The Art of Social Dancing

I’ve never been one for the common nightclub. To teeter through the streets in crippling heels, cold and shivering (for a true nightclubber must wear very little), is far from being my favourite way to start an evening. To then plunge into a steamy pit of gyrating bodies, full of wandering hands and too much hair gel is quite possibly my worst way to continue an evening. I just can’t quite see the fun in it all, you see.

A SWING club night, however, is quite a different kettle of fish. A glorious one, in fact. Touted by many as the best and, by some, the only way to really develop as a Swing Dancer the Social Dance is, to use a very modern turn of phrase, WHERE IT’S AT.

Dedicated Swing nights are popping up all over the place and I, for one, am jumping on the band wagon. Below I’ve listed some basic guidelines that novice Swing Dancers would do well to become acquainted with prior to their dance-floor debut.

  1. Attire

There is, without fail, ALWAYS, a spectacular display of vintage styling at a Swing Dance Social. From dapper trouser-waistcoat get-ups through to classic, boat neck 50s dresses, Social Dancers have incredible style. Well, the ones you really notice do.

If you’re a fan of rummaging, and are after some genuine vintage gear, the shops and stalls in Brick Lane and Camden Lock are particular hotspots. If you’re after some reproduction vintage, Tara Starlet and Vivien of Holloway both have excellent collections and great websites.

I am an unashamed fan of the ‘vintage look’ and am happily cultivating my own. It’s a work in progress but I hope to be fully fledged and the envy of the dance floor by next Autumn. One of my biggest setbacks in achieving this is finding what to do with my absolute mop of hair. The key to dance-worthy hair is to find (and master) something that is durable yet stylish – a structural masterpiece of kirby-grip scaffolding on the inside, a casual, thrown together look on the outside. Easier said than done.

A dash of Victory Rolling

The simplest option would be the classic half up half down ‘do à la Betty Grable – but this is far from the most practical for dancing purposes. To have hair tumbling down ones back is all very well for one of those lazy days in the park but when combined with lots of dancing, the resulting sweaty nastiness is quite frankly intolerable. Sadly, the Vintage Hairdresser in me is yet to have mastered much else. I usually spend the entire afternoon before a Social Dance battling with victory rolls, marcel waves and headscarves and getting very hot and bothered in the process. I invariably run out of time and wind up with a scraped-back-off-your-face top-knot that should really be reserved for early morning sessions at the gym. Bother you, hair!

2. Space

 Were I, in a fit of linguistic ambition, to compile a Thesaurus, the first synonym to be listed under the term ‘Social Dancing’ would be ‘severe lack of space’. For the Social Dance-floor is rarely anything other than crampedsquashedpacked. And it’s these conditions which make the act of Social Dancing a far hotter, more sweaty affair than is at all necessary.

The compact, six-count is often favoured over the more exciting eight-count precisely because of this space issue. As we all know though, the sensible choice can often be a little dull. Six-count fatigue is common and can be remedied by a quick Swing Out. Precision of aim, quick thinking and a good dose of skill is essential if a Lead wishes to perform a successful Swing Out on the Social Dance-floor. Failure in but one of these areas can result in a grizzly collision with neighbouring dancers and and a sharp slap on the face from your Follow. Leads, you have been warned.

To end this topic on a slightly less fearful note, I’ve an insiders tip for the space-hungry dancer. Whilst arriving late is undeniably the more fashionable option, the very early bird can almost always be guaranteed some quality time with that rare beast, the empty dance-floor. Just make sure you bring a partner to dance with.

3) Partner Etiquette

To ask, or not to ask? I’m a traditionalist on this matter and always leave it for the men to ask for a dance. It’s a sound policy – for what could be more mortifying for a Follow than to be denied a dance? I can’t imagine it’s the best feeling for a Lead, either –  but let us not forget, most Leads are MEN and MEN should be strong enough to handle rejection.

Every time I go social dancing, I’m reminded of the prom scene in Grease where a row of young ladies sit on a bench on the edge of the dance floor, gazing wistfully out, waiting to be proffered a hand by a charming young gentlemen. The gentlemen at Social Dancing aren’t always young but they are quite a charming lot – well, decent chaps at any rate – and they will proffer a hand. I do love it when I can pretend I’m in a film.

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