Information for Newcomers

What is Lindy Hop?
Lindy Hop evolved with the new swing music of the 1930s and 1940s, based on earlier dances such as the Charleston and Black Bottom by the African American community in Harlem, NY. It is a social dance. Partners are connected in a playful lead/follow relationship, in this unabashedly joyful dance with a grounded, flowing style that closely reflects its music – from hot jazz to early Big Bands. The name Lindy Hop was a reflection of the times – it was inspired by a newspaper headline about Charles Lindbergh’s flight to Paris in 1927: “LINDY HOPS THE ATLANTIC.”
As a partnered jazz dance, Lindy Hop blended the rhythmic dance movements of West Africa with the traditional partner dancing of Europe to create a complex, improvisational, and addictive partner dance. Lindy Hop was revived in the 1980s and 90s by vintage swing dance enthusiasts, and is now enjoyed all over the world.

What is Blues Dancing?
Blues dancing has its roots in the tribal dances of sub-Saharan Africa which are still evident today in a strong connection to the ground and an emphasis on individual inspiration and expression. At its heart, blues is a dance of the African American people and is intrinsically tied to their culture and music as it has evolved from slavery to today. During the slave years, the oppression of the tribal community and the influence of European culture caused a shift in the focus of African dance from solo to partner dancing. The end of slavery in North America and the resulting increase in freedoms of African Americans allowed them to socialize on a larger scale and further develop their music and dance as a community.

Because of this deep communal and cultural integration, it wasn’t until almost 1920 that blues music and dance achieved any sort of definition. It is not a coincidence that this corresponds with the explosion of the African American influenced music and dances of the Jazz and Swing era. The music and dances that African Americans had been developing throughout their history began to be incorporated into mainstream American culture, taking on a multitude of different forms. While the higher energy and showier dances like Charleston and the Lindy Hop became extremely popular, Blues dancing stayed relatively contained within African American culture with its slower, more grounded, and often closer style. With the resurgence of the Lindy Hop in the 1980s and 1990s, Blues dancing was given a second introduction to general North American culture as a slower counterpart to Lindy and now things like Blues Dance Exchanges and Workshops are almost as popular as the ones for Lindy Hop.No Partner Needed! Swing is a “social dance,” meaning you dance with many partners throughout the event and meet lots of new people. This helps make you a great dancer, because you can learn something from each dance.

What do I wear? Lindy hop is associated with the culture of the 1920s and 1930s and people often wear vintage-inspired outfits to dance in. However, this is not at all necessary. Wear clothing that is comfortable and allows the movements of the dance. Those who perspire a lot often bring an extra shirt to a dance and change sometime during the evening. It is common courtesy to wear deodorant, and to control your hair if it is long enough to interfere with movement or if it will strike your partner while you dance together. If you wear a skirt, wear shorts underneath.

What about shoes? You’ll need indoor shoes for most locations because the venue wants to keep their dance floor clean and in good condition. Flat bottomed shoes are typical for swing dance, but not something extremely grippy.

Take lessons. There are many styles of Swing Dance (Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, East Coast Swing, Blues, Collegiate Shag, jazz line dances). Don’t worry – once you learn one style, the rest get easier. Start with any beginner lesson series, which are great to get you started right away. Plus you’ll learn the basic foundations of dance, new terminology (frame, connection, tempo, etc), and make friends with others in the beginner lessons.
Expect to dance with many people during the lessons; we typically rotate partners often so that we experience the movements with many different dancers.
If your instructor permits you to video record a recap at the end of a lesson or workshop, don’t share that video publicly or online. A recap is meant for those who committed the time and money to attend the lesson and is for them to reference as they practice what they learned.

Keep taking lessons. Once you get a good understanding of basic foundations, keep taking lessons! Go through the beginner series a few times – you’ll always learn more. The first time you usually stare at your feet, so the next time you can focus on your partner and your frame. Later you may want to learn another style. The more you know, the better dancer you will be.
Beyond group classes, private lessons are a fabulous way to improve your dancing. You get targeted instruction and can make a lot of progress, especially combined with plenty of practice and social dancing. One lesson, or a few, or many – give it a try. Contact a few instructors and see who you connect with; every teacher is different and usually every teacher has useful things to pass on to us, so you may want to eventually take privates with more than one instructor.

Ask people to dance. You can take lessons for a year, but if you don’t dance outside of classes, you’ll never get the full effect of partner dancing. No matter if you are a lead or follow, ask someone to dance. Some will say yes and some will say no, but you have to get brave and ask if you want to join in the dancing fun.
If you want to dance, stand at the edge of the dance floor and move to the music. If you sit down, look at your phone, or are in a conversation, others may think you’re taking a break or that you don’t want to dance.

Be careful on the dance floor. Pay attention to other dancers and keep a safe distance. Moderate the size of your rock step and kicks so others aren’t hurt. Aerials (air steps) are typically confined to jam circles.

Jam circles are formed by a group of dancers clearing a circle and clapping at its edge. Couples take turns going into the space in the center to show off.

Birthday circles are to celebrate a dancer’s birthday. Those with birthdays are in the center of the circle and remain there throughout the song while the other dancers steal in to dance with the birthday people. Some scenes also have circles for visiting dancers.

Swing has several line dances (Shim Sham, Tranky Do, Doin’ The Jive, Big Apple, and more) which you can learn; most of them are danced solo which is a good challenge. Watch for classes to learn the moves and choreography!

In Winnipeg we also dance a Lindy Rueda, in which the moves are called aloud and partners are switched around the circle. You’ll need to take a class/workshop to learn rueda’s basics before joining in the circle on the dance floor.

Have fun! Swing dancing is not just a dance, but a lifestyle. Many swing & blues dancers travel to other cities for workshops and exchanges; an exchange typically is a weekend full of social dancing, with no instruction.

Also check out our Code of Conduct and Dance Etiquette.

Still want more? This site has a very comprehensive FAQ that may interest you. www.swingottawa.ca/info/faq