Every time dancers ask me how to improve quickly, I give the same answer - form a partnership and practice. Then comes the inevitable flood of follow-up questions. How do I find a partner? Do they have to be at my level? How do we practice? What happens if we fight? Why are we not progressing?
Spoiler alert: your Lindy partnership is just like any other relationship. It takes emotional maturity, persistence, and good habits to succeed. Now, I don’t claim to have all the answers to these questions, but I have learned a few things worth sharing in my adventures in life and Lindy Hop.
Check out my tips below and leave a comment with your own advice on how to build a happy, healthy dance partnership!
Forming a Partnership
You’re voluntarily deciding to spend a significant amount of time with someone doing a hobby that you enjoy. Keep that in mind when looking for a partner. Find someone who you like and respect and who likes and respects you.
Discuss your big picture goals before committing to working with each other. For example, if you want to travel and compete, check in with each other to make sure you’re both capable of doing that financially, emotionally, and time-wise.
If you’re serious about improving your skills, it’s going to take time. There’s no getting around that, so plan for it! If you’re hoping to improve quickly, make sure you can both commit to enough hours a week. If you want to keep it casual, be up front about that to set proper expectations.
In my opinion, this is the least important category to align on. Skill is changeable. That’s the whole point of practicing. If you form a partnership solely based on matching skill level, it’s likely to crumble. I’ve seen this happen a lot at dance events - dancers partner up with someone at a similar level for a particular competition, there’s a lot of unspoken expectations, they generally don’t practice enough, they generally don’t win, and then you hear them talking smack about each other at the late night dance. Don’t fall into that trap.
Discuss Your Dance Philosophies
Why do you dance?
There are an infinite number of answers to this question. You don’t need to align perfectly with your partner, but watch out for clashing answers. For example, if one partner is in it to relax and the other is focused on being the best possible dancer, either you’ll need to compromise or someone’s going to end up frustrated.
What are your dance values?
It’s a true pleasure to dance and train with someone who values the same things in the dance as you. This may not be something you or your potential partner have thought much about yet, and that’s ok. It takes time and reflection to decide what matters to you in the dance. Some common values are conversational dancing, social dancing, athleticism and air steps, inventive choreography, learning the classics, etc.
If you’re not quite ready for that conversation, try sharing your favorite clips and dance couples with each other. This will reveal a lot about what inspires both of you and help deepen your relationship to each other and the dance.
How do you like to practice?
If you’re new to practicing dance, you may not know your style yet. Here are some (slightly) exaggerated dance practice archetypes to get you thinking --
The Rocky - Lives for the montage. Always sweating and saying “let’s run it again”.
The Talker - Thinks they want to practice but actually wants to chat. Takes a water break for 30 minutes.
The Artist - Has a vision. Thinks the routine could use a little more blue energy.
The Type A - Always writing notes. Remembers that thing the teacher said in class three years ago.
You don’t have to have the same practice style to form a great partnership, but you do need to keep each other’s preferences in mind when structuring your practices. That way, both of you can feel accomplished and satisfied after every session.
What are your ultimate dancing dreams? They may change. You may not share the same dream. You may not be able to accomplish all of them as a partnership. None of that has to be a deal breaker, but it’s good to be aware of each other’s long term goals. If they don’t align, you may need to have multiple partners or go solo to accomplish everything you desire.
It’s much more important to align on your short term goals. These goals will help you structure your practice sessions, measure success, and stay motivated. I recommend sticking to goals that you have control over. Examples include swinging out with ease to X BPM, choreographing a routine, or staying calm and present during a competition. If you set goals that are out of your control, like winning a particular competition, you are setting yourself up for very avoidable disappointment.
Structure Your Practice
Develop a warm up routine that gets your bodies and minds ready to practice, ideally something high intensity enough to get your endorphins flowing. If you do a similar warm up each time, you’ll find it easier and easier to get into practice mode quickly.
Come to practice with an already agreed upon plan. If you wait till you arrive to decide, you’ll end up wasting valuable studio time. If you’re not sure what to practice, take another look at your short term goals. If you’re really stuck, look at a recent video of your dancing and find something to improve or pull up a dance clip or class recap for inspiration. If you still don’t have any ideas, it might be time for an outside opinion or private lesson.
This may sound obvious, but so much of dancing is getting your body and your mind to sync. One of the fastest ways to do that is to watch yourself. You’ll quickly recognize any gaps between what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing. It can be painful, but it’s free and extremely effective.
