This is a guest post by Mead McLean.

“All types of knowledge ultimately mean self knowledge.” -Bruce Lee

I’m sitting in the upstairs of a coffee shop as a gypsy jazz band is setting up. I send out a text to one of the new dancers in Boone: “Swing Guitars in 5 minutes. Upstairs at the coffee shop.” I get a call two minutes later: “Mead. Is there room to dance?” I take a glance at the packed upstairs, where there is zero dancing space: “Yeah. Plenty,” I say. “Alright. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

Sorry for lying to you Russell, but this is the first and most important lesson I have to teach you as a beginning dancer: Love The Music. There’s no malice intended, in fact, I had exactly the same approach when I started. Over the years, though, dance, listening, reading, playing, and the way I dress have all become a larger part of the whole: Jazz Music Appreciation.

A quick question:

When you go to a swing dance, do you have to dress up and change shoes or do you wear jazzy clothing all the time? Read here about Michael Aranella, who lives the Jazz Age Life full-time.

When you go to a big event, aside from seeing regulars, you can probably tell who’s made Lindy Hop a part of their lifestyle and who’s just visiting. Whether you want to or not, you’ll be able to tell from dance quality, footwear (those split-sole shoes are so odd…), sense of style, general excitement, discomfort, a desire to talk about dancing and only dancing, and any number of other little cues.

Let’s look to the DWT archives for a few ideas: Why the Cool People Aren’t Talking to You Yet, 6 Serious Problems With Newbie Dancers, 31 Signs You’re Not an Advanced Dancer Yet, How to Survive Your First Social Dance, and When Lindy Hop Isn’t Fun Anymore.

Nobody wants to be a newbie.

It’s uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, and awkward at worst, but it’s got its good side. It’s incredibly exciting to go to your first Lindy Exchange. Every new move you learn is the best thing EVER. Seeing your heroes tear up the dance floor unquestionably blows your mind. It’s the rush of acceleration when you first jump down the rabbit hole, and it is incredible.

Eventually, Lindy Hop might get a little less fun, but that OK. You don’t necessarily have to go on an introspective emotional journey to have fun again–you just have to find a new, related, rabbit hole to jump down. Let’s have a look at some possibles:

1) Music

There’s always the music. It’s what brings us out night after night, weekend after weekend. I’m continuously compiling a list of songs, musicians, bands, and compilations over at my site (feel free to send me any additions).

2) Play music

After a while, you might just want to join in those late night jams at exchanges and workshops. In fact, if there’s not much dancing in your town, you just might find a whole group of musicians who can’t dance, but really want to play some old jazz.

3) History of dance

There are now several great autobiographies out there. Frankie, Norma, etc.

4) History of music

Read the tragic story of King Oliver (free PDF) as you listen through his complete archives. Have a listen through Alan Lomax’s Library of Congress recordings of his conversations over a piano with Jelly Roll Morton.

5) Your style

Bobby White has a side-project going called “Fine & Dandy,” and so does Laura Windley: “Lindy Shopper.”

6) Your body & cross-training.

There’s a reason loads of dancers have done P-90X, cross trained with tumbling and circus experts, and taken up martial arts, gymnastics, other dances, and hat-and-cane manipulation.

It’s because Lindy Hop is about the body. Lindy Hop learning paths aren’t codified, which makes for a variety of individual results and styles, but it also means that there’s no clear and direct way to develop your dancing and its facets.

You might want to develop strong muscles so you can be faster, more powerful, and able to handle aerials. You might want to learn to tumble so you can have control during aerials and tricks. You may want to study martial arts to have a new awareness of your body and to develop flexibility. You might need to get into other dances (tap, ballroom, tango, etc.) to bring more variety and precision to your movement.

7) Find hallowed ground

After reading the biography of King Oliver, we went to Savannah, GA and found the approximate spot where he died. While we were getting set to hit the road, we put some songs on the car stereo and danced around. Those recordings somehow took on a new life when we were in that spot. It’s never sounded the same since. Here’s a picture:

Lindy Hop isn’t just about connecting with a partner. It’s about connecting to the past, to the music, to new friends, and to yourself. So go find the music, play it, learn about the people who loved the dance and music before you, dress a little more fancy, and go to places that hold some historical power. Be new again. You’ll find you’re all the better for it.

Mead McLean

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