Swing On ! - Track 7 :

(page down for the 10 Secrets, ssshhhush)

Ask "Dr. SwingDance"...

...get ALL your swing dance questions answered by "the Dr." who seems to have an answer for any 'swing dance emergency' such as...


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Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “What’s the best age for me (or anyone) to learn Swing Dancing ?”

A.) The best age is the one at which you choose to concentrate, focus, and practice on enjoying your dancing odyssey by improving your skills. One of the many things that's great about swing dancing is that you can be ANY age when you learn. The younger you learn, the more years of FUN you'll have ! It's great for grammer school kids to learn - helps kids realize early that socializing and team-work are a part of life. It's great for teens and young adults who are working on their self-esteem, trying to make friends, and maybe giving them something to talk to their (dancing) parents about. As an adult, it's good for all of the above plus exersizing. After all, fitness and friends are important at all ages !

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “What’s the best way for me to learn Swing Dancing ?”

A.) It may take time and practice before you really start to learn and enjoy swing dancing. If you don't "get" something right away, resist frustration - "muscle memory" takes time. Style takes longer. Repeat something 100 times and you'll get it. "Feel"the music and your style will develop, too. Most important for Leaders, be gentle- no “fling” dancing. For Followers, stay attentive & patient with your partner !

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “No wait. What I mean is, how can I learn Swing Dancing- FAST ?”

A.) Remember that there are no pills, patches, shots, no shortcuts or gimmicks to get you confident with your dancing faster. What does help is paying attention and trying what the teacher suggests. DO NOT teach your partner in dance class (it’s rude to your partner and the teacher). Call the teacher over to help you and your partner. The tactful why of saying it is “I think WE have a problem.” Concern yourself with your part only and try to become the best Follower or Leader you can be.

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “Are there magazines where I can learn about Swing Dancing ?”

A.) Yes. Try getting a hold of these at a really good newstand or call up for a copy. Jitterbug Magazine at 714-494-5086, Dancing USA at 612-757-4414 or Country Dance Lines Magazine at 415-488-0154.

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “Are there videos where I can learn Swing Dancing ?”

A.) I don't know any videos that show ALL the different varieties of Swing Dancing. However, the Magazines above will have ads in them for Instructional Dance Videos for Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, Hustle, etc. If you are good at the "looking and doing" type of dance learning, try these videos. they usually have volume 1,2, 3, etc. I like the party atmosphere and social seting of actually dancing with all different partners in a group class. I think it's the best way to learn swing dancing. (See the answers to "Partners" questions above.)


Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “I’d rather just dance with the partner I came with and NOT rotate partners...Is that ok ?”

A.) This is one of the most discussed topics in partner dancing. Some people believe that they can only learn with their own partner. After teaching thousands of students, I believe the opposite is usually the case. The "better" dancers usually are the ones who switch partners.

The why of this is interesting. What happens is that one person will try to “help” the other by compensating but this just results in "the helped" person not learning the correct lead, follow, technique, etc. Rotating partners in class or at a dance allows each dancer to learn how to "think on one's feet", to communicate clear, distinct leads and how to be attentive to execute well-timed follows. It teaches us how to adjust to different partners, how to dance to each other’s different experience levels, how to have fun as a team- in short, how to be a better dancer ! Newer dancers always benefit by dancing with more experienced dancers whose leads and follows have been honed smooth ! Plus, as a social event, it’s more FUN and a good way to make new friends !! And additionally, rotating partners in dance class makes students pay better attention, be on their best behavior, and usually saves a few relationships !!!

So you see that switching partners (especially when you're learning something) rather than only dancing with one partner has more going for it and will benefit you in the long run. Those are the facts - you have to decide for yourself, however.

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “Do I need Special Dance Shoes?”

A.) No, just shoes with smooth soles that allow you to pivot or spin freely. Try NOT to dance in grippy shoes, tippy shoes, flip flops or barefoot. You want good support from your shoes so that you can dance for hours without turning an ankle or breaking a toe !

The BEST is to set aside at least one pair of good shoes for ONLY dancing, keeping them clean, and carrying them (not wearing them) into the dancing. This way you do not track sand, dirt, and grit onto the dance floor and ruin it !

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “Does it matter what I wear to dance in class or at a social event ?”

A.) Yes in that you must be comfortable and have shoes that allow you to pivot freely on the balls of your feet (without binding up and straining your ankles or knees) as you move around the dance floor. Otherwise, clothes don't make the dancer. Wearing whatever is the latest dance fashion probably won’t help you enjoy dancing more (for long) or make you a better dancer. Only practicing what you’ve learned at lessons or dances will !!

