sWinging It – Week 14

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly


Week 14 (Lesson Week 11)

I’m typing this out quickly before my Tuesday evening starts. I’ve noticed something about what I’ve been typing recently and also what I’ve been dancing. I think they are linked. I’m going to see how it goes tonight (so I’m typing this out now in order not to get any retrospective bias in here) but here’s the context.

I wasn’t completely honest last week. I said I enjoyed the social dancing and, on one level, I did. That said, after some reflection at home a couple of days later, I realised that I was unhappy with a few of the dances. They were really bad. I’m risking a telling off from Chris here by apologising to any follows that got a raw deal last Tuesday but I justify myself by claiming I wasn’t even really dancing (which you don’t apologise for!) but just stupid practicing. I can do that at home.

I realised this when I was practicing my Solo Jazz and really not enjoying it. It was also going badly. I knew I could do better. I had done better. The only time I was enjoying dancing on my own was when I was just randomly dancing to some other music. The rest had gone stale.

And I think the last few blog posts have probably been a bit stale too. I think I’ve been overly focused on technique in my dancing and my blogging. I’m not leaving room for anything else, including enjoyment (how sad). So I had to go and re-learn a lesson I had taught myself without noticing (and then forgotten without noticing) way back around week 4. At the risk of invoking that word, it is probably the first and most important lesson in musicality (IMHO).

Listen to the damn music, and feel it!

I tried it at home. My Solo Jazz suddenly feels awesome again. I did it at Basement Blues* on Monday and it felt awesome too. Working on technique has its place. I’ll work it to death in the classes and clinics etc. But when I’m dancing, for now, it is going to stay at the back of my mind.

I’m trying it tonight. I’m excited. First ever lesson excited.

Let’s see how this goes…



Oh yeah! Every dance I had last night was fun! Oh some things got messed up (I’m only 3 months in!) but every dance felt good. Some highlights are:

A dance with Katy (Patient Lady – now with correct name spelling!) where we both just changed the footwork timing & styling together (turns out it’s easy when you listen to the music). Also throwing in a Texas Tommy from the class earlier and getting a surprised smile (maybe I’m getting closer to that awesome great satisfactory dance I boldly promised some weeks ago?!)

Dancing with Beck** and ending the song bang on time with a kick the dog. You know the dance went well when you are high fiving at the end! Paula – I found the end of a song! (Woooo! I’m so proud – Paula) Still struggling with the drawn out endings but I’ll get there.

So I feel like I have recovered my mojo. That is a real relief!

Other great things from this week include:

As said above, learning a Texas Tommy. My favourite part of the lesson was Andy W showing how to switch from the right hand to the left at the end of the move. You probably had to be there but I found it really funny! I can’t (won’t) tell you how but it’s a masterful sleight of hand.

Solo Jazz with Kate and Mike! I had heard tales in Pedro’s just that evening of Mike’s scatting whilst teaching. Now I have experienced it first-hand. It made some footwork and timing that was more complicated than normal SO EASY TO LEARN. I am now a big fan of scatting to help with dancing. It hasn’t happened yet but this will likely be something else I end up doing on the streets in broad daylight. Yet another reason for the commuters to fear me.

So back on the up after a little dip.

Roll on next week!


*This is a blatant plug but you should try Basement Blues if you can make it to Bridge Street Tavern on a Monday night (starts 8.00 to 8.15). I was hesitant because I thought it would be way out of my comfort zone but I’m enjoying it. Half the people there you would recognise from Lindy and the rest are really nice too. Plus, because it’s small at the moment, you know everybody by the end of the class which is nice!

**It turns out Beck was too active on Facebook to get an alias – I recognised her. I think this may have disappointed her a bit. She thought she could be ‘Leopard Print Lady’. She is now.

Tell me more of Dan’s great triumphs!

I can say llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch without spitting on anyone – we moved to North Wales when I was seven and I had to go on intensive language training. The taxi driver made us sing it. They are serious about their Welsh there.

I didn’t pick up a Welsh accent during my 11 years there (I love the South Wales accent but the North Wales accent is not good).

The idiot who picked on me for pronouncing lemon like an English person got a lower grade than me in the Welsh first language GCSE. I’m better than him in his own language.

Sometimes it’s the little things that keep us going…


Swinging It – Week 12

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly


Week 12 (Lesson Week 9)

I’ve got to be a rug cutter, SWING OUT in the groove!

Wonder what this week’s lesson was all about?

I’ve been waiting a while for this lesson. My swing outs from open and closed were based on stuff I  remembered (badly) from lessons during my first few weeks, some internet searching (because once I saw them being done I had to learn them) and lots of practice. I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks that my swing outs were getting better and better.

My old swing outs were lame. My new swing outs are awesome*. I will probably be repeating those statements several times for the rest of my life.

I could go on about the details of the lesson but there is so much covered (it took a whole session) that I couldn’t explain it properly. Which is a nice segue into the first of the two most important things I learnt this week.

1) Youtube + practice is useful for learning but is a very poor substitute for having a solid teacher right there. Having someone stop you and your partner part way through the swing out and tell you what you should be feeling worked wonders for me. These bits are crucial to getting the physics of the move right and when I felt the move working, my academic geek** and my dance geek exploded at the same time!

2) You can think you have something down when you really don’t and that’s okay. This point was not based on the swing outs as I knew they weren’t really right. I did, however, think my lindy circle was pretty solid. Thankfully I had Chris as a follow in rotation early on and he showed me how I’d been stepping wrong. They now flow much better (thank you!). I expect to be making improvements to every move I have or will encounter for a long time. Swing outs even more so.

So now I’m dead excited about the next lesson, because I so want it to include swing outs from open.

I skipped Solo Jazz this week. They were covering the Shim Sham. If I hadn’t already learnt it for last week then I would definitely have gone along as it seems to be the most played social dance jazz routine. Plus it’s cool. That said, me and the break step decided to take some time away from each other after last Tuesday so I gave the lesson a miss. I still joined in (with everyone else) when it came on during the social though. I mean it is the Shim Sham.

This meant more time for social dancing. This was nice because knowing you have an extra 45 mins seems to calm things down a bit. It was nice to sit and chat to people. I met a nice phd student (they are everywhere!) who’s subject I can remember but name I can’t. I also caught up with a few other people. Don’t tell anyone but we talked about stuff that wasn’t dance related.

The dances during the social were also great fun! Obviously I practiced my swing outs. They are so much swingier (it’s a word now) when you get that tension in the arms! I enjoyed every dance and I keep trying to look up from the floor. At the moment this feels like it’s going to be a lifelong struggle!

One thing I did notice is that three times I got caught out when a song ended before I thought it would, which often meant I just finished a song in closed and did a quick Jazz Hands to cover it up. That’s what they are for right, kind of like pouring loads of icing sugar over a cake you just burnt? This is the complete opposite to last week where I was getting caught out thinking the song had finished when there were at least eight more counts. Clearly I need to work on recognising this, as per Paula’s great advice last week. Ending the song appropriately is clearly part of the demon that is musicality.

Also worth noting is I took a Blues dancing lesson this week on Monday. Already my posture is a bit better (I would hope so as that was the point of the lesson!). Also, given how slow the music seems compared to what we generally dance to on a Tuesday, I’m learning to be more relaxed, more flowy (also a word now) and to actually fill out the counts rather than rush them. I’m sure this will bleed through into better Lindy too.

I’m off to watch Strictly. I hear they are doing a different kind of dance for the pro routine this week. It’s an awesome dance form and I am in no way biased 🙂


*Relatively speaking. Plus we haven’t covered swing out from open yet and I am super excited because now my swing out from closed is much better my ones from open feel very limp.

** It’s been over 10 years since I got my degree. Any mention of physics now excites me disproportionately.

What does Dan do when he is allowed out of his ‘Quiet time box’?

Other than dancing and working, Dan loves to play board games with his friends. There is a whole world out there beyond monopoly where you can work together to fight global diseases, build your own space empire, or act like proper Romans by making gladiators fight and stabbing your friends in the back. My current favourite is Dead of Winter. A game where you can fight zombies as a ninja (or an accountant!), hoard medicine whilst your friends look at you suspiciously and face the moral dilemma of whether or not to kill a horse for food. Don’t ask what’s in the stew…


Answers (or at least, philosophical thoughts) for Dan’s questions


(or perhaps just philosophical thoughts?)

inspired by Dan’s questions

(to accompany Week 9 of sWinging It)


One of the great things about Dan’s blog (a real-time report on being a new dancer) is how it’s making us old dancers think about things in a new way. It reminds me of a parent pointing out a field of cows to a toddler, it’s no longer just a field of cows, it’s COWS! LOOK! COWS! Lots of COWS!

