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!