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “What kind of costume themes could I wear Swing Dancing?”

A.) There are many styles of clothes that would match the various styles of swing dancing or swing dance music. common to all- comfortable dance shoes and minimized jewelery so as not to impede your dancing fun.

1) Lindy-style music or swing dancing: You could wear styles of the 1930's & 1940's: for the Lead- zoot suit (wide leg pants, and wide ties & jacket lapels, wingtips shoes (tow-tone), fedora or wide brim hat. Notice the emphasis here seems to be on "wide" stuff ! Follower- flowing flowered skirt, a little hat, two-tone shoes or black with lowish 1" heels, stockings with center line if possible.

2) Jitterbug-style music or swing dancing: How about the 1950's Greaser look: Leader- dark jeans, t-shirt, cigarette pack rolled up in sleeve, slicked-back hair. Follower- Poodle skirt, saddle shoes, bow in ponytail, etc.

3) 1960's American Bandstand-look: Leader- clean-cut, slacks, shirt & sweater or jacket. Follower- clean-cut skirt or slacks, low heel shoes, sweater, etc.

4) West Coast Swing look: Leader- eclectic shirt & slacks, slightly dressy. Follower- skin-tight danskin tights, highheel shoes, sweater two sizes too big...

5) Retro look: Leader- wide leg jeans or khakis, t-shirt ten sizes (at least) too big, name brand sneakers or waffle-stompers. Follower- crop top and khakis or daddy's buttondown and leggins, sneakers or platform dress shoes. Various piercings and tatoos optional.


Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “How should I prepare for a social dance ?”

A.) Like any other social event, personal grooming is important. A little mouthwash, deodorant, cologne, etc. would be a good idea with emphasis on the word “little”. Please wash your hands (especially of cologne) before taking hands with your partner. Watch out using breath mints or chewing gum at the same time you are dancing - make sure you can dance and talk to your partner first !

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “How can I find a Swing Dance partner at a Dance ?”

A.) Anyone can ask anyone else to dance. Use your good judgment before interrupting people in conversation. (In fact, if you would like to dance, stay next to the dance floor and look like you would welcome being asked to dance by smiling or tapping your toe ! Even better idea- ask someone to dance yourself !!) Something simple and polite like, “Would you like to dance ?” usually works. If it seems appropriate for the moment, escorting your partner on and off the dance floor is usually appreciated.

If you must turn someone down, it’s a good idea to thank that person for the invitation. If you’re tired, offer to dance with them later. If you turned them down for personal reasons relating to THEM, it would be rude to dance that song with someone else. What goes around, eventually comes around...


Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “How do I dance with different partners at a dance ?”

A.) You will be in great demand as a partner if you modify the ‘Golden Rule’ for dancing and use some smarts. Dance to the least experienced partner's level. It may be dangerous to try to impress your partner by doing figures they don't know (this is directed especially at Leaders). Impress them with your common sense instead.

Dance with your partner while the music is playing - line up your next dance partner AFTER your dance with this partner. Both you and your partner will have the most memorable time if you both dance with focus, eye contact, sensitivity, and good humor ( leave your ego at home !).


Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “Should I dance on the Downbeat or Backbeat ?”

A.) Whatever makes you happy ! There is no right and wrong when it comes to what you enjoy - as long as it's legal ! Remember what they say, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." Why not try both? You might find that dancing on the downbeat is most fun with certain types of swing dance music/styles like Jitterbug and Lindy Hop while dancing on the backbeat (or downbeat) is fun to do when West Coast Swinging to your favorite rhythm & blues... Some dancers and dance teachers take this question VERY seriously. My answer to that: "Dancing (like Life) is TOO important to be taken that seriously !" Words to live (or dance) by...

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “What do I need to watch out for on the dance floor ?”

A.) Enthusiasm is fine...safety is better. Be responsible for your own safety, your partner’s safety (especially if you’re leading), and the safety of dancers around you. Watch that your hands and feet don't enter others' dance space, especially the space of West Coast Swing dancers who are dancing in a relatively immobile “slot or track”. Save dramatic figures for unoccupied parts of the dance floor - save dangerous figures for your home ! Let the following two laws of common sense dictate: (1) BE AWARE of what’s going on around you and adjust your dancing to fit. On crowded dance floors, take smaller steps. Always acknowledge and apologize to someone you bump into. (2) DO NOT lead or follow ANYTHING that may cause pain to you, your partner, or others around you !

