Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thoughts for Beginners - Lindy Hop edition

Last Thursday I went in with little to no plan and we did a class on shock absorption. Remember that your joints are there to help you move around and stuff.

The quote above was posted on Facebook yesterday and attributed to Ira Glass, host of This American Life. I've found it quite resonant so I'm posting thoughts on it here and over at Glow in the Dark Thoughts, my blog about stuff in general.

Nowadays it can be a really intimidating time for a person to come to LindyGroove as a rank beginner. I often liken a beginners' class to the first day of snowboarding: you spend more time on your ass than on your feet.

New folks come into swing dancing and see some dancers who have rudimentary partnering skills or better and get all freaked out. It's one thing to be a beginner and another thing to do it in a room full of people who don't seem to be beginners.

If you're a beginner I should point out this: 90% of the people in the room are beginners too. Otherwise they were beginners at one point. Every dancer on the floor had a first day and on that day they felt somewhat like you.

I have observed a lot of fear with beginners of dancing with folks who have stronger skills. Anyone who has danced for a while knows that this is essential to growth, but at first we just feel like we haven't earned it yet. When I taught the beginning Lindy Hop class, I assigned my students the homework of finding at least 5 folks they hadn't met in class and verbally asking them to dance. I'd teach the phrase "would you like to dance" verbatim and I still feel like it's the most important lesson a beginner can learn.

For those beginners who feel terror at the notion of public exhibition, I'll offer this advice: the dancers on the floor can barely see outside of their space bubbles. They won't notice you unless you physically harm them in some way. Be careful not to bash into folks and you'll be fine!

And then some folks I meet say that they suck at dancing and they know because they tried it once or twice. If this is you then I say "Duh! How can you be any good at something if you've only done it for a couple of hours?"

Rant over. See you soon!

Now with video!


  1. One of the big problems I see with this is WAY too many snooty dancers who absolutely despise "dancing down." Some of them will accept a request to dance with them, out of etiquette, but are so grudging in their moves that one can tell that they resent "losing the song to a beginner." Even those of us who are more intermediate, and have to dance with high-level folks to improve, find that they resent people who are "good, but not great." For those who are intermediate, it's even worse, because they can tell when someone is resentfully "dancing down."

    When that stops, we might see beginners who are more willing to ask more advanced dancers to dance!

    (And, yes, of course there are exceptions, but around Lindy Groove, and almost every other place I have been [this includes multiple major cities in the US], the exceptions are EXCEPTIONS, and not the rule.)

  2. Part of this is purely social. Many folks have difficulty meeting new people, dealing with new people. I'm not saying that I discount your comment, but it's always more complex than it looks.

    Perhaps the most important factors in this are the willingness of my partner (whether better than me or vice versa) to reach out to me and not the person that they expect to be or hope to be dancing with. By that I mean that each partner has a responsibility to reach out to their partner in the dance and to bring something to the table beside their baggage.

    I won't claim to be a perfect host in all occasions. I know that I like a dance that feels more interactive and less mechanical. But even a smile is an interaction.

    There are, of course, other factors in personal distaste. I'm not going to draw those out here.