(True story: when my son was about 3 (he’s now a whopping almost 16-year-old) I was on a train journey, looking out of the window at some COWS whilst nudging and pointing excitedly. Of course, I had forgotten that my son was at Granny’s, and I was traveling alone, and the person I was nudging was not a sleepy preschooler, but a be-suited and now bemused business man. Oops.)

Anyway, that digression aside, here is a whole bunch of thoughts that came about due to Dan’s Week 9 questions, thought by me, Paula.

Essentially, all of Dan’s questions take us meandering off down the same road, so rather than answering them in the order they were posed, I’m going to witter on in the way that makes the most sense, to me anyway.

I’ve embedded the most important video illustrations, and the bold words are links to further videos or extra info (as if this 3,500 word essay isn’t enough)!

Dan’s questions:

What is ‘musicality’?

What is a ‘break’?

Why does Jazz start on the 8 and Lindy Hop on the 1?

Read Dan’s questions in more detail over here: Swingin’ It – Week 9

Let me preface this with a disclaimer – modern Lindy Hoppers are incredibly fortunate that many of the original top dancers from the 30’s and 40’s lived long and healthy lives (probably not a coincidence, dancing is great for a person, mind, body and soul) and this, combined with some incredible community historians, such as Peter Loggins and Bobby White, and some wonderfully committed and motivated dancers worldwide has given us a huge pool of knowledge to draw on. Nonetheless, finding answers to specific questions can be still rather difficult, mostly due to the maddening answers that our beloved, much treasured old timers have given us – for example, when asked about specific musical counts for steps and patterns, Norma Miller is credited with the perfect (yet entirely non-satisfactory) answer, “The only Count I know is Basie“.

So, the following is a mish-mash of partial secondhand knowledge and partial idle thought, filtered through the mind of a garish tattooed lady, sprinkled with love and respect for a dance that has been a part of my life for more than a decade, and a part of dance life for more than 8 decades. Think of it, as is best with most vernacular subjects, as philosophy rather than fact.

Let’s start with what Jazz music actually is, or at least, what it was when our beloved dance was born. This in itself is actually quite a hard task, and again, Wikipedia doesn’t help much: Jazz.

Still, we’ve got to start somewhere, and here will do. We can disregard the bebop bit, and the freeform stuff that comes after (even the most musical of dancers will be challenged to dance to THAT!) but from NOLA through the big band era, the music informed and inspired the dance (and indeed the dancers informed and inspired the musicians, too).

The bit from the Wiki above that we should *probably* be paying most attention to, is Swing rhythm, and syncopation. You can find many detailed, complex and confusing explanations of these terms online, but they are mostly aimed at musicians and are difficult to access without tons of prior knowledge. For new Lindy Hoppers, both the Swung rhythm and the syncopation of the music that Lindy Hop is danced to is actually illustrated in the basic footwork (and the almighty triple step must take a bow here). This is why Lindy Hop teachers sing the footwork directions, which probably sounds a bit weird at first (I promise it makes sense though):

rock STEP tri-ple STEP, step STEP, tri-ple STEP

The words (and their associated movements) in capital letters are actually a way of communicating Jazz syncopation – the emphasis is on the  “back beat”,  aka the “down beat” (when a band’s conductor would swipe their baton downwards) aka the “even numbers”.  The tri-ple illustrates (in body movement and words) the way “Swung” notes are “tied” together.

So it’s the musical elements of Jazz syncopation and Swung rhythm that make up the Lindy hop basic step and that’s why the sound of Swing music and the basic step fit together so well. The dance steps are the physical manifestation of the music.

