Posted February 2, 2013on:
Thursday we had a band, and it was fine and nice and everything, but there was this problem. See, they insisted on playing different tempos.
In our scene we have an extremely high percentage of swing dancers who have been dancing for two years or less. And almost to a person, these newer dancers have spent those two years learning how to do a swingout.
It isn’t their fault. Swingouts have been presented to these people as the holy grail of swing dancing. The message they get is that you can’t really say you’re a dancer until you learn to do a really fast swingout. It is completely understandable if, as a result, they assume that a fast swingout is all you need. In any case, it seems that for many, the swingout is all they’re interested in learning.
Because this is true, they grouse about fast music. See, many dancers have fallen into the trap of thinking that social dancing is nothing more than an opportunity to practice swingouts. I want to tell you right now that if you think social dancing is for practicing stuff, you’re wrong. Do that somewhere else. Social dancing is for being sociable first; dancing is secondary.
So anyway, people in our scene, especially the newer people, seem to have a lot of angst around music tempos. Tempi? They’re either mad that the music is too slow, because they want to practice their swingouts. Or they complain that the music is too fast, because they want to practice their swingouts.
If you’re a relatively new dancer, whichever camp you fall into, whether (A) you want your music faster or (B) you want it slower, you’ve probably succumbed to a common misperception. You probably think that slow music is easier to dance to, and therefore (A) you’re never going to get better by dancing to slow music, or (B) you’ll never be able to keep up with that harder, faster music.
I want to tell you right now that this is a fallacy. Slow music is not easier to dance to. It’s harder.
On Thursday, about half the songs this band played were slower and bluesier than what many in our scene are used to. And as I looked around the room, there were very few couples actually dancing slow. Instead, I saw a lot of people trying to do their fast swingouts to the slower music. Because they’d never learned to dance slow, they were trying to get that crazy spinny, momentum-y feeling they try for in their normal swingouts, and it wasn’t working. Instead, I saw a lot of “yank, stop, yank, stop” type stuff going on. It wasn’t pleasant.
Slow swingouts are not going to work until you’ve actually practiced doing them slowly. There’s a lot of balance and connection stuff that is much more difficult at a slower tempo, so don’t assume that because you can do one fast, you can do it slow.
Instead,( and leaders, I’m talking to you here) the next time a very slow song comes on, try this:
1. Put your right arm around your partner, and then assume you’re going to pretty much leave it there for the rest of the song. No breakaways. Reason being that for a less-experienced follow, hanging out in open position during a slow song is very embarrassing. She feels she needs to be moving around out there in some sort of sultry way, and she has no idea how, and she feels like everyone is staring at her. Unless she’s a blues dancer, keep her close.
2. Now, keep it simple. Forget about doing “moves” of any kind. No pretzels, no dishrags, no Texas Tommys. All you’re going to do is shift your weight from side to side. Balance your center of gravity over your right foot, then balance over your left foot. Leave both feet on the ground. Relax. Shift, shift, shift. Try to do this in time to the music.
3. If you get bored, you can throw in a quick-quick every now and then. What I mean is that as you’re shifting from side to side, you can do a quick shift-shift, exactly the same as the slow ones, except twice as fast. Still, no breakaways, no turns, no random Charleston footwork. Just breathe. Shift, shift, shift.
4. Once you’re comfortable with this, then you can try shifting around in a bit of a circle. Say you start out facing the east wall of the room, move around a little until you’re facing the west wall of the room.
Leaders, if you’re afraid of boring your partner with this stuff, let me tell you that if the follow knows anything about dancing, she will love it. This type of leading gives advanced follows something to work with. If you give her any room at all (don’t squeeze her with that arm), she’ll come up with all kinds of interesting ways to move her body, which she can’t do if you’re flinging her around. You may actually pick up some ideas on how to move yourself, so don’t be afraid to sort of copy what she’s doing if you feel like it.
Follows, if you’re not used to this kind of treatment, you may be momentarily confused as to why you aren’t being flung around. Don’t worry about it, just listen to the music. When you’re being led this way, your job is to stay connected, and then within that connection to explore moving yourself to the music. Don’t try to be fancy, just do what feels nice and normal. You can strike up a little conversation if you want. Slow music is for relaxing.
Once you’re able to dance this way, then take it to the next level by going to a few blues-dancing classes. You can still be a swing dancer, you don’t have to switch over to the blues dancing scene, just learn a little blues dancing for those slower songs. The information you learn about balance and connection is the stuff that is never taught in swing dancing classes, and it will teach you exactly what you need in order to do a comfortable, SLOW swingout.