Confession time, guys. Fast lindy hop is not actually that mysterious. Fast lindy hop is identical to slower lindy hop. You just do it at faster speeds.
But of course your slow lindy hop doesn’t work perfectly at high speeds yet. Argh!! That’s why you’re reading this article. To be frank, it’s because your dancing isn’t good enough yet.
Egads! Yes, I dared tell you the truth. That wasn’t so hard to admit, was it?
If you can understand why you need to improve your lindy hop in order to dance fast, you’ll be prepared for what specifically you need to do. Let’s start with the why.
The Well Engineered Car Analogy
Say you’re driving a cheap car. You decide to take it up to neck-breaking speed of 60 mph as you get on the highway. As you may know, really cheap cars often vibrate a bit at higher speeds.
It could be the way the car is made. It could also be that things go out of balance and wear out more quickly in cheaper cars.
A better engineered car would not vibrate at high speeds. The parts fit together nearly perfectly, and everything stays in balance, even when you push the limits of the car.
You want to be the better engineered car. You don’t need to be a luxury vehicle, but you DO need to be rock solid.
Below I’ve listed the top imperatives for kick-ass fast lindy hop. To help you focus on what works, I’ve included only the most important aspects.
Don’t leave out any of these essential ingredients! (You wouldn’t leave out the breaks on a car, would you?)
First and foremost, safety. Why? Collisions are more destructive at higher speeds. It’s on you to both protect yourself and others on the dance floor.
Where to look. You will not be looking at your partner much while dancing high speeds socially. You will be constantly twisting your head about, looking for open spaces to swing out into, checking to make sure you’re not about to become someone’s casualty.
“Imperfect” swing outs. You swing out where there is an open space, not where you think you’re “supposed” to. If you practice those 3/4 swing outs, they can feel super awesome, too (see High Speed Moves).
Feet under body. Keep those Charleston kicks right under your body, unless you have the entire dance floor to yourself.
Pulse. Your internal metronome has gotta be able to keep up with the beat. Practice your pulse at high speeds. Drill footwork at high speeds, over and over.
Match your partner’s pulse impeccably. If you are even a tad bit off, it feels like crap. It’s better to be off beat and matching your partner, than on beat but not matching.
If you fall behind, never rush to catch up. Wait and let the beat come back to you.
Connection & Partnering
Fast dance connection is identical to slower dancing in all meaningful ways. The faster you want to dance, the closer your connection must be to perfection.
Keep it light. If you are tensing your arm (especially the biceps or triceps) on beats 1 or 2, your partner will resist you, and you’ll get tired faster. If you are pulling on your partner outside of the context of how your body is moving, your partner will resist you.
Adjust (and readjust) to your partner. They did something you weren’t expecting? Throw on a smile and deal with it. When lindy hoppers build a monument of you, then you can judge.
In pain? “Deal with it” does NOT apply! Calm it down, tell your partner, or stop dancing.
High Speed Moves
Not every move works well or easily at high speeds. These moves will work well, if you practice them:
“Imperfect” swing outs. Those perfect 360° swing outs we see in the movies are a fine goal. But social dancing often calls for swinging out LESS than 360°. Plus it’s easier. Can you rock some 3/4 swing outs? Everyone around you hopes so (see floor craft).
Triple steps. Yes, do them! If you picked a song that’s too fast for you, you can leave them out, but it’s not considered good form. Practice, practice, practice.
Swivels=YES. The natural motion of the swing out was made for swivels. Leaving them out is… awkward, to say the least. You may find you have to streamline your swivels, but you’ll always do them. The one exception is if you decide to rock step on 1-2… or do some fancy footwork variation.
Simple moves. If you can do elaborate variations at high speeds, go you. But often the music is just too fast to think about getting fancy. Simpler moves are usually better.
Do Charleston, lots of Charleston. Don’t know much? Learn more. Practice it at high speeds.
Less turning, guys. Follows, you have the right to stop yourself if you get tired of turning.
There are two ways to stay in shape for fast dancing: Lindy hop, and not lindy hop. You need both for a balanced body and consistently good dancing.
Do lots of fast dancing. The more you do it, the easier it is on your body.
Cross train with other cardio and strength training. ‘Cuz we all know lindy hop is not a complete exercise.
Pay attention to aches and pains. It’s actually not cool to dance on that sprained ankle you just got. Lindy hoppers don’t love martyrs. We want you to get better, not ruin your dancing.
Tips for Your Mind
Focus, focus, focus. Keep your brain simultaneously attentive to 3 things: The music, yourself, and your partner. I know that sounds hard, but that’s the truth of it.
Calm down. No really, CALM DOWN. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect. It doesn’t even matter if you’re on beat. What matters is that you are working with your partner to create a dance that feels good for both of you. Do your best on the social floor, then go back to the studio and practice if you’re not satisfied.
Inhale and exhale evenly. This is my dirty little secret to instantly improving anyone’s dancing. Even though people rarely take breathing seriously, I can’t in good conscience leave it out. If you study the mechanics of breathing, you will understand why this works.
One More Thing
Reading about this really won’t get you far. In my fantasy land, I’d like to believe that lives can be changed by reading blogs.
In reality land, lives are changed by actions. SIGH.
So go do something with your newfound knowledge! Even if it’s the tiniest thing, just do it. You’re the only one who can make the magic happen in your lindy hop.
(If you try all these things and get stuck, you may need a private lesson to sort out the quirks in your movement and connection. Don’t resist taking a lesson. The best dancers all do it.)