Friday, April 22, 2005
Getting Started: A Beginner's Guide
This article is based on an idea sent to me from one of our former students: a one stop article on how to get started in swing dancing.
Genius I tell you.
So this article is targeted pretty much to totally new beginners. (For the non-totally-new beginners, I tried to throw in a few things for you too).
This article is based on my own experience, observations over the years, and also talking to other teachers and dancers. The steps pretty much are in order, both sequentially and prerequisitely (if that makes any sense).
First, our overall approach is from a social dancing point of view. We teach with the goal for people to be able to socially dance with anyone, feel comfortable, be injury free, and most importantly have fun with themselves, their partners, and the music.
Here we go:
STEP 1: Find Out Where To Go Social Dancing
So you've decided you want to learn how to swing dance? Awesome. Now your first step of course depends on why you are interested. Some people want to take lessons just for fun. Most others want to take the lessons to learn how to dance (which usually means socially). For the former, you can pretty much just skip to the "Find Group Lessons" step. For everyone else, we often recommend that you go social dancing first. The reasons we recommend social dancing:
* Most social dance venues offer a lesson with cover charge.
* You'll get to see and experience what the social swing dance scene is like.
* MOST IMPORTANT: Many venues will have flyers advertising other swing events, lessons, and workshops!
A list of resources on where to go dancing:
Where to go Dancing! (article)
LindyGroove (venue and mailing list)
Southern California Lindy Society (mailing list)
Jive Junction Events Forum (So.Cal discussion board)
Or just contact us.
Two good reasons to take group lessons before going out social dancing deals with comfort level. If you feel comfortable braving the social dance scene first, I recommend it. Otherwise, with group lessons you can:
1: meet other people to go out dancing with
2: have at least the basics down so you will feel more comfortable out on the dance floor.
STEP 2: What To Wear Out Dancing (or in class)
Many dancers will dress quite casually when out social dancing (no shorts). It's a very active activity and so dancers dress for comfort. You will get a range from jeans and tshirt to nice pants and button up shirts to even more formal vintage wear. For your first time be on the safe side:
Guys: slacks, shirt with a collar, shoes with a leather (hard or soft) sole
Gals: slacks or skirt, nice shirt/blouse, comfortable flats. Don't wear shoes that will make too much noise. Also no heels! While you are learning you may be prone to be off balance and as a dancer it sucks to get accidentally spiked in the foot by a high heel.
Step 3: Go Dancing (get people to go with you)! And Take The Lesson!
Many times what keeps people from going is that that person does not want to go alone. Even though it's very easy to go by yourself (and if you do, take the free lesson as it gives you a chance to meet people to dance with later) ... I would say it takes someone quite brave to do so. So hopefully you can get some friends to come with you.
If not, that's one reason to take group lessons first (Step 4). Not so much to learn to dance but to also make some friends in class that you can go social dancing with. The above mentioned (Step 1) avenues for finding places to go social dancing also should give you some resources on finding a few introductory lessons as well.
When you go dancing, definitely take the venue lesson:
* It's free and you'll get to learn the basic.
* You will meet lots of folks as all lessons rotate partners. Later in the night you should feel free to approach someone else in the lesson and ask them to dance or "practice what we learned in the lesson".
Most teachers after the lesson will keep themselves available for questions for the first hour or so after the lesson and during the social dancing. Remember though that they also enjoy social dancing as well so be mindful of this as well. Also, pick up all the flyers that are available and sign up on the venue's mailing list.
Step 4: Take Group Lessons Or Group Workshops
Again there are a few reasons you may want to do this step first. The main reason this is Step 4 is now you have an idea of the dance and know what you want to work on and you are basically hooked!
For this step, we recommend the lessons be done in parallel with your social dancing. This will provide a great learning environment and social environment and give you a chance to practice and make mistakes in a non-threatening environment. At the same time you can practice what you've learned when you go social dancing.
Remember at a weekly dance lesson, the teachers sole purpose here is to teach so you should always feel comfortable asking questions.
If your schedule permits it, go for weekly lessons first instead of a workshop. That will give you time for the information to sink in and also give you time to practice.
Workshops are really good too. Just a word of warning that for some beginners it's a lot of info at one time and you probably will not remember even half of it. If you're going in with that in mind, you should be fine. (Those that don't realize this will start to fret that they won't remember it all).
By the way, even advanced dancers won't remember it all after a workshop. Thus, it's always a good idea to bring a video camera with you so after the lesson or workshop you can videotape what you just learned before you forget it. Some teachers will even let you videotape during the workshop but clarify this with the teacher first before taping!
Step 5: Invest In Some Swing Gear:
Now that you're hooked, get some good durable swing gear for dancing in. By now you should have an idea of what most people wear at which venue (some venues people tend to dress up a bit more).
Bottoms: We tend to wear comfortable pants (not sweats) and jeans for casual dancing. And nicer dance pants for the times we want to dress up more. A good place for dance pants is: The Dance Store. I don't know where Sheri gets all her stuff. I'll have to ask her and update this article later.