Leave a little time in each of your practice sessions to follow your curiosity, go down the rabbit hole on an arm styling, or try to remember a step you accidentally did on the social floor that one time. Fun is an important part of the creative process.
End on a High
You want to leave each practice session with a smile on your face. That’s what will keep you coming back to practice each week, so find a way to end that feels rewarding. Maybe that’s social dancing it out, maybe it’s making a short video for social media, or maybe it’s as simple as stretching. Whatever it is, make time for it.
Lift Each Other Up
Developing little rituals can help to deepen your bond as partners, especially if you’re doing something nerve wracking like competing or performing. Partners come up with all kinds of rituals before going on stage from sharing a drink to doing pushups. Anything that boosts your confidence and calms the nerves will do the trick.
Whether it’s on the social floor or on stage, you succeed and fail as a team. Your job is to support each other and find solutions, not to place blame. As soon as partners start blaming each other for missing a move or whatever it may be, it’s game over. Feelings get hurt, people get discouraged, and many people end up quitting dance altogether. Don’t let your own expectations and insecurities get the better of you. Always remember, you’re doing this because you enjoy dancing and you enjoy your partner!
Real talk time - if you base your self-worth or your partner’s worth off of Lindy Hop competitions, you’re going to have a bad time. Being the best at Lindy Hop won’t make you healthy, wealthy, or wise, so don’t let the glitz and glamour or any perceived or real social hierarchies get in the way of your relationship with yourself and your partner.
Like I said at the beginning, your dance partnership is just like any other relationship. If you approach each partnership with respect and honesty, you’ll set yourself up for a life full of enjoyable dancing. And when times get tough, like they did this past year, you’ll also be surrounded by friends.
Even after you’ve learned dozens of steps and a few routines, it can still be daunting to improvise. You may watch other dancers and wonder how they can come up with so many moves in a row all while smiling and hitting the music. Of course, practice is a huge part of improving your improv skills, but there’s one more crucial element - flow state.
You know that feeling when you’re so fully absorbed in an activity that the little voice in your head quiets down and hours pass in an instant? That’s flow state, and, yes, it feels amazing to achieve while dancing. Below are five exercises that have helped me find that sweet spot where I can both practice my dance skills in a concrete way and practice finding flow.
1.) Repeat a step
One of the fastest ways to unlock creative flow is through constraint. To start, pick one step and dance it for an entire song. This will get old fast, so then allow yourself to change things about the step when you feel inspired to do so. Experiment with changing the rhythm, shape, or arm styling of the step. Then do it all again with a new song. Most importantly, lean into what feels natural and interesting.
For more of a challenge, try doing the same exercise with two steps, then three. I even use this constraint when I’m solo dancing at a social or in a competition. It’s my trusty, go-to shortcut to get into flow state and enjoy myself no matter who might be watching.
2.) Follow an instrument
Pick one instrument in a song and dance only to that instrument. For example, only dance when you hear the piano and try to match your movement with how the piano sounds and feels. This is a very creatively open exercise, so don’t stress about dancing in any particular way. The goal is, first, to become more aware of the instrumentation in swing songs and, second, to once again find inspiration through constraint.
As you try this exercise with different instruments, notice how the same steps can be done in different ways to fit with the slide of a trombone or the strum of a guitar. As they say, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
3.) Focus on a body part
Dance to a full song while focusing on only one body part or area. This is a great way to connect with parts of your body you might forget about when you’re busy executing steps. I like to do this exercise while looking in a mirror to discover new lines and shapes.
After each song, take some of your favorite movement discoveries and integrate them into your dancing. For example, if you find an arm movement you like, pair it with a jazz step or two and repeat it until it feels natural. Remember, they body needs repetition to develop muscle memory!
4.) Choreograph 8x8s
Uh, this is the opposite of improvisation, right? Right! But what better way to discover your own creative voice than to create your own original choreography? And 8x8s is shorter than you think (that’s just 8 counts times 8).
Don’t stress about making something totally fresh or complex. After all, classics are classics for a reason. Start simple, like three and a break, then follow what sparks your interest. Relaxed, happy brains are creative brains.
5.) Film yourself improvising
This exercise is the most intimidating, so I recommend trying the other four first. Once you’re starting to feel comfortable improvising while looking in the mirror, then it’s time to break out the camera. I recommend only filming yourself for a minute at a time so you can easily watch, keep what you like, improve where you can, and repeat the process multiple times in a single practice session. Iteration is key!
