations, it is easier to make contact between two perpendicular forearms than trying to catch either the forearm or hand with a hand.

The Aikido exercise of "unbendable arm" is a good example of soft strength. The arm is not hard and stiff, and yet with no muscular effort by that arm, it will not bend.

In both Aikido and dance you have a partner, in neither do you have an opponent.

Blend and join energies, do not oppose them.

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Larry Colen
Copyright (C) 2001 Larry Colen
Most recently modified by lrc at Sun Sep 09 23:47:19 PDT 2001