A Beginner’s Guide to our Lindy Hop Classes!

So you’d like to start swing dancing but not sure what to expect from class? Check out this lil’ guide to our beginner classes with helpful tips for how to make the most of your new journey into Swing dancing!

Full details about our classes can be found on our webpage and on the Reading University Swing Dance Society facebook group.

What is Lindy Hop?

Lindy hop is a lively partner dance developed by the African American community during the swing jazz era of the late 1920s. Since it’s beginnings in the ballrooms and dance halls during the Harlem Renaissance, in New York, it quickly spread across the continent and crossed the seas. Today you can find swing dance scenes on every continent and all over the world!

What we teach is based on that original dance but of course as a living art form, it has developed and evolved a little since then, so mightn’t look exactly like the clips from the black and white films. Lindy hop is our primary dance focus in class but from time to time we also like to teach a taster class or two of one of the related swing dances like solo jazz, balboa, blues or collegiate shag for example, variety being the spice of life and all that.

All Welcome – Students & Non-Students

Our lindy hop classes are run in conjunction with Reading University Swing Dance Society, but you don’t have to be a student to join in, non-students are also welcome. Please see the RUSDS website for details about class prices and join the RUSDS facebook group for class updates and announcements.

No Partner Necessary!

Lindy hop is a partnered dance but you do not have to come with a partner to join our classes. During class we change partners often so you not only get to meet new people but you improve your dancing by learning to adapt to different partners.

That said, in our current covid times, if you’d prefer to stick with one partner or within a bubble of your choice, this is ok too. We’ll allocate those not wishing to change partners space to one side of the room so you can partake in class without mingling if you don’t wish to.

Lead or Follow?

In partner dancing there’s usually a leader and a follower. In broad terms, a leader initiates a movement and a follower completes it. Anyone can be a leader, anyone can be a follower! These roles are in no way gender specific, in fact many people do both, and dancing both roles is often referred to as called switching or being ambidancetrous. You will usually be asked to chose to either lead or follow for the duration of a class to keep things simple and avoid confusion, particularly when you’re first starting out, but we encourage everyone to try both roles at some point, as it’ll greatly improve your dancing and broaden your empathy.

What to Wear…?

Swing dancing is energetic, so the best thing to wear is going to be anything that lets you move freely and won’t make you too hot. Jeans or casual trousers are fine so long as you can move easily in them e.g. not too tight. Similarly skirts and dresses are fine too provided that they’re not restrictive, e.g. pencil skirts that may limit movement or long skirts could trip you up.
Pro tip: If wearing a skirt that flares out when you turn, having some shorts underneath means you can dance without care or worry over rising hemlines.

Shoes

What you wear on your feet is important too! We generally recommend flat shoes that will stay on your feet e.g. shoes with laces or ankle straps. Canvas pumps or similar are generally a good place to start. Sandals, flip-flops and high heels are discouraged for your health and safety, and that of your partners too. You may find some rubber soles too grippy for comfort, so perhaps bring a second pair with a different kind of sole to try out.

What to Bring…?

Spares

Having spare shirts/tops with you is recommended for your comfort and the comfort of your partners – dancers often change their shirts multiple times in an evening.
Pro-tip: wearing a t-shirt or vest underneath a shirt helps absorb sweat before it comes in contact with your partner.

Extras

  • Good personal hygiene is a must, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before class and use hand sanitiser regularly between partners. We also recommend brushing your teeth before class, bring deodorant with you and perhaps having mints to hand.
  • Water! Make sure you bring a drink with you. Due to covid, we are not able to supply any water, cups or snacks, so please bear this in mind when preparing for class.
  • You might also find a fan, handkerchief and small towel useful. Again because of covid we recommending supplying your own and avoid sharing.
  • Notebooks are encouraged – keeping a diary of steps, feedback and notes in general is super helpful for improving your dancing, especially when practicing outside of class.

Practice Makes Perfect

The fun doesn’t end after class, in fact we’re only just getting started! Once class wraps up, the music will continue so you can practice what you’ve just learnt. It’s also a chance to get to know the other dancers in the class and your teachers too so staying on after class is strongly encouraged.

Social Dancing

Anyone can ask anyone to dance no matter your level, role or gender. All you need to do use your words, be polite and ask!  At the end of a dance it’s polite to thank your partner.