Now, if you’re like me, you get nervous filming yourself even if you’re completely alone and no one will ever see it. Why? Who knows! But here are my work arounds. First, keep in mind that dancing will always look less impressive on film, especially if you don’t know how to work your angles. Your dancing will look more flat and slow than you’re expecting. Don’t let the illusion discourage you!
Next, if you’re feeling a lot of anxiety about this exercise, give yourself permission to delete takes without even watching them. Do that as many times as you need to get the jitters out before filming yourself for real.
Finally, always look for what you DO like before you look for what you don’t. You deserve a positive learning experience!
I hope this helps you on your solo improv journey. Happy dancing, friends!
It’s easy to get stuck focusing on your feet when learning jazz steps, but feet don’t have a monopoly on rhythm and groove. You can express to music with every part of your body from nose to toes and that’s right, the hips!
When we think about hips, moves like Mess Around and Boogie Forward may come to mind, but the well goes so much deeper than that. Some of the brightest stars of jazz dance, like Mabel Lee and Earl Tucker, were celebrated for their virtuosic hip movements. So if you’ve been waiting for permission to move your hips more or if you find yourself feeling a bit stiff in your dancing, take this as your sign to put a wiggle in your step.
Find inspiration in this compilation of vintage jazz dancers showing off their famous hip movements - some sexy, some silly, and all of them dazzling.
There are plenty of examples of talented couples with mismatched sizes in the modern scene, but let’s take it back to the original Lindy Hoppers to appreciate some of the greatest size disparate couples to ever grace the floor. Check out this compilation on our YouTube channel:
More about the dancers and how they used their bodies to express themselves to jazz --
There are many complex and valid concerns that dancers face when trying to find partnerships, community, and acceptance in Lindy Hop, but we hope these original Lindy Hoppers inspire you to celebrate the unique talents and abilities of every body type and the infinite, creative ways they can interact with each other to jazz.
by Ben White from The Syncopation Foundation
Obviously in a dream world you’d get to take multiple dance classes per week, practice with a partner, and be out social dancing with your friends all the time.
But whether it’s “normal times” and you have a super busy work and social schedule, or pandemic times and there’s literally no classes to go to, it can be hard to carve space to upgrade your dancing.
With that in mind, here are some of my favorite things that anyone can do every day, even when you can’t make it to the studio.
There are SO many great reasons to be stretching every day, in addition to the fact that it just feels good when you’ve done it. Here are some key benefits:
Increased flexibility - Looking for that gooey connection in your dance? Want to make awesome, sharp shapes in your dancing? These things require a base level of flexibility, and the only way to get that safely is through consistent stretching.
Body Awareness - When you explore the comfortable limits of your movement everyday things in dance classes will just start to make more sense. Ever see that picture of yourself dancing and think, “What’s the deal with my free hand?” Stretching is a great way to hone your sense of what your body is doing, even when you can’t see the whole thing at once.
Injury Prevention - Ok, I saved the most important for last here. Healthy stretching daily can help prevent pulled muscles, reduce joint inflammation, and increase circulation. Plus, this kind of cross training can help us restore balance when our bodies get all lopsided from swinging out clockwise all night!
There are some brilliant stretching tutorials on youtube. Do you have a favorite guide to follow for daily stretching? We’d love to see it in the comments!
Watch and Learn
When I’m teaching at the university a lot of my students are surprised when one of their homework assignments is to follow the YouTube rabbit hole. Watching the best of the best at something can really help internalize the feel of the dancing.
When you’re watching dance videos it’s totally ok to just be wowed by the artistry the first time through, but then go back and look behind the smoke and mirrors for what’s really going on. Try to get inside the heads of the dancers and figure out how they’re thinking about the dance, not just what’s happening in a move.
And here’s a strong recommendation: Don’t just pay attention to the newest dance videos! Sometimes they can be easier for new dancers because video technology has come a long way since the 1930s, but we have an amazing opportunity to see some of the originators of our dance really throw down! Search for clips of folks like Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Josephine Baker, Al Minns & Leon James, Shorty George & Big Bea, and more!
Polish the Building Blocks
This one is huge, and it gets missed by so many social dancers! There’s no way you can master a skill in one hour-long dance class, but for many dancers that’s all the time they’ve spent on some really important basics!
Think back to the last time that you really drilled triple steps, for example. Traveling kick steps? How about this one: can you dance you favorite stylish swingout variation with no partner attached?
