For swing dancers, speed is a relative term. What once seemed fast to you will be comfortable in time. At a certain point however, you’ll want to focus your practice on a few specific items to really make fast dancing easy (in terms of being less tiring, less jarring) and (hopefully) fun.
Keeping the upper body quiet
Finding a nice still place for the body will allow you to concentrate on your stretch (more below), and help you to keep your shoulders from becoming over extended. It will allow you to use your upper body to take on part of the work. Holding your head up, with your upper body relatively quiet (except for the stretching components) you will also assume a nice low and wide stance which will help you to change directions. A good visual is a football player waiting for the snap, but slightly more relaxed. Another visual from one of the Savoy’s original dancers is to imagine that the floor is very hot, and you have to constantly be changing feet to keep them cool.
Place a quarter on the back of the follow’s hand while in an open Lindy connection. Do some swing outs and try to keep the quarter from falling off. It will draw attention to any arm bounce or motion. Chances are the connection will feel more solid from the follow’s perspective as well
Stay closer 7/8 so you can stretch on rock step
Stretching out on 1 & 2 is the key to good power within your basics. Running straight in is going to put all the focus on your lower body and not allow you to use your arms to help. Your distance on “7&8” should be not more than about 90% of your total maximum distance from your partner (while still keeping your shoulder from overextending). When you rock step, think about extending from fingertip to fingertip. Try erring on the side of discontinuing your outward movement on the count 6, since 7&8 have a tendency to travel, whether you want them to or not. Do not let yourself be fully extended on 7/8
Do 8 count Lindy basics but “hold” and “pulse” on your 7&8 instead of doing the footwork. This will allow you to concentrate on your proximity and your stretch. Once you feel like your stretching is better, add the 7&8 footwork back in.
Use your syncopation to gain space within basics
One way that musicians make music sound relaxed is by using syncopation. As dancers, we can buy ourselves time to relax and push off the ground when we properly syncopate. When you’re dancing with syncopation you’re internal “metronome” will sound like “hoo wa, shoo-pa-da”… or some variation of “long, short, long short short”… less like an even “1, 2 3 & 4”.
Dance simple, familiar patterns while scatting aloud. Make sure to avoid any feeling of “evenness” or a metronome feel. Make it “swing”… You can try dancing along to the melody in a familiar song for inspiration. Work this with slow songs, then move to faster songs to see its effect on your uptempo dancing.
Make 3 to 4 to 5 one single motion
In a fast Swing-out, the linear element is balanced well with the rotational one. As you move into 3&4, move strongly into your partner, and then that energy will transfer easily into the 5. It should not feel as though there is a “stop” on count 4, leading into 5.
Do swing outs with concentration on the rotational element. Try moving the lead out on 5 closer to the “4 &” place. It’ll give the rotation a bit of a “pop” which should feel peppy and quick
Heavy counterbalance will slow you down
When you think about your movement in a fast swing out, the top of the head should always be directly over the feet. Only in the moment of the stretch should there be a feeling of strong tension in the arm.
Film your dancing and watch frame by frame. Check for weight in the heels or moments when your upper body is significantly out of line with the feet. Look for moments where your arm is at more acute angles than you imagined, and look for shoulders pulling up in tension.
* Note, there are some FANTASTIC iPad apps like Coach’s Eye, and others that will help you to analyze video you took with your iPad.
Use alternative swing-outs to relax
Make sure that you take some time to learn Breakaway, Hal’s Flying Swing-out, Charleston Swing-outs, and perhaps a little St. Louis Shag too. All these different basics can give you other relaxed ways to express the music and buy you some time to build up energy for the really really big “pure” swing-outs.
Match chest rotation with your partner
Ideally in a fast swing out, the shoulders are parallel, not necessarily square though. If you find you aren’t matched up, you might not be using your partner enough, or possibly “rounding” out your basic, which is a place you can be losing power. Make no assumptions!
Stay behind the music
Think of your basics as being a reaction to the music when things get fast. Visualize the music as being a hook attached to the back belt-loop of your pants and it “is” the thing that moves you. Another helpful visual is to think of the timeline of a song as being a road, and as you move along the timeline (as the song plays) you are the passenger in a truck. You want to be in the back of the truck, not on the front bumper, so as a beat passes your movement in relation to it is as far behind as it can be.
Dance to a song and see how slow you can make the song feel without being off-beat. You may have to “practice relaxing”
We hope a couple of these tips help you out in your quest to dance faster.
Feel free to post your comments! We’d love to hear your experience, or address questions as needed. We’ll keep this article up to date as we come up with new exercises.