“Hi, would you like to dance?”

Feeling nervous? Let your partner know. Everyone was a beginner once and if you let your partner know when you’re nervous it’ll give them the chance to either say “Hey me too!” or nudge them to remember what it was like when they were in your shoes.

“Yes, please!”

If you feel like dancing, accept the offer with enthusiasm. If you’re not already acquainted, introduce yourself.

“No, thank you.”

If you don’t feel like dancing – for any reason – you can decline with a polite “No, thank you.” If you can – and you don’t have to – give a reason e.g. “I’m sitting this one out”, “I don’t like this song”, “This one is too fast/slow for me”, “I’m having a rest”, “I’d like to watch for now”. If you’d like to take up the offer later that’s ok too but please say so and mean it: “I’d like to but not just now, can I come find you in a while?”

Feedback

Feedback is important to improving but it can be impolite to give feedback unsolicited, particularly on the social dance floor, so it’s best to ask first unless the feedback refers to something that is a health or safety risk e.g. indicating a required adjustment to avoid injury. Giving and receiving constructive feedback can be something of an art but if you’re unsure stick to the following guidelines:

  • Stick to first person observations e.g. “I’m feeling x…” or “I’ve notice that I’m doing y when we do z...”
  • Make suggestions one at a time e.g. “Could we try this move with more/less x…” or “I’d like to see if y happens if we z, could we try it?” It’s easy to overwhelm someone with a list of things to improve.
  • Always be polite: be aware that everyone is learning and dancing doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

Floorcraft & Common Sense

During both the class and during the social time after, it’s everyone’s individual responsibility to look after themselves. That means things like taking a break when you need to take a break, stopping if anything hurts and having a drink when you need to have a drink.

When dancing it is the responsibility of both partners to look out for each other. ‘Floorcraft’ is the term given to navigating the dancefloor and avoiding collisions when dancing. That means:

  • Leaders looking where they’re sending their followers.
  • Followers looking where they’re being sent.
  • Both followers and leaders watching each other’s backs especially when one or both dancers are moving backward and;
  • Both partners keeping an eye on other dancers, non-dancers and furniture etc nearby that could cause injury.

Occasionally accidents happen and dancers collide. No matter who is at fault, you should acknowledge the others involved and where appropriate apologise. If it’s more than a small bump and someone’s been hurt, it’s courteous to stop dancing and make sure that the injured party is ok before continuing to dance.

Safe Spaces

It’s completely ok to stop dancing if something hurts or you feel that someone is doing something that puts you at risk, is dangerous or makes you uncomfortable – even if that person is more experienced or older than you. If you’re able, explain to your partner what the issue is and if you’re not able to it’s ok to just stop dancing – you can just say “I’m sorry, I need to stop dancing right now.” Please let a teacher or RUSDS committee member know about the issue so they can address it wherever possible.

Reading Swing Jam is committed to providing safe spaces to learn, dance and socialise and we’ll do our best to insure that all spaces are inclusive and accessible to ensure the happiness, health and safety of everyone involved. As part of that commitment, we ask everyone attending any RSJ class, workshop, social or event to be aware of and please abide by our Terms & Conditions, particularly the Code of Conduct. If you have any questions about our Terms & Conditions, or any suggestions of how we can improve our inclusivity and accessibility in class please feel free to chat to us after class or drop us a message at readingswingjam@gmail.com

September: Online Classes Return

Our online classes are return this month with an initial 3-week run from 6th September until 23 September.

Join us for LEVEL 1 – Solo Jazz Fundamentals on Mondays at 7pm and LEVEL 2 – Solo Jazz Choreography on Thursdays at 7pm. More information about these classes can be found on our solo classes page.

Both classes are £5 per person per class and will be hosted on zoom. Join our RSJ Solo Jazz & Charleston Class facebook group for zoom links, updates and notifications.

RSJ Community Picnic

Sunday 18 July, 1pm // Christchurch Meadows

It was such a blast seeing your faces the other week that we couldn’t resist hosting another picnic! Like last time, it’ll be at Christchurch Meadows and we’ll aim for the same spot opposite the pedestrian bridge by the trees. BYO food, picnic blanket and drop by for as little or as long as you like.

