Top Ten Tips to Becoming a Great Swing Dancer

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Are you a beginner, eager to do the cool moves you see everyone else doing, but you only know three moves? Here’s my advice to beginner swing dancers on how to get good fast:

1. Go social dancing as often as possible!

Just taking a lesson once a week won’t cut it. You’ll forget everything you learned before the next lesson. When I started I was a total fanatic and went swing dancing four or five times a week. OK, maybe you don’t have to be that insane, but you should go out at least twice or three times a week. Check this site’s Lindy Calendar and Lindy map to find events near you.

2. Take lessons – especially private lessons!

It’s true that some great dancers just learned by going out and having people teach them (more follows than leads), but I think lessons are always helpful and sometimes crucial depending on your natural dancing ability. And don’t just take lessons from one teacher – try many teachers and learn many styles. Many venues have free lessons before the dance – take them. See my links to recommended instructors and classes. After you’ve got the basic steps down, take private lessons!! Private lessons will transform your dancing. Just be prepared to work on the basics that you thought you already knew.

3. Go to a swing camp, Lindy exchange or weekend workshop.

These have intense all-day class schedules that will really jump-start your swing dancing fast! Think of them as swing dance boot camps. They usually have dances at night which have really advanced dancers and contests to inspire you. The best and biggest one in Southern California is Camp Hollywood. But there are Lindy exchanges going on all over the country year-round. Search on Google for the cities near you. You will be a MUCH better dancer after each one of these, I guarantee it!

4. Learn the basics and get them solid. Do NOT learn a bunch of aerials when you are beginning!

It’s considered uncool to do aerials on most social dance floors unless you’re in a jam circle or contest, and dancing with a partner who you’ve practiced with. Don’t lead aerials unless you’ve practiced them beforehand with your follow (a lot).  Instead, concentrate on learning the basics. I know this sounds boring, but the regular dancers you encounter will notice your efforts. Couple other tips: New swing dancers tend to take big steps, especially on the rock-step. Take small steps! Second, avoid rushing. Beginners are usually nervous and rush through moves. Take the all of the allocated beats to finish your move (you have more time than you think!). If you are a follow, instead of learning a bunch of moves, learn how to follow. Then you can do any move the guy leads. Also, followers, don’t try to read the leader’s mind and anticipate the move. Just follow what the leader physically leads you to do (along with following the music of course).

5. Dance with a variety of people – not just your partner

You need to dance with different people to become a good leader or follower. If you dance with the same person all of the time, you won’t be leading or following. You’ll know all of each other’s moves and will just be anticipating them. Ask other people to dance, and accept when other people ask you.

6. Watch good dancers when you go out, online, and anywhere else you can

Try to copy them. Look at their styling. Try to work out their moves. It will rub off on you in time. Contest footage is usually available on YouTube mere days after the event (or even the same day). I remember when getting good swing dance videos was so difficult – there is no excuse now!

7. Make a video of yourself dancing… and watch it

Watching yourself on video can be very revealing. It can be painful to watch, but it will help you identify problems and do wonders for your dancing.

8. Listen to lots of swing music

You’ll get familiar with the structure, breaks, and rhythms. There is nothing cooler than knowing when a break is coming up and hitting it with a quick stop!

9. Ask advanced dancers to teach you a cool move that you see them do

They will be flattered and you might get a free mini-lesson. I was always delighted when someone asked me to show them a move I did. This is a great way to build up your repertoire of good moves, as well as gain friends in the swing scene!

I don’t see this happening much anymore, but it happened a lot at the Derby.

10. Have fun and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Swing dancing is about having fun. If you don’t mess up at least one move per dance, it probably means you weren’t challenging yourself enough.

If you are an experienced dancer, please comment below with any other advice you have for beginners! – Brian

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4 years ago

Thank you for sharing this. I’m a complete beginner in dancing, will definitely try on these tips during my dance class in Arthur Murray Dance Center. Check them out! They helped me boost up my self confidence plus social skills through salsa dancing. I definitely recommend this dance center for everyone (newbie or not), the people there are very supportive and they really want to help you out?

4 years ago

I am a former professional dancer, rehabilitated from complete disability, and just starting to learn Swing Dancing… lovin’ it! This article, and also Dr. Doug’s additions, has been so helpful. Thanks bunches!

7 years ago

Okay so I haven’t even started dancing yet so I have no clue what I’m talking about BUT I love the music and how the dance looks. What style of Swing would be recommended for beginners and do you have any tips to get better even faster?? I tend to pick up on things quickly and I would like to try to master all the styles of Swing eventually. I would just like some extra advice. I don’t have much money or friends so yeahhh…

7 years ago
Reply to  Kyle

Hi Kyle,

Start with East Coast Swing. From there, you can learn Charleston, Lindy Hop, and Balboa. Places to take lessons are here:

My biggest tip is to go out dancing as much as possible. If you just take one lesson each week and don’t practice multiple times per week, you won’t improve.


8 years ago

Love the comments. Im a beginner and i cant get past the rock step . I went dancing tonight and danced with everyone who asked me but i messed up sooo much. I hope i can do this one day! Will i ever get it???

8 years ago

Practice regularly and watch dancers you like. Take private lessons. Get individual feedback and inspiration. Probably the best way to quickly improve your dancing.

10 years ago

Great advice! I’d just like to add a note of appreciation and a “pass it forward” comment. When I started two years ago I was “terrified” of getting up on the dance floor, having to lead someone. I was fortunate to meet many follows who were kind about it when I told them I was a beginner. I try to keep that in mind when I dance at places like Lindy Groove where there are always many beginners. I make a concerted effort to be patient and ask them if they would like a few tips. I know reassuring them and helping them learn the basic six count is appreciated. We all started as beginners at some point and being kind to newbies is a nice way of creating the kind of culture we all would like to be a part off in the swing dance community.

Dr Doug
10 years ago

Great advice, Brian. I have some things to add regarding lindy swing:
1. Do not remain too long with only “East Coast”. EC is really just the six-count part of Lindy. I started with 6-count and had a heckuva time transitioning to the whole dance, i.e. Lindy Hop. It’s all lindy swing (when it’s danced to swing jazz and early rock). Learn the lindy hop swingout soon and add 6-count, 8-count, 10-count, 12-count whatever moves to your routine.
2. Leads! Do not dance with a lady until you can sit in a chair and keep a six-count beat with your feet to the music (left, right, backstep) for the length of a whole song. The only thing a follow hates worse than a lead who can’t keep the basic step is one who yanks her arm out of her shoulder socket. :-)
3. Leads: When you feel comfortable leading and keeping the step, start accumulating moves and steps until you can choreograph a whole song without much repetition.
4. Follows: KEEP YOUR FRAME. Also, keep your frame.
5. Dance 50% of the time with the one you came with, in order to develop your technique, and dance the other 50% with others in order to learn lead/follow and meet folks. It is social dancing, y’know. Nobody likes stuckup couples or individuals.
6. When your technique reaches a comfortable level, and you feel the music in your bones, PLAY! Start using your whole body (including the face) to express yourself. But don’t start styling until you have got the basics down.