This is why some purist old fogies, including me, disapprove of dancing Lindy Hop to the “wrong” music. You see, dancers will naturally adapt their steps to fit the music they are hearing, and this sufficiently alters the dance to make it stop being Lindy Hop and start being something else – check out West Coast Swing videos on YouTube to see what happens when you dance Lindy Hop to other forms of popular music – give it a few years and it becomes a dance all of it’s own, which isn’t a *bad* thing, but it is a thing, and a very specific thing at that. Here’s another example, Take Some Crime:

I actually love this dude’s dancing and have spent quite a bit of time watching his videos – he dances to current music, including some Electro Swing, he even uses elements of Solo Charleston – but what he does isn’t Charleston, and in fact he’s given what he does a new, specific name, “Criming”. He’s incredibly hypnotic to watch, and I truly adore what he does, but he is also a very good argument against the inclusion of Electro Swing on the Manchester Lindy playlist – and perhaps also a very good argument to get out of my fogie-shaped rut and go to an Electro Swing night sometime?

When one plays music to emphasise the opposite, the up beat (on-beat, or the odd numbers) you get a completely different feel, it’s more upright, less laid back, and definitely not Jazz (check out some Polka music and Polka dancers for an example).

When we clap along to a Jam circle, we also do it on the even numbers, because we are further emphasing the important part of the Jazz rhythm.

Here’s a fantastic clip of Harry Connick Jr showing exactly how to cope with folk clapping on the odd beats to Jazz music:

Remember, friends don’t let friends clap on 1 and 3!


Click to buy (totally unconnected vendor!)

Ultimately, Duke Ellington sums up all of my above waffle with this very succinct answer as to why Jazz musicians and Jazz dancers emphasise the even numbers, “Because clapping on 1 would be considered aggressive.”

So, why do we start Jazz on the 8 and Lindy on the 1?

Well, authentic Jazz shares it roots with rhythm Tap dance – and Tap dance is essentially complicated clapping with your feet – tapping to swing music emphasises the back beat because again it emphasises the laid back nature of Jazz music.

The most obvious way to do this is to start on the last beat of the intro, the 8 – and that’s what we do in most Jazz choreography – we learned this from the classic routines, like the Big Apple and the Tranky Doo, passed onto us by the old timers, and we generally  continue that tradition when we choreograph today.

So the real question isn’t, why start Jazz on the 8, but “Why start Lindy Hopping on the 1?”

The music we dance to is in 4/4 time so as Lindy Hoppers we take two of those groups of 4 and add them together to come up with our 8 beat basic (i.e., the Swing Out, the defining step of Lindy Hop). Musicians often freak out about the 6 count basic when they start learning to dance because it doesn’t seem to fit, but just add enough of them together until it becomes divisible by 8 (6×4 =24 8×4=24) and you’ll be ready to start on the 1 again – yes you’ll be triple stepping and step-stepping in the “wrong” places, but that’s easy to solve – just stop thinking about it in terms of right places and wrong places and in fact, forget about the 6’s and 8’s too – total anarchy!

But we’ll not stop thinking and we’ll not stop counting, we’ll just make the maths as easy as possible and start thinking of EVERYTHING as groups of two beats, with the emphasis back beat (the evens).

After we GET STARTED dancing is continuous, we don’t stop on the 8 and start on the one, we dance through the 8 and into the one

1           2         3-a     4        5         6      7-n        8

rock STEP, tri-ple STEP, step STEP, tri ple STEP

and to push that a little further (going BACK TO THE FUTURE or perhaps FUTURE TO THE BACK!)

(7-n)              8       1         2      3-a       4           5    6         7 -n

(tri -ple) STEP rock STEP tri-ple STEP step STEP tri -ple

and further back in time again

6           7-n         8         1         2      3-a         4       5

STEP tri -ple STEP rock STEP tri-ple STEP Step

And you can actually make any combo of two-beat movements and put the emphasis on the back beat (and remember, emphasising the back beat is the aim of the game)

1          2       3-a             4    5-a       6       7-n      8       1-a      2         3         4        5

rock STEP tri -ple STEP tri-ple STEP tr-iple STEP tri-ple STEP step STEP step

Heck, we can throw in a kick-STEP or step-KICK or kick-KICK or a kick-HOLD or a hold-KICK or even a walk-WALK or a walk-PAUSE or hell, a pausePAUSEpausePAUSEpausePAUSE

And that’s why we can do Charleston and Lindy interchangeably:

RockSTEP kickDOWN kickHOLD kickDOWN

and in fact (and this comes with experience) we can lead any combo in any order, and the reason it fits with the music is because we are still emphasing the back beat

rock STEP kickDOWN tri-pleSTEP walkWALK

So we can start anywhere, really, and the original dancers probably did prep on 7 to start on 8, at least some of the time, but they were dancing almost exclusively to LIVE music, and the dance was new and had no habits or convention.

