Jump back to an era with an old-time jive
The shuffling of feet, the swaying of skirts, svelte arm movements and nimble steps all moving in harmony to the rhythms of a big brass band – nothing quite epitomizes “shaking a leg” like swing dancing. Whether it’s at a school dance or a family evening party, all are guaranteed a good time. Men, women and teenagers can all work up a sweat twirling to the fast-paced music.
The roots of swing dancing can be traced back to the early 20th century, when African-Americans invented dance moves like the Charleston and the Lindy Hop to accompany jazz music. To this day, the Lindy Hop is still considered the most traditional and original form of swing dancing. This variant is characterized by an eight-count “break away” or “swing out” that involves each dancer improvising steps independently, then coming back together and dancing in unison. “The ‘break away’ step is what makes Lindy Hop different from the other social dances,” says Adam Lee, who hails from California and has been teaching swing dancing in Beijing since 2003. “It’s not just two people holding on to each other and moving around on the floor, but the dancing couple splits off to each side and stretches out, then comes back together. It makes it more fun and gives it character.”
The Lindy Hop is a very flexible dance with many possible dance patterns and can be done to any music – jazz, blues, rock, even hip-hop – that has a quarter-meter rhythm. Improvisation is highly important, as is the ability to easily adapt to other steps in rhythms with six or eight counts. “The great thing about this dance is that you can make it anything,” says Adam. “If there are elements that don’t appeal to you, you can just skip them and switch to what actually interests you.”
Learning how to swing dance doesn’t require any special skills or agility. Adam says even students with “two left feet” have become quite good dancers, and just like anything else in life, all it takes is dedication and perseverance. For Adam, it took almost six months to overcome the beginner’s hurdle. “It’s hard to be a novice, and it’s easy to quit,” says Adam, “but once you’re past the difficult part as a beginner, it becomes easy and fun.” Some of Adam’s students have even moved on to become professional dancers. “They told me that swing dancing has completely changed their lives.”
When it comes to swing, shoes are the most important piece of equipment. The more shoes can slide, the better they are for dancing swing. Leather soles are ideal, and high heels are not recommended. For clothing, anything comfortable and light works best. It is also important to understand proper dance etiquette, which includes asking politely for a dance and thanking your partner afterward. Traditionally, the lead (usually male) asks the follower (usually female) for a dance, but these days, both men and women are encouraged to engage a partner. Dancers are also encouraged to applaud after each song – especially if a live band is present.
Swing dancing is great, especially for middle and high school students,” says Adam. “It’s safe, healthy and athletic, and it builds community and social skills.” More importantly, since it is a partner dance, even the shyest kid on the dance floor can let loose.
Swing Beijing’s public classes are on Monday nights at CD Jazz Cafe (16 Nongzhanguan Lu, 6506 8288). Intermediate lessons are from 7-8pm and beginners’ lessons are from 8-9pm, followed by free dancing from 9-11.30pm. Four class sessions are RMB 250 for non-students and RMB 150 for students (valid for six months). Private lessons (up to six people) can be held in students’ homes or at Adam’s dance studio (private classes are RMB 400 for 1.5 hours). For more information, contact Adam Lee at email@example.com or 136 0135 4134 or visit www.chinaswings.com.