As the weather has been somewhat changeable of late, we’re aiming for Sunday 18 July but like before we may postpone if the forecast looks wet. Please RSVP to our facebook event and pop RSJ notifications to “See first” to receive notifications about any changes to the date.

Christchurch Meadows are just over the river from train station, so easily accessible for any folks wanting to visit from further afield, wanting to pick up a coffee or picnic munchies en route or those needing to run errands in the town centre.

Note: Team RSJ will not be in attendance due to precautionary Covid self-isolation.

Online classes resume this week!

Happy New Year everyone! The sad news is we still can’t partner dance in person together yet… The good news is we can meet online to solo jam! We’ve got two weekly online classes for you:

MONDAYS: LEVEL 1 – SOLO JAZZ STEPS & VARIATIONS

Fundamental Solo Jazz steps and variations broken down from scratch – All welcome, absolute beginners encouraged! Starting 11 January.

THURSDAYS: LEVEL 2 – SOLO JAZZ MINICHOREOS

We’ll be taking our Solo Jazz repertoire and putting it together into fun mini-choreos and interesting step combos. All welcome but as some previous experience is assumed this class will move faster than the Level 1 class.

Visit our class page for full details and zoom links, and please join our RSJ Solo Jazz & Charleston Class facebook group to be notified of any class updates.

Online Classes – Solo Jazz & Charleston

Our Solo Jazz classes are still going strong online. We’ve got two levels to choose from,  Level 1 for beginners and Level 2 for intermediate dancers:

In Level 1 on Mondays at 7pm we’ll be focusing on particular steps and breaking them down from scratch. This class will be pitched to absolute beginners and those wanting to plug in the gaps in their repertoire.

In Level 2 on Thursdays at 7pm we’ll be taking our existing Solo Jazz knowledge to the next level with variations, step combos, mini-choreographies and improvisation. This class will be pitched to those who already have some Solo Jazz experience and have already learnt routines such as the Shim Sham, Tranky Doo, etc.

To join us for either class you’ll need to download/register for Zoom. Full details about these online classes, including prices and registration etc, are on our class webpage as well as class events on our facebook page and dedicated class facebook group. Look forward to seeing you there!

Coping with Covid: A Guide for Reading Swing Dancers

Never fear, we will dance again! But in the meantime, I’ve compiled a few creative ideas and ways for our community to come together and look after ourselves and each other during these uncertain times.

These should only be considered in light of current medical and governmental guidelines with regards to containment, social distancing and social isolation and in all cases use common sense.

Volunteers: If anyone wants to take on any of these ideas as a project please feel free and let us know that you’re doing this so we can support you by spreading the word!

In all things please be safe and please be kind – we’re in this together!
Much Lindy Luv,
Jenn

Staying Active

Dancing Solo

Dancing with a partner might not be possible so it might be the perfect time to work on your own solo dancing. Learning Solo Jazz can help your partnered dancing but so can picking up some Solo Blues, Tap (you don’t need tap shoes to start with the basics), maybe try some Hip Hop choreography or Belly dance for something different? In the internet age the world is your mollusc. 

Dancing Chain Letter

Get playful with your Solo Jazz. Set up a Solo Jazz chain letter: 

  1. Choose a long swing song, ideally with Jazz phrasing if possible, and pick a main move we’ll call A e.g. Fall off the log and a break step we’ll call B, e.g. Shim Sham break and make a one phrase choreo of your selected main move x3 plus your chosen break step to create an AAAB pattern. 
  2. Film yourself dancing this once.
  3. Invite a friend to the game and if they consent send the clip them. 
  4. Your friend then needs to pick a main move and a break step to make their own phrase, just like you did. 
  5. They then film themselves dancing your phrase first, then their phrase. 
  6. They then need to send you their clip so you can see how the dance has developed and they forward it on to someone new to join the chain.
  7. Rinse and repeat until the song runs out.
Advanced Variations 
  • Instead of the AAAB pattern, try matching your choreo to the pattern in the phrase of the music you’re dancing to e.g.  ABAB, ABAC etc.
  • Instead of one move in an 8-count, consider splicing two or three moves together into a new 8-count combo.

