~ How do you handle Dancing Fools: Read this Q & A ~
by Tam Francis
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.
Q. 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?
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.
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.
That 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.
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 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