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Have you ever been out social dancing and wondered what the partner you’re dancing with is thinking? Toronto Swing Dance instructors, Phil Bourassa and Mandi Gould, are going to let you in on some of their thoughts. Each has addressed a note to the many follows and leads that they dance with.

DEAR FOLLOWS,

Phil Bourassa A lot of people who enter the wonderful world of Lindy Hop catch the Lindy bug and want to improve their dancing as fast as they can. When I started, all I wanted to be was “awesome, like right now!” For eager follows who put themselves in this category the best piece of advice I can give you is to relax and have fun. Yes, this statement might seem like common sense but believe me, on many occasions I’ve seen a look of such raw intensity and concentration on the faces of the follows I’m dancing with. While it’s beneficial to focus on something you’ve learnt in class, too much thinking can be counter-productive and make the experience a lot less enjoyable for you and your partner.

From a learning perspective, try focusing on only one thing at a time while you dance. Your brain can more easily handle one item, allowing you to focus on both your partner and the music, which are just as important if not more important. For roughly three minutes you and your partner are telling a unique story together, based on your relationship with the music and your relationship with each other. If one of you isn’t at least trying to enjoy that physical and emotional connection, the experience becomes less enjoyable for both dancers. And from my personal experience, learning new moves or concepts is facilitated when you’re enjoying yourself, rather than taking things too seriously and getting frustrated. Furthermore, while in a positive state of mind, you’ll find that you’re more creative and will discover new things about your dancing. No matter how many moves you learn in class or from your peers, I believe the most impressive ones are those born out of personal inspiration.

Key points for Followers to remember: relax, drop the weight of your arm, let your body respond to the momentum and shape of the movements that the Leader creates for you, think less and enjoy more! Have fun!

DEAR LEADS,

Shall we dance? Lindy Hop is such a terrific dance because you have the opportunity to dance with all sorts of people; big, small, short, tall, the very young and the young at heart. You might not even learn the person’s name before you’re sweeping them off their feet, or being swept off yourself! Once that music starts you get to scoop up that follower in your arms and it’s your responsibility and privilege to take care of them for the duration of about 3 to 4 minutes depending on the song.

The King of Lindy Hop himself, Mr. Frankie Manning, always used to teach the men that for that one song, the follower in front of you is your Queen. The more that you can remove yourself from the distractions of everyday life and step into that moment and truly take care of the Queen at the end of your left arm, the better the dance will be. Take care of her, create direction for her, pay attention to what she does, ensure that she doesn’t crash, make the dance as special as possible and appreciate your time with her! This is a frame of mind more than anything else, and you can assume that role by opening your awareness and enjoying the moment.

That said, it’s not only about enjoying your partner and taking care of her. While that’s very important, as is listening to the music, the leader has an added responsibility and one that takes some consideration off of the dance floor as well as on. Lindy Hop is a historic dance, and it’s made up of classic Lindy Hop moves. While Lindy Hop isn’t a rigid dance and is extremely encouraging of creativity and personal expression, it’s also important that the leader learns, respects and incorporates a certain quota of recognizable, classic Lindy Hop repertoire.

Learning Lindy Hop is like learning a language. And you can’t learn a new language without ingraining a certain amount of the basic vocabulary. The dance is the same way. However, it’s the leader who must always start the conversation. For the follower to really be able to participate in the dance, she must recognize the language that you’re speaking. If you don’t offer her a certain amount of basic language, she isn’t able to contribute to the conversation. That doesn’t mean that you need to dozens of moves. On the contrary! You can start out with just 3 to 6 dance moves and do so much with them! Swingout from closed, Swingout, Circle… From there, you can decorate the dance with anything else that comes to mind, but never forget your partner or those roots. Good music + a follow to make your queen + a handful of basic moves = the perfect recipe! It’s kind of like Gershwin wrote: I’ve got Swingouts, I’ve got music, I’ve got my Gal, who could ask for anything more? :)

Key points for Leaders to remember: relax, your partner is your Queen so take care of her and enjoy her, create direction for her with classic Lindy Hop vocabulary, it only takes a few basic moves to speak the language of Lindy Hop, have fun!

And just for fun, here’s a link to the Rules of Social Dance that’s worth having a look at. Happy dancing!

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