Watch out for too slippery or too tacky a dance floor. Carry dance rosin or dance wax to adjust the floor to your needs. Also, carry your dancing shoes (shoes that have different types of soles that will help your dancing on slick or non-slippery floors) to the hall. Wearing outside shoes inside to dance can track grit onto the dance floor that will be ground into and mark up a nice floor. Make sure that your dance shoes give you adequate support and that they allow you to pivot in place without binding up your ankle or knee.

One last warning- watch for and help to keep refreshments, chairs, coats, conversations and other obstacles well away from the dance floor.

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “How do I do Flips right away ?”

A.) I would be irresponsible if I encouraged you to do flips right away. Plus, it's not really swing dancing- it's "doing gymnastics with music playing in the background" ! FIRST, learn your basic steps cold, SECOND, learn how to dance with the music- in tempo and spirit. THIRD, seek out responsible instructors in a safe place that has pads to show you how to SAFELY execute flips that interest you. Be careful of yourself, your partner, your spotters (who you will need as you learn). With all "flips" or aerials or air steps as swing dancers call them, there are easy ways- and then there are the hard ways that may hurt you. Learn the easy ways that involve both Leader and Follower helping each other and the little illusions that make the flip look like more than it really is !


Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “Sometimes the dance floor’s really crowded. Then what do I do ?”

A.) The more crowded the floor, the better it is for dancers to keep to a few general ‘zones’. Save the center of the floor for line dancers (if any) with the outer edges of the floor for East Coast Swing dancers(Jitterburg, Lindy, etc.). Outer lanes surrounding the line dancers and east coast swingers is for progressing dancers (such as Waltz, Two-Step, etc., if any).

Reserve the corners of the floor for dancers doing West Coast Swing and please respect their space - it's not mobile like the dance space of other swing dancers.

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “How can I relax while dancing with my partner ?”

A.) Don’t worry about blowing a lead or follow - remember you are both there to HAVE FUN !! Not to generate more stress. So smile and try it again. If you are serious about improving as a partner, take more lessons and practice more. And don’t take liberties as a Leader in dancing close or deeply dipping your Follower. The woman will determine how close is comfortable - her smile may evaporate if you get too close. Plus, a certain closeness will overly restrict your swing dancing.

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “How can I make it into the ‘IN’ swing dance crowd ?”

A.) Swing dancing is always evolving - regionally and worldwide. No one style of swing dancing is "better" than another. Categorize swing dancing only to divide up the currently available styles into smaller, more learnable nuggets. Each style has its place in your enjoyment of dance. Resist the temptation to categorize swing dancing in order to "elevate" your style from other "not-as-good" styles.

There is something to learn from ALL swing dancers and swing dance teachers. Adopt the styles, techniques, and figures that you see and like the best. Then through practice, make them your own ! Enjoy & SWING ON !!

Q.) Dear Dr. SwingDance: “Why, Why, Why should I (learn to ) dance ??????????”

A.) A very good question...especially relevant when posed by "non-" or "never-ever" dancers. Scientific research aside, here's what I think and what I've heard others say. Tah...Dah...Dah !! THE TOP TEN REASONS TO DANCE ...

10) "Moving to the music makes me listen and appreciate it in a way I never have before !"
9) "I like the way I can 'act out' the music by the moves we do !"
8) "The connection I have with my partner is unique, special and always different !"
7) "It's a great way to exercise & be able to smile at the same time !"
6) "I'm proud of myself for having the courage to learn and even get good at it !"
5) "The risk of public humiliation...very exciting !"
4) "Dancing gives my brain a little holiday from my everyday concerns !"
3) "When I dance I don't take myself too seriously or worry about how I Iook. This (unfortunately) is useful for my life in general !"
2) "A public dance is a chance to 'visit the people store' and find a new friend !"
And the most important reason to (swing) dance...
1) Women, "It's Fun !" & Men, "Chicks dig it !"

If you have other questions or "Swing Dance Emergencies", please direct them to JimZaccaria@www.SwingOn.com !

The 10 SECRETS...

