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5 Things I Learned by Dancing the Lindy Hop

The partner dance offers insight for teachers who are trying to adapt to today’s classrooms. They are encouraged to be the guide on the side, to let students use their mobile phones and other personal technologies. How do you do that and still teach? Here are 5 things I learned about learning (and teaching) from dancing the Lindy Hop.

1. Master the Basic Step

Before you add the flips and tricks, you have to master the basic step. No matter how high you fly in the air, your partner depends on you to be back to the basic on 1. That means you know the 8-count basic Lindy circle so well that you feel it. It’s in your muscle memory. While I could learn most steps in an afternoon or two, the basic Lindy circle took six months of practice and repetition to truly master. Like multiplying numbers or writing a complete sentence, now that I’ve got it, I’ll never forget it and I use it every time I dance!

2. Give up the Lead

Lindy Hop is a partner dance and that means there are two parts: the lead and the follow. When a follow tries to lead, no one goes anywhere. A good follow offers a strong frame—squared shoulders, a strong core and a little resistance to balance momentum. I learned to loosen my grip, close my eyes and smile to go where the lead took me. When teachers give up the front of the classroom (the sage on the stage), they give up the lead and become a follow. Good teachers provide a strong foundation, a little healthy resistance and learn to trust their students.

3. Listen to the Music

When I learned to listen to the music, I could dance to a song I’d never heard before with a partner I’d never met. By relaxing into the beat, you find the “pocket” where you and your partner make the dance look easy. The swing bass line emphasizes the 1 and 3. When you internalize the bass line, you can always find your place and anticipate a stop in the music. That’s when you really look like you know what you’re doing. In every situation, tone and speed matter: excited and energetic, easy going and relaxed, quiet and cool. When you listen first, then respond, you can match your energy to the environment and make anything look easy.

4. Honor History and Make It New

Lindy Hop originated in Harlem in the 1920’s and 30’s, particularly from the Savoy ballroom. Those steps draw from movements common to African and European dances. As modern dancers rediscovered Lindy Hop, they mastered the original dance then added stylings influenced by today’s popular dances like hip hop or break dancing. When we make the effort to learn history, we have a deeper appreciation for the possibilities to expand, recombine, and create something new.

5. Find your Community

What does technology have to do with learning a 20th century dance? Everything! Internet access gave dancers a way to find each other, discover and share music, and learn their craft by sharing clips of dancers, young and old, from last night or last century. From social networks to chat groups to dance calendars—it’s all online to help you connect in the real world, right now.

What do you want to learn?

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