Tops: Can't go wrong with venue shirts. Get a shirt at the venue you dance at. I also go for solid color cotton shirts that you'd find at Macy's or Mervyn's. I tend to go for Alfani or Brandini. Also for more interesting shirts check out Old Navy or American Eagle Outfitters. Sheri goes to "teeny-bopper" stores for her shirts. Again I'll get specifics and update this article.
Shoes: For shoes, pretty much all of our "formal" dancing shoes are Aris Allens from The Dance Store. For casual dancing we find tennis shoes. Dancing is a very active activity and tennis shoes provide great foot support. Since tennis shoes have rubber soles, "swing-i-nize" them by getting them resoled in soft leather (either suede or chrome leather). We go to Compton's Shoe Repair in Burbank for our resoling needs. You can pretty much go to any shoe repair store to get this done:
A previous article on resoling shoes:
Shoes, Resoling, and Compton's Shoe Repairing - an article on my favorite place to get my shoes resoled. If you mention "Ben the swing dancer said I could come here and you'd fix my shoes with suede so I can dance in them" he will know what to do and what kind of material to put on your shoe.
Step 6: Buy Some Swing Music
Just about any compilation will be good. More experienced dancers shy away from compilations because of specific needs. Beginners (or beginning music collectors) should start out with a few until they are more familiar with what they like. Below should give you a good variety of music (both for beginning dancing and for simply listening to). My top recommendations (in "must have" order):
Frankie Manning approved cd compilation. Great big band favorites with a variety of tempos. Great for listening to, learning from, and to use for teaching. A lot of these tracks will be on other cd compilations and cds so you'll inevitably start buying some artist cds that will have these same tracks. But for a starter cd, if you're going to buy only one cd, this should be it.
BBC Presents 50 Big Band Favorites
BBC Big Band is a modern day big band which has recorded a lot of big band favorites from the 20's through 40's. To be fair, the more experienced dancers/listeners will note the band lacks a bit of "zing" which the really good bands from the past had. Generally speaking, I really like this collection. The sound is definitely clean and above average. Not to mention you get a LOT of tracks (50!) for only $10 to $15. Easy to listen to. Good to practice to. And you definitely cannot beat the price! You can sometimes pick this one up at Best Buy for $10.
By the way this is also the same cd set I recommend for wedding receptions. It's modern sounding so it has a clean sound to it. Also authentic swing music tends to have more zing to it for the dancing which may not be what you want for a wedding. This CD set has some great standards, not too "zingy", and a medium range of tempos which provides a happy but relaxing atmosphere.
As Good As It Gets: Swing
On any other list this would be tied with the Frankie Manning cd. On a list targeted for beginners I recommend this third. This is a great compilation of original big band tracks. The selection is awesome and the variety is awesome. I even heard a Glenn Miller "Bugle Call Rag" which I had not heard before on other cds.
The reason I put it third is because for beginners the "raspy" sound of original big band music may be harder to practice to. But any other list, I would say this is a must-buy.
Indigo Swing: All Aboard
Indigo Swing is a favorite among many teachers for beginning Lindy because of the tempo and overall danceability of the music. The better you get the more you may get bored with the lack of very intricate musicality, but for a beginner and intermediate this cd is very solid.
Steps 7 and 8 are listed here basically because neither are really required for fun social dancing. But if you are feeling stagnant or that you're not improving, or basically Steps 1 through 5 are not satiating you, then the below steps are definitely recommended:
Step 7: Travel!
Get out of your own scene and experience another. It's a great way to greatly improve your social dancing and to break through plateaus or feelings of stagnation. There are a ton of great events you can travel to as you will find out from the first step (mailing list, websites, flyers).
But even without special events, basically wherever you travel there will most likely be some sort of social dancing. Whenever Sheri and I travel for non-dancing reasons we always do a google/yahoo search to see if there is dancing near where we are traveling too.
You can definitely start small. For Los Angeles folk, travel down to Orange County. Or even San Diego or San Francisco.
OC Swing Discussion Board:
Northern California Discussion Board:
San Diego Discussion Board:
For nationwide/worldwide coverage, Yehoodi is a good discussion board to start with:
Yehoodi - nationwide (and worldwide) swing dance discussion board
If all else fails, you can always contact us and we'll see what we can find out for you.
Step 8: Private Lessons
If you aching for more with your dancing and Steps 1 through 5 (or 1 through 6) this is a great route. It gives you a lot of attention from an instructor. Besides the flyers and mailing lists, one easy way to pick an instructor is to find someone you like to watch. Then ask them if they do private lessons. You'll either get the private lesson from them or else they will refer you to another teacher (probably the teacher who taught them). And you're hooked up!
Hope this has been helpful! Feel free to contact me/us if you have questions or comments on any of the above!
Your Comments And Questions: