How do you Handle Dancing Fools: Read this Q & A

 Posted by on Mar 31, 2014 at 1:13 PM
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~ How do you handle Dancing Fools: Read this Q & A ~

by Tam Francis

fella on floor awkward swing dance funny








Over the years I’ve taught dance, jitterbugged, collected vintage and published my (out of print) magazine, Swivel:Vintage Living, and have been asked many questions about these subjects. Below are some of the most interesting and funny of the bunch. Let me know if you disagree or have something to add.

Q. Could you please give your opinion on Swing Jams?

First, I’ll explain (for readers who don’t know and newbies) what a swing jam is. Swing jams began as a way to let couples or individuals shine on  a crowded dance floor and have been going on in one form or another since dancing began. For jitterbugs, it usually happens spontaneously during a fast song. A few people will begin to form an open space on the dance floor, giving their friends a chance to show off their best stuff. Usually a few more people will take notice, join, and widen the circle until everyone has stopped and is gathered around and watching the show-offs.

Unfortunately there have been some disturbing trends that go against the spontaneity of a swing jam. The first is when a deejay announces It’s time for a swing jam and throws Sing Sing Sing on. The coerced nature takes away from the fun and spirit of the jam.

Secondly, there has been an increase in Birthday Jams, Out of Town Visitor Jam, Welcome Jams and Hey, you’re wearing Purple Jams (not really, but it’s getting silly). Again, these staged jams, although friendly and well-meant take away from the meaning of a swing jam.

Thirdly, I don’t want to discourage anyone from strutting their stuff, but gate, if you’re gonna jump into a jam, you better be able to do something more than swing-out, turns and Shadow Charleston. It doesn’t have to be an airshow with tons of crazy judo flips, show us some new footwork or creative drops or amazing choreographed footwork. Inspire us to be creative, work harder and aspire to be good enough to be in a jam.

Lastly, If you’re on the beam and cookin’ with helium, killer diller, but don’t hog the spotlight. Keep an eye on your audience and share the spotlight with your fellow dancers. As much as we loved your fancy footwork and Dean Collins Shim Sham variation, give someone else a chance. Even the best dancers know not to hog the limelight.

dance instruction old adQ. I take dance lessons at a local bar that holds a weekly swing dance night. Sometimes I have a hard time catching on, but find it difficult to approach the instructors afterwards to ask questions. When the class is over it’s OVER–the teacher either disappears of is off socializing. Aren’t they getting paid to teach?

Group classes held in bars and clubs are a means to get people interested in social dance and fill up a club on a slow night. They are meant to be an introduction to dance and the instructors don’t make a lot of money at this.

If you would like more in-depth or personal instruction, it would be best to take a few private lessons with the instructor, a series of classes or a weekend workshop (of which there are many). Don’t be afraid to ask questions during class if you’re not getting it. And remember, it can be very helpful to go back and learn the basics again and again.

Q. Is it socially acceptable to dance with another person’s date, spouse or significant other?

 Yes, but there are some polite etiquette rules you should follow. First, make sure they aren’t already walking toward the dance floor with their partner. Second ask permission from the person you’re NOT dancing with like: “Would you mind if I asked your date/wife/partner/boyfriend to dance?” Then ASK the person you want to dance with. If it’s a group of people you regularly dance with, once you’ve broken the ice, you don’t need to ask every time, but if it’s someone you haven’t danced with before or rarely dance with, err on the side of respect.

40s tap pant patternQ. What is the best thing for a girl to wear under her skirt to avoid giving a FREE SHOW with every turn?

I hate to be the fashion gestapo and won’t dictate your undergarments, but I can say that underpants ALONE aren’t sufficient and we’d rather not know your preference for thongs. Some girls like the comfort of bicycle shorts or “cheer spanks” though they’re not very dressy or vintage. Some cotton and rayon skirts have a tendency to cling as static builds up as well. Slip shorts are a wonderful choice as they fit like loose bike shorts, but give a more vintage aesthetic. But for true vintage authenticity try vintage tap pants. They were originally “underwear,” but over modern panties, they’re the perfect modest accessory.