The 10 SECRETS to Successful Social Ballroom Dancing (do not divulge)
By Jim Zaccaria

It only took me 30 years of social ballroom dancing to finally learn a few things. My discovery of the 10 Secrets to successful Social Ballroom Dancing have helped me to have more fun dancing and to learn more new "moves" faster. I hope these 10 Secrets can also help you learn quicker and pass through that uncomfortable "dork stage" with minimal lasting psychological damage. Hopefully you'll be on your way to experiencing true dance nirvana as soon as possible !
Social ballroom dancing is dancing for the fun of it without all those pesky rules judges use in dance competitions. For social dancers at public dances or parties, it's more important to connect with other dancers, share some good exercise and team up with a partner to boogie to the beat, having fun right away. So here's the 10 Secrets, counting down:

#10 Show Me The Pattern:
Whenever you learn a new ballroom dance find out what the "basic step" is up front. It's what you will be doing over and over as you keep time to the music using a combination of simple steps and pauses. After you are in sync with your partner and the music you can progress to a variety of interesting and challenging moves like underarm turns and spins that will please your partner and wow other dancers.
All ballroom dancers start on their "first foot" (men's left and women's right) and end on their "second foot" (men's right and women's left) so that they can start over again on their first foot. For instance, in basic swing dancing the 6-beat pattern is "first foot in place, pause, second foot in place, pause, first foot back and second foot forward and repeat in time to the music. Why to the music ? Because moving to the music with your partner is the most fun you can have !.

#9 Dance Small:
It's generally better to take small steps for a variety of reasons. But first…what is a "step"? It's a weight change like moving your weight from your left foot to your right and at the same time picking the non-stepping foot off the ground like you do when you walk. Using small steps and bent knees help minimize extraneous bouncing motion while allowing you to recover from missteps faster without getting out of sync with your partner or the music.
Large steps just look un-cool and may get you on the internet, but NOT in a good way.

#8 Muscle Memory:
The goal in learning a new ballroom dance is to get to the stage of dancing the basic steps without having to think about it very much. You listen to the music; you move to the music and you are still able to have an intelligent conversation with your partner without missteps.
If you do have a misstep that gets in the way of connecting with your partner or the tempo, the etiquette is that either partner can say, "I think WE are off the beat!" (The "WE" word is very important here as assigning fault is unproductive and risks having an unhappy partner on your hands.) This phrase is a not so subtle request to stop dancing entirely and start up again together with the basic step in time to the music.
Even though everyone learns at a different rate, with practice, you will develop the muscle memory to dance with and talk to your partner at the same time !

#7 Quiet Hands:
More dance etiquette…Followers (i.e. women) allow Leaders (i.e. men) to lead while the music is playing. After the music ends and real life continues all you women can go back to leading. But while you are dancing, the Leader's leads (usually hand signals that initiate a "move") will stand out so that Followers will know what to do next and not think that their partner is just getting really enthusiastic.

#6 Meet in the Middle:
It's a good idea to balance your "dance connection" with your partner so that your hands stay in the middle between you. This means that you will hold your partner's hands with an equal amount of pulling or pushing so that he will be able to lead and you will be able to read that lead and follow on time. Trade your loose "spaghetti" arms for toned bungee cord arms ! You won't experience any of those embarrassing "I think we are off the beat" moments that could get in the way of a fun time.

#5 Follow The Hand:
Leaders lead with their left hand and Followers follow wherever the Leader moves their right hand. It sounds simple but it isn't easy. The Follower must stay eternally vigilant (for at least the length of the song) because they only find out how to respond a moment after the Leader chooses something interesting and fun to lead. Additional challenges for the Followers are as ex-Governor of Texas Ann Richards said, "… Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backward and in high heels."

#4 Smile:
All your dance partners will appreciate your sincere enjoyment. So smile like you're having fun. Soon you will or at least you'll feel foolish enough to smile naturally.

#3 Love the Music:
Find the tunes that get you moving and practice to those. They will inspire you to continue long after your body says sit down. Muscle memory and fun will follow, trust me.

#2 Learn How You Learn:
Become aware of how you learn best & use that method or methods. For instance, take a dance class, ask questions and repeat the correct motions with your partner over and over again. Try practicing new moves first without music and then with music of a slow tempo to give you time to execute. Or watch videos of dancers doing a move you are trying to learn. Then try to duplicate what you've seen. Visualizing you and a partner executing a move can help develop muscle memory as well. If you are a literal person, how about writing out what you and your partner do on each beat of the basic step and then practice it with your partner ? There is no one right way to learn. Whatever works !

#1 No Magic Bullet:
Want more enjoyment from your social ballroom dancing ? To move past the dork stage and get good, get practicing. There's no other way. Comedian George Carlin once paraphrased the philosopher Nietzsche, "Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music." So, are you ready ?…..Get out there and let the insanity begin ! And remember to thank your partner.


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