Leveling Up Your Dancing

I’ve spoken before about how learning and improving my dancing is important to me. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to help start a dance school; so that I could share my joy learning with other folks who might feel the same way.

And so it makes sense that one of the most common questions we get from our students is when to move on to the next level. I’m going to answer some of those questions here, but the first thing you should know is that learning is a very personal process and not all the guidance you’ll find here will apply to you. A blog post probably won’t answer every question you have on this topic, so I’ll start by encouraging you to always speak with your dance teacher to get their opinion on the issue.

If you think you might be ready to move on, or if you want to be ready to be ready to move on, listen up!

An Overview Of The Program

Imagine our swing dance program like a lush, beautiful tree. Swing Basics courses are like the trunk of the tree. Everything else you learn is connected to the solid foundation you build in these introductory classes, so it’s really important that you know them backward and forward. Thin, puny trunks don’t support big, strong trees!

Just past the trunk you’ve got some branches on your tree. At our tree... er, school, we have Lindy Hop branches, Charleston branches, Balboa branches, and Solo Jazz branches. You might enjoy one of these styles more than the others, but strong trees have at least a few solid branches rather than just one big one (I think a tree with one branch is just a log). The reason we offer more than one type of dance is so that not only will you find something you enjoy, but you’ll build a good foundation in each style and be able to use them whenever you’re inspired to.

At the end of your branches you’ve got full leaves and maybe even some fruit growing. This is your personal touch, your contribution to the dance. This is your higher-level stuff. You need a good trunk of foundations and nice branches of specialized knowledge to get there, but finally you’ve got some fruit! It’s unique to you and the envy of all the other dancers, and you needed the whole journey to get there.

What You Should Know

Alright, metaphors aside, there are practical things you need to extract from each level before you’re ready to move on. From swing basics, you might be ready to move on when you know these skills comfortably:

  1. Six count basics with single and triple step rhythms
  2. Eight count basics with single and triple step rhythms
  3. Six count send-outs and return to closed position patterns
  4. Six count tuck turns
  5. Eight count promenade patterns (leader goes, follow goes, etc.)

You’ll notice that most of these things are techniques and moves. Dancing isn’t just hammering out move after move but you have to know these things before you can start to exercise your creativity and control over the dance. We’ll talk more about the “non-move” stuff later.

A longer period of time spent in Swing Basics will serve you very well moving forward. In fact, it’s a good idea to return to swing basics periodically (no matter your level) to work on your fundamentals. Generally, you should be in Swing Basics for 6-8 weeks for exposure to all these concepts – and more – before you’re ready to move on.

What You Need From Level 1 Courses

Level 1 courses like Lindy Hop 1 and Charleston 1 assume that you have a decent foundation in the Swing Basics repertoire. These classes will move faster and challenge you to grow more. In the level 1 classes you’ll learn the “classic” moves from that particular dance style and maybe start to see the bigger picture of how all these dances relate to one another. 

Advice about moving from Level 1 to Level 2 classes is a little less cut and dry. Of course, you’ll need to know the foundational aspects of each dance style to move to level 2, but there are less quantifiable aspects that should be starting to happen with your dancing, like:

  1. Beginning to introduce musicality to your dance decisions
  2. Growing more comfortable deliberately breaking patterns or mixing techniques together
  3. Able to more clearly lead or readily follow weight changes and more complex patterns
  4. Experimenting with your own ideas and moves during a dance to see what works and what doesn’t

You’re not expected to be a pro to be at Level 2 – far from it. But if the concepts above seem daunting or maybe even impossible at your current level, consider staying in Level 1 for a little while longer. Just like Swing Basics, Level 1 courses can be taken repeatedly to improve your dancing. Mastery of Level 1 might take you longer than Swing Basics and that’s ok – 8-12 weeks minimum might be enough to expose you to all the concepts you need to get you ready for Level 2 courses.

Around The World And Back Again

Maybe you’ve done Swing Basics, Level 1, and Level 2 in one of our course offerings. What now? The learning doesn’t end there. Here are some ideas on different ways to progress and grow in your dancing:

  1. Try the opposite role of your preferred one
  2. Try a different style (even if you’re not sure you’ll like it at first)
  3. Talk to us about joining our performance team
  4. Start a practice group and work with your peers on improving together
  5. Try a weekend exchange or workshop weekend
  6. If you have a competitive streak, try entering a competition
  7. Social dance, social dance, social dance!

We believe that there’s no secret to becoming a better dancer. The truth is it takes time and practice and a little bit of dedication. We’re here to set you on the path. If you have any questions about where to go or what to do with your dancing, we’re here to help answer them too. 

Whatever you do, remember that dancing is supposed to be fun and rewarding! We take the learning seriously, just in case you don’t want to. But if you do want to take it seriously – we got you.

See you on the dance floor!