Q. What Can a girl do when the fellow she’s dancing with offers nothing int he way of a solid lead. Sometimes I feel like I’m dancing by myself.

This is an all too common problem with dancers of any level. We gals often feel like our presence is not really required as they dance around us and use us as a prop. While criticism on the dance floor is a big no no, there are ways to be heard. Make it YOUR problem. You can start a conversation with. I really like it when you: Look me in the eyes while dancing, Give me time to play on the 5-8 counts, Let me take the lead, I love when you anchor on the switches, etc. You can’t fix all of them and each follow has different needs and expectations, but it’s my belief that most leads want to make their follows happy. I think the reverse is true, as well.

 1930s 1940s Vintage Cocktail girlsQ. Many of the places that cater to swing dancing are bars and I don’t drink alcohol and I’m stick of getting dirty looks from bartenders whenever I ask for water. I know I’m supposed to tip even when getting water, but I don’t think it’s fair. Am I the only one?
If you look at it as an exchange of money for product, you’re right. A buck for a glass of tap water doesn’t seem right, but you have to look at the larger scheme of things. It’s true those bartenders and waitresses depend on your tips to earn a living. But what about the clubs themselves? The owners are not in it as a charity event. They have overhead, rent, electricity, insurance, bar paraphernalia (straws, napkins, cherries, etc). The only way they can keep bringing live quality music for your dancing pleasure is to make a buck in the process. Bartenders and waitresses shouldn’t be rude, but I also think you should loosen your billfold and order a soda or something that supports the establishment.
Q. On a crowded dance floor what is the preferred retribution for a painful kick from a self-absorbed hopper? Is it every okay to kick back?

Of course not. Two wrongs NEVER make a right even if it feels like it at the moment. I’m sure all of us have been accidentally battered on the dance floor. A couple things need to be addressed which boils down to basic dance etiquette. Try to keep control of your swing-out. Even if your lead swings you out, you can short or change the trajectory of your swing-out. Keep Breakaways tight and DO NOT do Back (Shadow) Charleston on the a crowded floor. Politely make the kicker aware of their transgression. The kicker should acknowledge and apologize. The Kickee should acknowledge and accept. Period. Move on, have fun and be respectful.

Q. Is there any way I can politely decline to dance with someone who asks?

Let me just start out by saying, I rarely decline a dance. It’s a three minute song, suck it up. No one likes rejection. Examine the reason you are saying no. Are they a newbie? Too nerdy for you? Too vintage for you? They only dance East Coast? They’re too old? Too Young? Too groovy? Too hip hop? Too Hollywood? All of these excuses are unfriendly and selfish. Although, if you don’t enjoy the dance, you needn’t feel obliged to dance a second. Swing is a social dance and one of the most welcoming and friendly groups I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

1940s fainting swing danceThat said, there are exceptions. If you have been injured by this person, politely tell them. I’m sorry last time we danced my right shoulder hurt. Or, if you personally have an injury. I’m sorry, I’m resting my knee. Or, if the song is too fast/slow for you? I’m sorry, I’m no good at this tempo, but I’d love to dance the next one. Or, I’m winded from this fast one, let me catch my breath. (if you say either of the last two, it is YOUR job to find them and follow through on your commitment).

Q.It seems like a lot of people in our “dance scene” stick together in little cliques. They all hang out together and only dance with each other. I feel like an outsider. Is there anything I can do?

Whether people want to admit it or not, it is more comfortable to stick with what you’re familiar. Which is why you see the same people dancing with the each other all the time. It’s human nature. The UNKNOWN can be scary. I do two things in that situation. I either down a martini, screw up my liquid courage and try to break into the group by asking them to dance and being the best follow I can be. Or, I create my own ring of swing regulars. Either way, it takes time and patience, but whichever path you choose you’ll be rewarded with hours of fun.

bad breath 40s adQ. Can I politely handle “Bad breath” with out looking like a jerk?