However, because social dancing is team work (all be it a small team of two) and we want to be able to dance with as many other people as possible, regardless of where they learned to dance, and because we need to give beginners some kind of structure, and because we started to teach Lindy Hop in a dance studio/classroom environment in the 1980s (when the original dancers were located and persuaded to pass on their knowledge by interested dancers from a number of disciplines, dancers that had learned in studio based backgrounds) we started to arrange these groups of two into patterns of 6’s and 8’s (and less commonly, 10’s, 12’s and even 7’s).

(crikey, that was a long sentence!)

If you are going to start a pattern that takes 8 beats to complete, and you are introducing it to a beginner, or lots of beginners, it’s simply more efficient to start on beat 1 and end on beat 8. The alternative, starting on the 8, could still be taught (and as an example, a Lindy Turn, or Swing Out would be ‘step, rock-step, tri-ple step, step-step, tri-ple’) but a) it makes my head hurt and b) we’d all topple over after ‘tri-ple’.

So the answer to the question is, as I see it:

Both Jazz and Lindy Hop emphasise the same musical beats (the even numbers) but for ease of teaching we made Lindy Hop patterns start on the 1. Jazz still starts on the 8, because it is most often taught as choreography.

I finished typing this bit with a giant grin, easily mistaken for a grimace. I’m not sure if there IS an appropriate emoticon,  I’ll leave you to imagine it.

So what is ‘musicality?’ well, it’s the ability to interpret the music you are hearing and give it physical form through your movement, and emphasising the back beat is one of the surest forms of doing this, when dancing to Swing music.
Musicality is one of the skills that separates good dancers from great dancers and it comes very easily to some people, and others have to work very hard at it. Some people will never really get it, but will learn to fake it pretty well. Others will find they get lots of Lindy enjoyment without it, and won’t mind too much if they never get it. The great thing about Lindy Hop is there is space for all comers!

Here’s a clip of a currently competing couple, Nicolas Deniau and Mikaela Hellsten (who I hope we will be able to entice to Manchester at some point). I think Nicolas and Mikaela have amazing musicality skills (although I have no idea how easily it comes to them :P), I’ve chosen this particular video because they are dancing to a Western Swing-type track (a bit like the kind of arrangements the Swing Commanders do) and I’m hoping that it being right on the outskirts of the normal range of songs we play at ML will help to highlight how they are picking movements that are the physical manifestation of the music:

(I also love how happy N&M always appear to be!)

Now the above is a choreographed routine, so they’ve likely spent many hours on picking those movements and refining them until they are as perfect as I believe them to be, so here is a video of the same couple social dancing to a live band, where their on-the-spot musicality skills are put to a real test:

Pretty impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree!

Choreography has always been a part of Lindy Hop, and this is reflected in the most often-used competitive categories today, which go from as close to random as you can get, to the absolutely rehearsed (although how much choreography is too much choreography is yet to be decided, search the internet for improvrespect for a recent debate and read about competitive divisions at the biggest event of the Lindy Hop year here) but (and I believe this is a paraphrase of another old timer quote, but 20 minutes of questioning Uncle Google have been fruitless) the best Lindy Hoppers make choreographed routines look as spontaneous as social dancing, and social dancing look as seamless as choreography.

So how do we develop musicality skills that enable our social dancing to look as seamless as choreography?  Well again, we’ve established some short cuts to help with teaching musicality skills (and faking them), so here’s a few that newer dancers will come across in classes, and some that can be done at home too.
First things first, learning how to identify the 1 helps enormously. It’s less important for Followers than Leaders in the very early days, but later on, being able to identify your position within a musical phrase will give you freedom to execute learned variations and improvise new ones. For some new dancers, finding the one is so obvious they’ll wonder why I am even mentioning it, for others it’s more akin to finding a needle in a needle stack, so for their benefit I present Where Is The One? ( a video playlist created by Nathan Dias, click his name to find out more):

After you’ve located the one, you can learn to count phrases. Music of the period was written to (what was presumably at the time, a winning) formula, and almost all of the music you’ll hear at a Swing dance will either be

Swing phrased

(aka AABA or 32  bar form – which lends itself well to 8 count patterns  – read about it here: Christian Bossert on 32 bar form)


Blues phrased

(12 bar form, aka “Call and Response”-  which lends itself well to 6 count patterns – see a web slide show on both over here).