The only way to really gain mastery of these things is through consistent, targeted practice. Otherwise what we end up with isn’t a skill, it’s just a habit.
In good news, for most of this category you don’t need to go in to a studio or anything. You can just stand up from your work-from-home desk and give yourself a 10 minute triple step break!
REALLY Listen to the Music
When asked what dancers could do to get better at lindy hop as fast as possible, absolute LEGEND Frankie Manning just said to listen to more swing music. And it makes sense if you think about it. The things we hear at the grocery store or on the radio just don’t move the same way as swing music, so us modern day folks have an ingrained sense of music that doesn’t quite match the Sandra Gibson/Norma Miller/Irene Thomas movements that we’re pulling from the videos.
When you’re listening to swing music, a.) Do it often - like, every day, and b.) Really try to understand it. Look for patterns that occur in the melody for sure, but then listen for what’s going on in the rhythm section. That piano/guitar/bass/drum stuff is what dancers tend to really connect to on a physical level.
And of course there will be songs that just make you want to move! Save those to a playlist so you can come back to them. And there’s no shame in throwing your jam on repeat and dancing around the house!
by Ben White from The Syncopation Foundation
Hi dancers! I've been teaching a weekly solo jazz routine over on our YouTube Channel, and folks have been asking for tips on memorizing routines. I've done my best to keep the tips as usable in both online classes and in person as I can. Comment if you think of anything I left out!
Photo by Sereina Elwert
1.) Shift Your Focus
Sometimes it seems like the easiest way to be successful is to dance along with the teacher and just copy what they do. Well, it may be easier, but it can actually slow down the learning!
As soon as you can start watching yourself in the mirror instead of the teacher. It might be a little bumpy at first, but you'll internalize the dance much faster when you have to be the one driving.
After that practice the routine while looking at your audience (or the wall with a picture of Frankie or Norma for some extra motivation!)
2.) Stop Dancing
A bit counterintuitive maybe, especially after that first tip, but sometimes it's important to just stop and watch.
It's easy to miss details when you're trying to dance along while they're pointing something out.
Plus, when you really focus in on watching the choreographer dance you’ll pick up all kinds of details they don’t have time to break down fo the class. Think of it as bonus material!
3.) Do it Wrong and Move Along
Sometimes you won’t be able to keep up with a class - but that’s actually ok! You can still get a lot out of it.
The trick is to give yourself permission to skip over the one or two moves that really get you stuck. Otherwise while you’re obsessing over that hard bit you might miss the next moves that you would have totally rocked, ad then there’s a snowball effect of getting behind the class.
You can always come back to the hard bit later - and chances are the choreographer will review that part anyway. So really it the parts you can, and fill in the gaps when you have a moment to breathe.
4.) Context Matters
Are you ever dancing through a routine and all of a sudden your mind goes blank? Me too!
One reason this can happen is that we tend to think of routines in chunks. This can be really useful for practice, but sometimes we end up with mental “speed bumps” in between phrases.
Whenever you can, try to start rehearsing a section 4-8 counts earlier than you instinctively want to. This can help build muscle memory, and as a bonus it helps the musicality of the routine sink in too!
5.) Practice Practicing
Take classes at your local dance school! There’s nothing quite like the real thing, with a teacher who can break things down and give individual feedback, and a community of like-minded learners to train with!
Dance along with online classes. There’s a really good chance that some of your favorite dancers in the work teach online sometimes. These might be live classes, or recordings, but either way there are thousands of hours of dance class on the internet if you look around. We’ve got some RIGHT HERE.
Dig into the original stuff! It’s pretty amazing to get to learn the dance right from the folks who made it up! Look up videos from dancers like Norma Miller, Frankie Manning, Josephine Baker, Al Minns, and so many more!
Hopefully some of these tips help you out as we dive back into the world of dance this year! Know someone else who’d appreciate the knowledge? Send them this way - sharing is caring!
You may know him as the dancer with the impossibly low Shorty George styling dancing between Al Minns and Leon James in the Tranky Doo clip. Or maybe you’ve noticed him in the background of the jazz dance documentary, The Spirit Moves, dancing in a perpetual deep squat or lunge. Once described as “near‐Cubist — all edges, angles and indentations” by The New York Times, Alfred “Pepsi” Bethel was famous for his bold rhythms and tireless legs.