This is a relatively easy one. I carry around a tin of extra strength Altoids or a large pack of mint gun (do not go for the sugar fruit flavors, they smell weird mixed with sweat and Cosmos). Offer them and take one yourself as you head out onto the floor. And hoppers if someone offers your a mint or gum, for goodness sakes, accept!


Do you agree? Disagree? Have any other questions you need solved? Got a tip for swing dancers? Share and sign up for new blog posts — don’t be the last one to the party!

Tam Francis, authorTam Francis is writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She  shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page


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  8 Responses to “How do you Handle Dancing Fools: Read this Q & A”

Comments (8)
  1. Nice article, “Is it ever okay to kick back?” haha, I can’t believe you got that question.

    Anyway, a couple of thoughts:

    — “If you’re gonna jump into a jam, you better be able to do something more than swing-out, turns and Shadow Charleston”

    Strongly disagree here. I’m under the opinion that jams are for EVERYONE. Sure, beginners tend to stay away from jam circles, but that’s only because they feel intimidated by the more experience dancers. It takes way more courage to jump into a jam circle for a beginner than it does for a pro. And honestly, I’d rather see someone that had the guts to jump into a jam circle for the first time and throw some basic 6 counts, than some pro showing off fancy footwork over 32 eights, just for the sake of it. I don’t want new people to feel that they will never be good enough for a jam circle just because they don’t have certain moves in their repertoire. Sure, I’m going to be supporting whoever is in the circle, regardless of how good they are, but I’m not that interested in show-offs, or in a scene that encourages them over other dancers. I want a jam circle to feel open and accessible. It’s not about looking good but about enjoying some time in the spotlight. That’s the atmosphere I want to see at a party and that’s the way I teach it in my classes. That being said, I do think it’s very important to know the jam rules (when to enter, how long to stay, check if anyone else wants to jump in, etc), but keeping the jam circle open and welcoming is the only way to have new people participate in it.

    — “Second ask permission from the person you’re NOT dancing with like: “Would you mind if I asked your date/wife/partner/boyfriend to dance?”

    Haha, alright, I don’t now how things work in your particular scene, but I have NEVER been in a situation where I felt that I have to ask their partner/boyfriend/whatever first. It’s not like I’m going to hit on the girl for God’s sake. And it’s not the 1940’s anymore. One of the reasons I love this dance is because the moment I ask somebody for a dance I leave every sexual connotation aside. I’d feel stupid asking for permission to have a conversation with the person, which is what swing dancing is about. I do, however, apologize to the couple/group for interrupting if they’re in the middle of a conversation, regardless of what I’m interrupting for or what their relationship with the person may be. But that’s just being polite I guess.

    • I can see your point and understand your perspective of inclusivity, but we’ll have to agree to disagree. I get mighty bored with run-a-the-mill moves. I don’t like piggy show-offs either. I think there’s a nice balance to strike when it comes to jams. I want to be inspired, not belittled and not bored. LOL

      Well, I can say some folks have better manners than others and for some reason (the wonderful friendly openness of the scene?), sometimes there are an unusually large number of socially awkward people. I think most figure it out after a while ;)

      I love your arguments and points, thanks for taking the time to put in your point of view!


      • If it is a “swing jam” as it is referred to above, then I’m inclined to agree its about inspiring. My Lindy is decent and if there is a jam I’ll jump into, it’s to share Shag with others and to increase the variety.

        I love birthday and out of towner welcome jams. It helps people feel celebrated, connected, welcomed.

        Re someone standing in a group of 2 or more, my preference is to acknowledge the group by saying pardon me for interrupting, but then ask the person I’d like to dance with. I am on the side of that’s the only person that should be asked/decide. Only exception is if I’m working at a family friendly event and kids are involved.

        My few cents.