Learning how these structures work is one of the best ways to appear musical, even if you aren’t.

Something that may particularly appeal to Followers in the early days (and Leaders a bit later, after they’ve found THE ONE and learned how musical structure works) is identifying the tone of the song. Try listening to a bunch of songs at home, and giving each one a descriptive word, or group of words. Is it happy? Subdued? Smooth? Bouncy? Wild? Languorous? Miserable? Can you dance in a way that fits the same descriptors? Try it out!

Or how about identifying your favourite instruments and seeing how you can fit your movements to those? When I’m leading, I tend to be most inspired by the drums, bass and if there is one, the tuba. When following, I LOVE the clarinet, and am more likely to respond to the vocal.  The trumpet tends to make me misbehave regardless of the role I’m dancing!
One fairly sure-fire way to hone your musicality skills is through solo movement, and in fact, it’s one of the biggest drivers we have for offering Jazz, Charleston and other associated solo stuff from day 1 (other similar dance groups don’t tend to prioritise Jazz to the extent that we do). It’s a bit of a trope that ‘Solo Jazz makes you a better Lindy Hopper’ and we rarely go into why that is – I know for me, the main benefit has been to my timing and rhythm i.e. my musicality  (and of course, it also helps with shapes and lines too).

This rather neatly bring us around to the subject of Breaks, and what they actually ARE – like most topics in swing dance, there is a dance definition of break and a music definition of break and they may or may not be closely related.

In dance terms (and I certainly have more dance-knowledge than I have music knowledge) I presume the Jazz break (often first encountered as the  Full Break and Half Break (I recognise those feet!) versions in the Shim Sham, although there are other break varieties in the Big Apple and the Tranky Doo, too) comes from Tap dance.

Time Steps are one of the defining elements of Tap dance – they come in a variety of types, single, double, triple etc. and they all follow the same structure, one thing happens a bunch of times (usually alternating on the right and left feet) and then something else happens. The something else is referred to as a ‘break’.

In this example there are 8 ‘single buck time steps’ followed by a break. If you can’t immediately discern where the difference happens, try listening to it rather than watching it (clue – the break begins at 0:25!). The reason the dancer breaks there, and not elsewhere in the song, is because the music is also doing something different:

The classic Jazz routines take a mostly similar structure – something happens a few times (usually to sets of 8 counts) and then something else happens (to one set of 8 counts, or perhaps to seven counts with a pause, to reflect the music).

In terms of non-choreographed dancing, whether that be solo or partnered, the aim is to figure out when something different is going to happen in the music, and reflect it in your movement. This is the phenomenon known as ‘hitting the break’.
What the break actually is and where it falls, is up to you to decide – sometimes it’s obvious, like a dead stop, or an almost dead stop (a famous song for this is Watch The Birdie) and sometimes it falls neatly into the musical structures described above – but it may be something much more subtle, and if you are dancing with a partner, you might not necessarily identify the same ‘break’. This is not a problem and although in the earlier dancing days, the Follower may be looking to the Leader to identify a break for the both of them, later on, the Leader may well find the Follower’s movements indicate a break is about to happen and the Leader can respond to that indication – this is one of the many skills in partner dance that is summed up by the idea of it being a physical conversation between two people, rather than a one sided lecture from the Leader.

As to whether it’s too early to be asking these questions? Yes! No! Maybe! And perhaps, all of the above?

Lindy Hop and its relatives are wonderful dances because you can dabble in them just enough to have fun for a short period, or totally geek out for a lifetime – whether it’s too early or not probably depends on where you will fall on the spectrum – some folk won’t ask these questions at all (they are probably still trying to find that tricky, elusive ‘1’) and that is perfectly OK.

As you can imagine, I suspect I fall on the geeky, in depth, lifetime, end of the spectrum, and that was the geeky, lifetime Lindy Hopper equivalent of nudging a stranger in the ribs and shouting “LOOK! COWS!”

