Swing Tips: A Retro Dancing Primer For First-Timers

Written by Wynter Holden Category: Health & Fitness Issue: March 2016

Photo courtesy Jonathan LindseyThanks to a growing global dance community, regular weekly events in major cities and the infamous 1998 “Gap Swings” commercial, swing dance has seen a comeback. Over the past two years I’ve been a sometimes regular at several swing nights around the Valley, gazing at my partner’s multiple left feet over at Fatcat Ballroom or peeping the sweet vintage threads and retro hairstyles on display every Tuesday night at The Duce.

The good news is that locals can learn to swing dance in just a few quick (and cheap!) lessons. “Anyone can swing dance,” says Karen Vizzard Hopkins of Hepkats, which runs several weekly swing dance events including an easygoing class on Monday nights at the Women’s Club of Mesa. The three-hour-long dance session, which includes a mini-lesson at the beginning, costs a mere five clams.

Whether you’re trying East Coast or Lindy Hop, the basic steps remain the same throughout. So while the tempo might change from a slow jazz beat to a rollicking rock 'n’roll number, if you’ve got the basic footwork down, you’re golden. Just a few simple steps and a newbie can dance all night – as long as you don’t show up in stiletto heels.

Longtime instructor Jonathan Lindsey of Savage Rhythm, who teaches Lindy Hop moves on Tuesday evenings at The Duce, has a few tips for first-timers. While each venue has its own unique vibe, clientele and set of rules, there are a few things that would’ve been helpful to know my first time on the swing floor.

What to expect: Lots of mingling. Swing dance is not a solo sport, and the mini-lessons offered at the beginning of most local swing dance nights feature partner rotation. So every few minutes you’ll dance with someone new. “Be prepared to be immersed in infectious music, to dance with lots of people if you choose, to laugh, to blush and to bring out a bit of the badass dancer that lies within you,” Lindsey says.

What to wear: I invested in pricy ballroom dance heels for lessons at Fatcat and soon realized that 99 percent of the seasoned dancers fly across the floor in cheap tennis shoes. “Wear shoes and clothes in which you feel comfortable moving and also that you feel represent you,” Lindsey advises. “Skip the athletic shoe and go for something with a little bit of slick and a little bit of stick. Your spins and turns will [be] so much better.”

How to relax: Don’t expect to waltz in and be perfect. Most first-timers have a learning curve. “We have all been beginners at some point. Accept that you will make a mess of it (at least once),” Lindsey quips. “Make a beautiful mess, laugh, and then keep moving your feet.” Many newcomers only need a couple of quick lessons to master the basic six-count steps. With that tiny bit of dance knowledge, you can hold your own at any local swing night.

For more information on the local swing dance community, check out my article on vintage-inspired dancing in the April issue of PHOENIX magazine.