I started Swing dance classes in May this year and I love it. It all started with a promise that I made to myself about 2 years ago. At that time I was working in a small little village in New Zealand, called Lake Tekapo. The location is stunningly beautiful and I loved that aspect of it, but with a population of only 400 people, there weren’t a lot of things to do socially. So I was delighted to hear that the local community had organised an evening of Swing in September. They brought in a big brass band to play for us and a group of dancers came down from Christchurch to show us the moves. It was brilliant and I swore to myself that night, that the next big town I moved to, I would learn Swing dancing.
The classes that I go to are run by a non-profit community organisation called Edinbop. They offer classes, workshops and social dancing opportunities for Swing dancing in Edinburgh. Swing dance includes different dance styles called Lindyhop, Blues and Balboa. Lindyhop incorporates elements of jazz, tap and Charleston and evolved in the 1920’s and 1930’s in Harlem, New York City. It can be danced solo and with a partner, drawing on African and European movements and dance traditions.
Blues dancing is a collection of dances and movements that originally began in the African-American communities in the early 1900’s. It’s a more intimate dance and like Swing, it combines African rhythms and components of European partner dancing.
There are 2 types of Balboa: Pure Balboa and Bal-Swing. Pure Balboa is danced completely in closed position. It emerged in conservative dance halls in Southern California in the 1920’s and 30’s, where space was limited. It doesn’t allow for wild kicks or vivacious dancing but the dance’s simplicity and economy of movement make it very well suited to fast tempo music. Bal-Swing, in comparison, gives more space between couples and allows twists, turns and spins for one or both partners.
The Lindyhop classes that I follow are on a Wednesday night at Summerhall, in Edinburgh. Lindyhop Foundations classes are on from 7pm to 8pm, Lindyhop Improvers classes from 8pm to 9pm and then you get to practice everything you’ve learned, in the social dancing from 9pm to 11pm. One dance class costs £6/£5 concessions. Two dance classes cost £10/£8 concession.
I haven’t tried Blues or Balboa dancing yet but I really like Lindyhop. The Charleston steps that we’ve learned so far are quite lively. I don’t think I could sustain the energy though for the Charleston, for any longer than one set, because of the kicks involved in the dance, but they are fun to do. When I was doing Irish step dancing years ago, I always tended to dance lower to the ground, so I think the non-Charleston steps suit me better.
Edinbop have a variety of teachers who volunteer their time to teach people to dance Lindyhop, Blues and Balboa. Since I started, I must say, that we’ve had some excellent teachers. Having that variety makes it a very interesting learning experience. Nearly all of them have gone into depth about every aspect of the dance – the posture, the basic steps, the connection between you and your partner etc and I like that. I had a very good yoga teacher a few years back and he really went into detail about the principles of yoga and how we could apply them to our daily lives. I enjoyed that because I like to know how things tick. So like the yoga, I find it really helpful to understand the ins and outs of the dance, the moves, how to get into the various sequence of steps and make them flow.
The connection with your partner seems to be a very important thing, sometimes even more important than the steps themselves. For the last two weeks, we’ve had Luke and Julia teaching us. Luke was a guest teacher here, while he was visiting Edinburgh and possibly might be back in February to show us some more moves, so he told me. I liked his style of teaching. He really went into depth on everything. I think that’s important, especially for beginners, to get a good understanding of the basics of the dance. In his first class, he ran us through some very interesting exercises on how to build up the connection with our partner.
One of these exercises was where the follower closed their eyes and walked forward for a few steps. The leader then lightly took the follower’s hand and turned them round and gently led them in the opposite direction for a few more steps, touched the follower’s shoulders to signal them to stop and maybe led them a few steps backwards or changed direction again. It was a total exercise in trust for the follower, I felt and for the leader to be clear in his/her directions to the follower. The person I was doing that with, had a firm but light touch and guided me very clearly to where she wanted me to go to and I felt I could trust her. When the connection is that good, it makes it easy to follow a lead.
There’s one thing I’d like to query though. It’s great to build up that connection with one partner but if you’re dancing with several partners in the social dancing, then I think it must be quite hard to build up that connection when you’re constantly changing dance partners. I’m the kind of person who likes to work one on one in partner dancing and if I find a good lead, then I would prefer to dance with that partner all the time. I know that’s not the way things are done, or so I’ve been told, as it’s the general rule of thumb that people switch partners in social dancing in Swing. I’d love to know what your thoughts are about that please.
I’d just like to add that the Improvers class we did last week with Luke was certainly a challenge for me. I was out of my depth in that class, to be honest, being a beginner. But he definitely pushed us out of our comfort zone and that’s always good because you learn from that. I’m really enjoying the classes and hope to keep going with them for a long time to come.