Peace, love and Swing Outs







sWinging It – Week 9

sWinging It

Learnin’ to Lindy where everyone’s friendly


Week 9 (Lesson Week 6 Holiday Week)

As mentioned last week I was on holiday and so missed lessons this week. For those of you interested, my withdrawal symptoms included an increased need to listen to swing music*, spare minutes spent reading internet articles about dancing (covered more below) and a small bit of solo jazz to some buskers in Rome (in my defence they did swing).

Also worth noting this week is that I discovered the identity of ‘man in shorts’ through the power of social media. Not all of social media is a force for good but the Manchester Lindy Facebook group clearly is. ‘Man in shorts’ is called Chris. It’s good I discovered this before winter set in as I can’t imagine Chris needing shorts much longer.

So without much opportunity to practice, but plenty of thinking time whilst squashed on Rome’s buses, these are the things I have been wondering about before, and during, my holiday. I don’t blog about them normally because my random thoughts are nowhere near as fun as what happens on a Tuesday evening. There are two running themes to these questions.

1) They have a lot to do with interpreting music (or over-thinking it, a speciality of mine)

2) I am nowhere near ready to actually start worrying about them during lessons/social dancing** (which is why I torture myself with it in my spare time)

Why do Jazz steps start on the 8 count?

OK there are plenty that start on the 1 but I’ve also seen enough that start on 8. I did do some looking into this using the magic of the internet but couldn’t get a satisfactory explanation. The best I found was that for those moves, the second step contrasts/compliments the first beat. I don’t have a clue if this is right. It bothers me.

What on earth is a break / how do I know it is a break?

I will hold my hand up and say there are some good articles on this which talk to musical structure and have examples to listen to, but I haven’t had time yet to really focus on them. I have seen a break described as when all of the instruments stop but also as when most of the instruments stop. I’m convinced that breaks exist, but not very clear on how to accurately recognise them. At least I no longer think it’s where you stop in the middle of a really fast song and hyperventilate.

I have been listening out for breaks and think I hear them sometimes. I do have trouble in tracks where one instrument stops and another starts. Is this a break or something else? Can I make up a name for it in case I accidentally hit it? I definitely hit that swap…

I can picture a moment in my future when I hit what I think is a break but clearly isn’t. If/when that happens I will have to tell myself to read this post again. Right now I can’t imagine having any brain capacity left over from all the other stuff I need to think about during a dance to actually hit a break, real or imagined.


Oh yes. That word. Come on. From the Oxford Dictionary no less:

1) Musical talent or sensitivity:

her beautiful, rich tone and innate musicality

his compositions reveal an exceptional degree of innate musicality

2) The quality of having a pleasant sound; melodiousness:

the natural musicality of the language

Glad that one was cleared up.

This is the most ambiguous but often used term I have come across. People seem to use it to express an awful lot of things and that bothers me*** because it leaves me open to misconceptions which I am sure I would swallow. It would not surprise me to hear someone mention the word ‘musicality’ and ‘you can’t get pregnant during your first social dance’ in the same sentence. I would probably believe it and spend the rest of the evening wondering what kind of social dancing they do.

In all seriousness, I would like to see at least some kind of list of things that express/show musicality. I guess hitting a break would be one. Maybe by the time I’m ready to start actually demonstrating musicality I will be a bit clearer on what exactly it is.

I have just read this blog post back to myself and think I need to add ‘ranting about Lindy concepts which frighten and confuse me’ to my list of withdrawal symptoms. I need my next fix. Tuesday is only one sleep away. I can make it.


*Flights go really quickly when accompanied by The Boilermaker Jazz Band, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington and Glenn Crytzer And His Syncopators.

** This is actually a blessing. I am actively trying to have fewer things to worry about during social dancing in the hopes I might actually relax a little bit

*** As a (long ago) physicist I confess that I probably have a hang-up about precise definitions and that, in more artistic areas, that isn’t always possible because it is very subjective. It’s like being cool. Everyone can accurately tell me I’m not cool. Nobody can tell me what I need to do to be cool. Except my daughter who says I need sunglasses like a spy, a leather jacket and some black trousers…

Dan clearly needs help, what can I do?

The doctor he found on the internet has prescribed dance related treatment. Dance with him. If you spot a break you can punch him until he starts to recognise them. Then he will be known throughout the world as ‘that guy who hits all the breaks by cringing’. A small price to pay to hit all them tasty  breaks.