        • Sky, interesting. I do like B-day jams and welcome jams, but they can get to be too much if you have several of them in one evening. I think it has taken away from the real old fashioned swing jam ;)

          I brought up the ask the spouse thing because I had had many husbands mention to me how invisible they felt. Some weren’t regular dancers, some were, mostly hubby’s but one wife (who was the not a big dancer, her husband was). It may be that I’m old-fashioned, but it’s best to err on the side of manners?

          I agree with you 100% when kids are involved. I have two who come out dancing and tend to be protective about who they dance with. I tend to let them only dance with dancers I have known for a while.

          I Love your “few cents” and I appreciate you stopping by!

          Thank you, Tam

  2. You’re a woman after my own heart and have addressed many of my pet peeves. Although I liked it better when birthday jams were held on ones actual birthday only, rather than all week long, I do favor visitor jams. I love the attitude of a community welcoming visitors, as well as giving everyone a chance to know about them. We’re then more likely to ask them to dance. At Lindy in the Park in SF, we also invite them to go out to lunch with us afterwards. It’s often the highlight of their trip. When I went dancing in London a few years ago, even though I knew a couple of people there, it was very clicky and people made it clear even when I asked them, that they preferred their own partners. I felt “tolerated” even though I’m an advanced dancer. It really made me appreciate the friendliness of my own scene, where we are excited to meet and dance with visitors.

    About the lack of a lead: Usually when you don’t get a lead it’s because the poor guy doesn’t know how to lead, so a suggestion like: I really like it when you anchor me on swivels” is meaningless. Since there really is no polite way to say “I’d love it if you would take a private lesson or two on the skill of leading”, I tell my students to tough it out for that one dance and try not to dance with him again until he makes the effort to learn something about the dance. If, however, he is learning and is open to suggestions, that’s another story. I have a pet peeve about people who don’t take lessons (except for the drop ins) and have the ego to think everyone loves dancing with them.

    • Hee hee hee. You made me laugh out loud! I think you’re right about if someone doesn’t know how to dance and refused to take lessons. It is a biggy, those one’s that say, “I learned by watching.” Whaaatttt!!!!

      And yeah, I don’t HATE visitor jams, but it was getting ridiculous for a while and really killing the specialness of spontaneous jams :)

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your comments. You made me smile today!


  3. Sara Gilson on Facebook writes:
    “I used to be too “nice” to refuse dances with people that made me really uncomfortable, whether they were too rough, had bad breath, or were just plain creepy. Eventually I learned that I don’t owe anyone anything on the dance floor, and I have the right to refuse any dance at any time for any reason, no excuse required. If someone wants to come back and ask why I refused, I would gladly tell them. And I have no qualms about turning a creeper down and dancing with someone else I trust in the same song. Women need to be told that it’s OK to do this. Nobody has the right to be in such close contact with us against our wills, especially for the sake of “niceness” or “community.” ”

    And I replied:
    “I’d be interested to know your criteria for creeper. I totally get the too rough which was part of the post. I tell them in a polite way. I’m sure they’d want a chance to correct themselves. I also wonder if it’s generational. I’m seeing a trend maybe in what’s better for ME vs whats better for a community. Not to say that’s good or bad, just a bit of a paradigm shift? I hope I hear from some more people. Thanks Sasha Gilson”

    Interesting perspective? Do you agree? Disagree? Why or why not.

  4. Marie commented here She said: I don’t like someone asking my companion if it’s ok to dance with me. I have declined dancing for that reason alone.

    I’m also not on board with the sentiment that you have to accept a dance unless you have an acceptable reason to say no. I don’t want to is a perfectly good reason.

    And I replied: Interesting perspective. Is this companion a long standing life partner or just a dance buddy? Are you married? I think these things make a difference even in social dancing. Are you American? Perhaps it is a stuffy American thing?

    As for the HAVE to dance with someone, you don’t HAVE to, but it promotes friendliness and acceptance and helps grow a dance scene. I love your comments and am going to add them to the blog. I think it great to have another perspective

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