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.
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…?
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.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org