In his own words, Pepsi learned to dance at a young age “from the street and from the ballrooms”. His passion and talent led him to perform with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, dance on Broadway, teach at Alvin Ailey, and eventually form his own troupe, the Pepsi Bethel Authentic Jazz Dance Theater in 1960.
Pepsi’s long career made him “a walking repository of all kinds of jazz names, places, steps and memories —vital data from a vital period of which there is very little record.” Tragically, there’s not much left of his vast knowledge today. In the late 90s, an apartment fire destroyed many of Pepsi’s personal records. His book, “Authentic Jazz Dance: A Retrospective” is out of print, and he became reclusive towards the end of his life.
We were able to find the abstract of one academic paper titled “The Authentic Jazz Dance Legacy of Pepsi Bethel” by Karen Hubbard, a UNC Charlotte professor and direct mentee of Pepsi himself. We’ve reached out to request a full copy of the paper, and we look forward to updating you all when we hear back. For now, enjoy this compilation of clips featuring Pepsi from The Spirit Moves.
This weekly workout schedule is designed to get you back in shape for swing dancing to a variety of tempos all night long. For many of us, our bodies have gone through extreme changes in the past year, so it’s important to start slowly by only following along with exercises that feel good in your body. As you continue with the program, you’ll find that more and more of the exercises feel rejuvenating and exhilarating to complete.
Remember to be kind to yourself, enjoy the process, and honor your body as you embark on this journey. We can’t wait to dance with you as soon as it’s safe!
Always work at your own level and listen to your body. At no point should you feel pain in your low back or knees. Please contact your instructor for modifications if any of these exercises do not work for your body or space.
Start every workout with a warmup, and end each one with cooldown stretching.
Jump rope to warm up
Here's a beginner lesson to get you started:
And here's a full warm up for once you've got it down. Build up to getting through the whole video.
Cool down every time with stretches
Day One: Core
Day Two: Legs
Day Three: Back & Arms
Do this video first to learn how to safely execute a back extension:
Then you can work your way up to doing this whole workout!
Day Four: Feet & Ankles
Day Five: Active Stretching
Day Six: Cardio
Day Seven: Rest Day - You've earned it!
As dancing starts coming back, it’s time to think about dance shoes! Check out the lists below for an up-to-date list of street and Lindy Hop-specific shoe brands that we’ve personally tried and enjoyed.
These brands are not officially for dancing, but they are tried and true favorites of the swing scene. The material of the soles varies, so double check before purchasing.
If you want a more slippery sole, you can always suede your shoes. Keep in mind that suede will stick best to a new pair of shoes with clean soles. We recommend the stick on suede from http://www.soles2dance.com/
Unisex or Both Women’s & Men’s Sizing
Remix Vintage: https://remixvintageshoes.com/
Women’s Sizing Only
Charlie Stone: https://www.charliestoneshoes.com/
Chelsea Crew: https://shoegasm.com/collections/chelsea-crew Make sure you choose a style that’s sturdy enough for dancing. We recommend a low and wide heel.
Julia Bo: https://www.juliabo.com/
Men’s Sizing Only
Allen Edmonds: https://www.allenedmonds.com/
Stacey Adams: www.stacyadams.com
Lindy Hop Brands
These brands are made by dancers for dancers. They’re often more expensive, but the quality is well worth it if you’re serious about your dancing. If you’re ordering internationally, we recommend seeing if you can split shipping costs with fellow shoe-obsessed dancers. Trust us, it’s easy to convince Lindy Hoppers to buy more shoes!
Unisex or Both Women’s & Men’s Sizing
Aris Allen: https://arisallen.com/
Chloe Hong: http://fromchloehong.com/
Groovy Fox: https://www.groovyfox.bg/
Harlem Shoes: https://harlemshoes.com/
Madame Dynamite: https://www.madamedynamite.es/
P.Mela Swingin’ Shoes: https://swinginshoes.com/
SAF Shoes: https://www.safshoes.com/
Saint Savoy: https://www.saintsavoy.com/en/
Savoy Cats: https://savoycats.com/
SuAli Swing Shoes: https://www.etsy.com/it/shop/SuAliSwingShoes
Swing Beauty: https://swingbeauty.mysxl.cn/
Swing It: www.swing-it.eu
Women’s Sizing Only
Balboa Zin: https://www.balboazinshoes.com/
Did we miss one of your favorite brands? Comment below, and we’ll add it to the list!
* 2020 was rough on retail. We had to say goodbye to one of our favorite brands, Slide&Swing. We’ll add them to the list if they make a comeback.