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Catching the Lindy Hop bug

7 Dec

There comes a time where the fear of failure and ridicule is not a good enough reason to not do something you really want to do (and that is a fear of potential failure and ridicule, less we forget, that may not actually happen, although we all know how we can actually invite it in where it previously had no home).

My ex had always wanted to dance, and she often insisted I sit through Strictly Come Dancing on TV of a Saturday night. Despite some talk, we never did start actually dancing together, and we never got past the stage of merely watching it. We had over three years to get our dancing together. Looking back, that’s probably just as well, because making a decision to take something challenging up is perhaps best left to the individual will. You kind of know you mean it then; you’re not trying to appease someone else.
Cut to 2014, and an unexpected conversation on another more recent Saturday night, led me to realise that there were organised groups doing the kind of fun dancing I’d probably be interested in. So just three days later, and following an e-mail exchange with one of the organisers, I went along to the Freemasons’ Hall on Bridge Street in Manchester, to my first Lindy Hop class.

Lindy Hop originated in Harlem, New York, in the 1920s and ‘30s. The dance consists of 6 and 8 step moves (the 6 step I’ll come to shortly), and borrowed movements from the Charleston and Tap dancing. They went wild for this down at legendary venues like The Savoy (which was inspirationally progressive for the time, with whites and blacks dancing together under the same roof). As The Lindy Circle website describes, “The dance can be wild and spontaneous, with frenzied kicks and body movements, or it can be cool and sophisticated. The most important aspects of it are that it is danced with your partner, to the music, and that you enjoy it!”

Amusingly the dance got its name from the famous spearheading trans-Atlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh in 1927. A dance marathon at the time, involved a dance by genius foot worker George Snowden; a vibrant dance with no name. George soon gave it one, inspired by the events being enthusiastically covered in the days’ newspapers: the ‘Lindy Hop’ was born! Anyhow, history aside (as fascinating as it is), I’m sure you’re more interested in the Lindy Hop now (which over the years has given birth to all manner of Swing off-spring such as the Shag, Jitterbug, Jive and all types of Rock n’ Roll moves. Lindy, however, was the originator of these dances; an exciting dance for the masses.
Basically, in every city in the land there is a secret world of individuals coming together to pursue their own unique interests, and dancing is no different (Lindy Hop dancing in this case). Manchester has the wonderful ‘Manchester Lindy’, put together some years back as a non-profit organisation allowing people to learn and enjoy dancing. Now, I’m not getting above my station; I’m no professional dancer (don’t make me laugh) and nobody there on a Tuesday night is, to the best of my knowledge, except perhaps the teachers. We’re not there to learn everything from the Foxtrot to the Tango via a waltz. It’s all about the Lindy Hop, arguably the most accessible and social of dances. But (and there is a but), it isn’t easy. The kind of partnered twirls you may have attempted with a girl or boy after five pints on a Saturday night, will not prepare you for the toil and patience you’ll have to exercise getting Lindy right. My first lesson reaction, as I tried to turn one of my two left feet into a right one, was how difficult it was after just ‘winging’ it for years. Frankly, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing before, whereas now I’ve got a good chance of learning how to do something properly. If you’re truly interested in something, you owe it to whatever it might be, and to yourself, to get it right, and you’ll be more rewarded as a result.

So, slowly but surely, I’m mastering (or at least remembering) a basic 6 step movement, key to the completion of the basic ‘Lindy circle’. Rock step (left foot backwards), step forward with right, complete a triple step…counting to six as you go. This is probably best explained by a more proficient demonstration than I can currently offer. The treasure trove of Youtube has revealed some great examples, which you can see below!

So far it’s not just great fun, it’s also impossible to avoid its social aspect (the after class time is even called ‘the Lindy Hop social’, where you can put your freshly learned moves into action. There’s a Christmas special next week with a live big band, so that should be quite something). Plus you have to talk to your partner (not all the time, obviously, that’d be well annoying), and often hold hands (and if you’re the lead, lightly hold them by the waist at points). So, as you’re working together in such close proximity be prepared to mess up and laugh about it on the way to learning. Approaching this with no sense of humour will undermine all the fun you can have. That isn’t to say you should treat Lindy as a joke; on the contrary, there are specific moves to learn and they might not be easy to begin with, particularly as the pace increases. But a smile and some patience at your mutual mistakes will go a long way.

The classes start at Level 1 (Beginners), and progress through to Level 2 (intermediate) after about three months or so, but everyone progresses at different speeds.One guy had entered the Level 2, and came back to level 1 the week after as he thought it was a ‘bit much’. He wasn’t quite ready. (Interestingly, the gender split is more women but not by a vast amount. One week it was pretty much an even split, The age range is late teens and twenties through to the fifties and beyond…difficult to tell. But hey, we’re here to dance not swap birthday cards). You also have to make sure you’re dressed properly. It’s not a tough call, just come in comfortable, loose fitting clothes; anything you can stretch out a bit. Some come dressed in vintage Jazz fashions, that suit the music, but it’s up to you as long as you feel comfortable. The main thing is your footwear. Make sure you have something well fitting you can slide around in. Even cheap pumps or plimsoles are fine; anything with no grips, and maybe later you’ll want to invest in some proper suede soled dancing shoes. Needless to say, big chunky boots are not a good idea.

I’ll tell you more as I learn more, but in the meantime (and if you’re inspired to try it), enjoy your Lindy Hop dancing!

A good demonstration of the basic step for Lindy Hop:

Faster! Faster! 😉

More basic 6-step fun:

The Manchester Lindy Hop Social from nearly two years ago (they’ve since moved to the gorgeous Art Deco interiors of the Freemasons’ Hall):