Online Learning

With classes and events unable to run, there’s a lot of financial pressure on swing dance teachers and organisers. Please consider signing up to online classes and maybe buddy up with a friend or more to keep each other accountable virtually. 

Our Jenn Maghzal is looking into taking our Monday evening Solo Jazz classes virtual so make sure you sign up to the RSJ Solo Jazz & Charleston Class facebook group for updates, but there’s plenty out there to choose from – here’s just a small UK-based selection (more international offerings can be found on our links page):

  • David Zilkha
    David is offering 2-for-1 redeemable against a range of future events and classes with Swing Dance Bristol including their famous New Years’ Eve event.
  • Jenny Thomas
    The inmitable Jenny Thomas is setting up online learning, so keep an eye out on her website and social media for more info soon.
  • Sharon Davis
    Sharon’s going online too with her gorgeous swing style.
  • Swing Patrol Online Courses
    Check out this fab lineup of London teachers teaching online over the coming weeks.
  • Vintage Arts Asylum
    London-based dance collective supporting swing dance teacher, musicians, performers and artists offer online content and classes.

Cross Training

If dancing solo doesn’t work for you consider taking up another form of exercise such as running, yoga, calisthenics and cycling. It’ll be great for your mind and body as well as help you cross train ready for when we’re back dancing again. If you need accountability, buddy up and cheer each other on!

Walking

Great news! The National Trust has announced that although they’re closing their cafes and shops etc they’re aiming to keep open spaces accessible to the public. Getting out in nature is not only great for the body but also an excellent way to take care of your mental health too.

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Buddying up with one or two others to go walking outdoors could be an option. Head somewhere with space enough that you can keep a safe distance apart as you walk and talk and remember the usual guidelines of washing hands regularly, coughing/sneezing into your elbow and avoiding physical contact.

Stay Social

Watch Parties

There are a bunch of different ways you can watch films together, if not y’know together together. Reading University Swing Dance Society hosted a successful Netflix Watch Party of the swing documentary Alive & Kicking this week, which allowed participants to watch the film simultaneously and use the chat function to talk about the film in real time. 

Or perhaps you could take it in turns with your friends curate a 15min playlist of your favourite dance clips on youtube chat about as you watch via the Whatsapp desktop client…

Resources & Recommendations

If you’ve got time on your hands why not get stuck into the history and culture of the dances we so love and enjoy. We’ve got a long list of resources on our website to start you off on a swing and blues rabbit-hole journey of learning and discovery! From books to podcasts, films to blogs, there’s bound to be something in there to pique your interest and broaden your horizons.

Why not create a collaborative playlist on Spotify with your friends and broaden your musical horizons? We’ve got loads of past Reading Swing Jam DJ sets available on Spotify to mine for new musical inspiration.

Mobile Library

Not everyone has access or finances for Netflix, Amazon etc. Pool your resources to create a collaborative list of books, DVDs and CDs with the group and if one of you has access to a vehicle, consider setting up a mobile library that drops off and picks up books from each other’s homes.

Look After Each Other

Virtual Tea & Chat

Coinsider scheduling a weekly 30min tea time chat by phone, conference call or video chat with folks your community so you can check in with each other and check on how everyone’s doing. Perhaps try extending this to a remote card or board games session?

Community Wish List

I’ve set up a community wishlist [google sheet] where folks in our community can dip in and help each other by exchange goods and services they may require but not have access to receiving. Anything from spare loo roll to a cup of sugar, a trip to the post office or corner shop to walking a dog. If you have something you could offer or something you’re in need of take a look and see if you can help a fellow dancer out somehow.

Support Local Music Makers

Those who make their living from their music could do with a little extra love during this time. Consider contacting the following and purchasing a song, a CD or signing up to their Patreons perhaps…

Local Vintage Style Makers & Sellers

Small businesses are going to suffer during this time. If you’re able to spare a penny and do a lil’ online shopping, here’s a list of some local makers to consider… 

  • Hedgerow Home
    Local dancer Chantal Steer finds vintage treasures for house and home.

Cook & Share

If baking is your thing perhaps you could bake some sweet treats and operate a small delivery service to cheer up dancers nearby. If you know someone in the community is unwell, perhaps putting together a care package for them with supplies to assist them while they’re isolated (remember to always check in with them for any allergies or dietary restrictions).