My favorite hobby (besides reading) is swing dancing. When I started, I had two left feet, someone dropped me (yes, dropped), and I was terrible — but I was in love.
Ten years later and I’m still dancing, taking lessons, improving my technique, working on my personal style, and sometimes even performing. I’ve taught classes, choreographed performances, made friends from around the world at swing dance events I travel to — and I’m proud of myself for sticking with something that I was bad at, but gave me joy. I love swing dancing even more for what I’ve learned about it and gained from it. Here are eight ways I’ve benefited from swing dancing:
Whether you’re starting off with east coast, quick-stepping with balboa, or ramping up in Lindy triple steps, swing dancing definitely gets your body moving and your heart pumping. It’s actually very important to maintain a steady bounce to the music — moving in rhythm like that is even called a pulse! Whatever way you swing it, you will definitely get your daily steps in, and then some.
2. Communication and connection
Dance is a great way to communicate with another human being, even without speaking. In swing dance, which is a social partner dance, a lead and a follow form a connection to communicate what movements they’d like to do in accordance to the music. It’s a nonverbal, physical, expressive conversation between the partners.
Contrary to the belief that a lead “makes” a follow do a dance move, the lead actually suggests a move, and the follow chooses to respond to the suggestion. You connect through tension, physical contact, rotation, pulsing (that consistent bouncing thing we talked about earlier), eye contact, and sometimes a bit of verbal communication if need be (and if you’re not already chatting). You also learn how each lead or follow has a different response to your personal connection method — so you can make adjustments and have many different types of dances with many different people.
3. Meeting cool people
I have made many new friends from swing dancing whom I might not have met anywhere else. We have very diverse interests and backgrounds, but we share something in common: a love of swing dancing. I really enjoy catching up with people once a week during a dance, or on the edge of the dance floor as we watch and admire other dancers.
It’s also one of the few spaces where I can feel completely comfortable to go somewhere all by myself, walk up to a complete stranger, ask them to partake in an activity with me, and we can part as acquaintances, or even friends, without further expectations.
4. Dancers are each other’s cheerleaders
Swing dancers understand that unless you dance frequently, you won’t get better. That’s why dancers — even advanced dancers — recognize the importance of dancing with beginners. Not only do you contribute to that dancer’s improvement, you also make a new friend and help them feel welcome in the community. Whether performing, practicing, competing, teaching, or dancing socially, dancers cheer each other on.
5. Being a part of living history
Swing dances have changed and taken many forms over time, but they all come from the same roots in African American culture.
In 1928, a very prominent style of swing known as the Lindy Hop was invented at Harlem’s desegregated Savoy Ballroom when George “Shorty” Snowden (aka Shorty George) did a “breakaway” — he separated from his dance partner to perform an improvisational step, then rejoined his partner, all to the beat of the music. The Lindy gained much popularity for many dancers at the Savoy Ballroom, particularly through the black dancers known as “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers,” who performed the Lindy all over New York, and later around the U.S. and the globe.
Big band music evolved alongside swing music — the jazz inspired the dancers to keep trying new steps and techniques, and the black (later joined by white) musicians came up with innovative ways to keep up with the dancers. Together, they developed big band swing music and the Lindy Hop as we know it, and the combination swept the world.
While the styles of music and dance changed over time as dance and music popularity fluctuated (and an unfortunate dance tax after WWII), the Lindy took a hiatus from the spotlight. Many African Americans kept dancing the Lindy Hop to the traditional big band swing music, though, thanks to dance trainers like Momma Lou, performers, choreographers, and even private family parties and events. Even though the Savoy closed in 1958, people continued dancing in other places. The Lindy’s popularity may have been in flux over the years, but it has never been left un-danced or forgotten.
6. Always dancing, always learning
Due to these many different styles of swing (and the different leads and follows you can find in the world), one can always learn, fine-tune, and become an expert in dance. There are countless social dances, workshops, instructors, private lessons, choreographed line dances, and partners, so every dance opportunity is a learning opportunity.
I think it’s exciting that I’m never going to be an absolute swing expert — I like that I can keep learning about swing for the rest of my life.
7. It makes other partner dances easier
Once you learn to follow rhythm and establish a lead-follow connection, you are already a step ahead in any other partner dance that you learn. When I studied abroad in Spain, my host mom took me to Latin dance lessons. Even though I could hardly understand the instructions in an unfamiliar vocabulary over the music, I was able to pick up salsa, bachata, and kizomba with relative ease because I understood how to form a connection with my partner and follow their movements to the music. Not only did swing open up a world of various dances to me in the swing dance family tree, it also opened up a world of partner dancing to me!
8. It’s fun!
Even though I make goofy concentration faces when I dance, I’m always having a blast. I feel joyful in communicating with my partner, connecting with the music, and expressing myself and my creativity through swing dancing. I love combining music, my partner, dance shoes, and a wooden floor into an art form. I always leave a dance smiling!
Do you want to try swing dancing? There are lessons and social dances offered in most cities. Look up your local place to swing dance, take a lesson, and enjoy these benefits for yourself!
To learn more about swing and jazz’s all-American history, check out these resources:
- “Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance” by Marshall and Jean Stearns;
- “Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance” by Jacqui Malone; and
- “Swinging at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer” by Norma Miller with Evette Jensen.