Welcome to Swing Notes, a weekly article where Simon, who started Swing dancing in 1982, will be musing about life in the swing world, commentating on what’s going on and more often than not, the why & how you can get the most out of your dancing.

Diving into the annals of history & traditions that have been handed down to him, the aim is to be educational, thought-provoking & occasionally controversial, sharing his personal thoughts on the dance, music, history & today’s swing dance scene.

 

Be warned – Swing Notes will seriously improve your dancing!

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Sample Swing Notes Article:

Swing Notes Vol 173: Lockdown, Day 18. Tips for practising at home.

By Simon Selmon 

12/04/2020

Many of us will have been stuck at home right now, self-isolating due to the current Covid-19 world Crisis. In these circumstances, I thought it would be useful to explore what dance practice we can do from home to enhance our skills, keep our bodies and minds fresh and healthy and prepare for all those wonderful dances, parties and events we will soon be able to enjoy together again.
Today, with modern technology, we can invite some of the world’s best dancers and dance teachers into our homes, into our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms to inspire, guide and motivate us to be active. Whilst it’s fun to watch others dance, it’s more fun to be dancing and gain from all those mental, physical and well-being benefits. Here are some tips on how to practice for partner dancing – without a partner.

What you will need to practice from home:
A suitable space or at least the best option available – maybe you will have to move some furniture, dance around with socks over your shoes so that you don’t disturb the neighbours or get some sturdy leather soled street shoes for dancing on a concrete floor.
I think most of us have YouTube and dance DVDs to inspire us and which we can learn from.

Your favourite music. Put on some music that will make you want to dance.
Maybe join some of the wonderful online dance communities that have popped up recently to encourage you to get movin’.

But if you have never actually danced on your own or practiced with a partner at home, where should you start? Don’t have a partner? No excuses! Legendary Lindy Hopper Frankie Manning talked about practicing with a broom or chair and wearing out a hole in his carpet.
If you are on your own, practice dancing with an imaginary partner, which means moving your arms as though you were actually leading or following someone.

Here are some suggestions that may give you a few ideas.

First – what is your why? Do you want a five-minute break from work to move about and shake off those cobwebs? Or are you thinking that this is a great opportunity to … [you fill in the blank: Improve your dancing; get some exercise; find some stress relief; have fun, etc.].
Once you have decided what you want to get out of it, then my suggestion is to make a small plan that’s right for you.

Just want five/ten/…minute break:
Then create a habit – for example if you are a writer – every time you complete 250 words you will reward yourself by popping on a couple of tunes (insert your own reward; conversely say ‘I won’t watch telly until I have done some dancing’, or once every 90 mins it’s dance break time etc etc) and then make that reward a habit. That could be as simple as playing three songs. Gradually build up the tempo – start slow to warm up then build up to a medium/up-tempo song – to raise your heart rate a little.

 

For example:
George Gee’s - Blues for Stephanie (140 BPM) https://www.georgegee.com/merch
Shirt Tail Stompers - Lottie (154 BPM) https://shirttailstompers.bandcamp.com/
Jive Aces - High Energy Jive (175 BPM) https://jiveaces.com/store
 
Ensure you gradually move through the whole body, maybe starting from the head and working down – head, shoulders, chest, hips, arms, legs, feet or from the toes up.
Start with small movements, then progressively increase the range of the movements – e.g. if you are lifting your hand to the sky, slowly build up to a full stretch.

Looking for something more serious:
Treat it like a dance class you have pre-paid - block out the time as though you were going to a class.

Don’t have a partner? No excuses! Legendary Lindy Hopper Frankie Manning talked about practicing with a broom or chair and wearing out a hole in his carpet.

If you are on your own, practice dancing with an imaginary partner, which means moving your arms as though you were actually leading or following someone.

Always start with a warmup of some sort – even for a social dancing practice.

You have to decide what’s appropriate for you and take into account your environment, e.g. don’t start jumping around for 2 hours on a concrete floor.

For a gentle warm-up, you can use the 3 songs practice as described above.

If you want a more serious warm up, start with 2-5 mins of aerobic exercise, making sure you use all the main body parts, followed by 5-15 mins more intense mixing body isolations and stretching of all main body parts.

Of course, we are all starting from different starting blocks in terms of habits and abilities, so make sure you know your own limits or follow a recognised teacher (there are plenty on YouTube to build body awareness before you practice on your own.

Footwork Drills - equivalent to your musical scales.
Start with a bounce, softly through the knees and ankles with your weight centred over the balls of your feet and your heels lightly touching the floor. (imagine you are about to sit down and then stop a quarter of the way towards the chair – butt sticking out behind you). 

Keeping the bounce as you:
Shift weight from one foot to the other starting with:
8 quick steps (one step/weight change per beat of music)
4 slow steps (one step /weight change per 2 beats of music)
Practice different rhythms mixing Quicks (Q) and Slows (S).
Replace the Slows with Kick Downs/Tap Steps:
 
For example:
Q x 8
S x 4
QQSS x 4
QQSQQS x 4
QQKDKD x 4
QQKDQQKD x 4

 
Next, practice the above travelling:
Forwards (in a circle if limited on space)
Backwards
Turning to the Left
Turning to the Right
Mixing up the directions, moving in any which way, but strictly maintaining the rhythm pattern you are practicing for at least four repetitions of each.
 
You may want to substitute or add in addition some sort or technique practice which could be working on turns, extensions (using your whole body, e.g., arms through to your finger nails) or balancing exercises (e.g., as you watch a dance clip try standing on one leg!)

Next is the Challenge – Old school learning! Watch a short clip/demonstration of dancing you like – pick maybe 4 x 8 (= 32 beats of music) in length. Watch it one, two or three times, then turn off the clip and try to replicate as much as you remember. Of course it won’t be perfect, but it’s the act of trying to remember that will be beneficial.
Then go back to the clip as many times as required to perfect the move/s.

Depending on your level, you may want to start by copying your favourite old clip or dancers as closely as possible. What’s interesting is that the beginning, when you don’t quite remember everything you saw, is the time when you will develop your own styling and probably make up some new variations, and you may decide to stop there and work on those.

Once you feel you have that step or mini sequence under your belt, or even better your own version of it, play some music and try and replicate it at least three times the same way.

When that feels comfortable, play some music again, dance around then slip into that move or sequence and dance out of it – repeat at least three times during one song.

Next, take that sequence – repeat it three of four times to different kinds of music and make it different every time. Now you are really owning the step.

Finally, repeat the whole process at least once a day for 66 days and by the end of it your dancing will have reached new heights!
 
If you want to see one of the greatest solo dance practises check out this clip of Fred Astaire from Royal Wedding 1951

(C) Simon Selmon

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