Promoting Swing Dancing
and Live Swing Music
in the Triangle Region

Beginner’s Corner

Swing Dancing 101

Table of Contents:

What’s “swing” dance, anyway?

“Swing” refers to a group of dances that developed over several decades, starting with swing jazz music in the 1920s, then continuing through the ’50s and beyond.

How do I get started?

The best way to get started is by taking a swing dance lesson, either an introductory lesson before a social dance event, or through a local instructor or dance studio. TSDS offers a free beginner East Coast swing lesson before each dance event. It’s a great way to get an introduction to swing and meet other beginners before the band starts.  Swing dancing is unusual in that a single one-hour lesson can teach you enough to have an enjoyable evening!

Even if you’ve had some lessons but are still relatively new to swing dancing, the beginner lessons help you continue to improve, and they are a great way to break the ice with the people you’ll be asking to dance an hour later.

Do I need to come with a dance partner?

Nope. There are plenty of people to dance with, and most people dance with a variety of others throughout the evening–even the married couples do that. When you come to the beginner lesson we will have you rotate dance partners.

If you do come with a partner, we won’t force you to rotate with different partners during the lesson, but we highly encourage that you do.  Dancing with a variety of partners will make both of you get better.

What should I wear?

Wear comfortable clothes. You’ll see anything from jeans to fancy or vintage dresses. Just make sure you’re comfortable moving around in them. Dance is good exercise so you’re likely to work up a sweat. Wear lighter weight shirts, and guys may want to bring an extra undershirt (it’s not all about you, it’s about making your partners comfortable). It’s okay to wear shorts to a dance. If you wear a dress that flares out when you spin, consider wearing shorts or a slip underneath.  
Many dancers bring a handkerchief or small towel to discreetly take sweat off of their face between songs.

Do I need dance shoes?

Any comfortable shoes will work as long as they don’t leave marks on the floor. It’s better if your shoes don’t grip the floor much. Flats or Keds are preferred over high heels for beginners. If you start dancing on a regular basis, buy a pair of dance shoes. They spin and slide on the floor better and will reduce the stress on your knees.

What else should I bring?

TSDS events include free water, so all you need are comfortable clothes, sensible shoes, and a fun attitude. You’ll be leaving your things sitting under a chair or on a table at the dance venue, so keep that in mind when you decide what to bring with you.

How does a social dance work?

Here’s the basic agenda for TSDS dances, and most social dances are similar. About 6:30 PM volunteers set up the venue – arrange chairs, tables, set up lights, etc. Arrive by 6:45 to get through the door and be ready for the 7 PM beginner’s lesson. The lesson lasts about an hour. Music (live or DJ) starts playing at 8 PM. With live music dances there are usually three sets, with breaks in between. The intermissions typically have DJ’ed music that contrasts and complements the live music.

You’ll see the whole spectrum of dancers from young to old, short and tall, beginners to experts. There are people who come as married or dating couples, people who come alone, and groups of friends that come together. There will be a small handful of couples that pretty much just dance with each other, but the vast majority of people (including the married) dance with whoever is standing around or whoever asks them. There are no dating implications when dancing with someone at a swing dance (this isn’t a junior high school dance!), everybody is just having fun dancing together.

There is a table near the entrance that has dance flyers on it, check those out when you want to take a break to see what other events are coming up. There is also free water near the entrance so you can stay hydrated. Things are informal overall, just folks coming and going and having a good time together.

For the guys – I’m supposed to lead but don’t know what I’m doing. I’m terrified/ embarrassed/ scared/ intimidated!  Now what?

Let’s just admit it.  Guys are often more afraid of looking dumb dancing.  Being a lead can be tough for a while because you can only lead the moves you know and it doesn’t feel like much. But every dancer out there started from ground zero and worked to get to whatever level they’re at. Here are a few pointers that should put your mind at ease:

  • Go to the beginner lesson before the dance. You’ll meet other beginners. It’s a great way to break the ice with other dancers and you’ll feel comfortable around them later during the dance.
  • One of the most exciting things for many experienced dancers is seeing new people come into the scene. The vast majority of them are happy to dance with you and will look forward to seeing you at the next dance.
  • See the ladies standing around the perimeter of the floor between songs? Every one of them wants to dance. Most of them aren’t thinking “I hope a really super advanced guy asks me to dance.” They just want to have fun.
  • Even if you only know a couple of moves you can have a lot of fun, and so can whoever you dance with. Do the basic step a few times, do a turn a couple of times, do the basic some more. You might feel like you’ve worn out those couple of moves about half way through the song, but that’s OK. Keep at it, have fun, and just smile!
  • You’re one dance of dozens that she’ll have. She’ll dance with first-timers, seasoned pros, someone who did a cool move she liked, someone that was dancing way over her head, someone that was just fun to dance with. At the end of the night she’ll remember you as a new dancer that everyone hopes will come back.
  • Just get over it and go do it. After a few dances you’ll be having a blast. 

For the ladies – What if no one asks me to dance? What if I don’t know what to do when the lead does something?

  • Go to the beginner lesson and meet the other beginners. The beginner guys (leaders) are just as worried as you are. They only know 2 or 3 turns and they’re often a lot more comfortable dancing with other beginners. Find out who they are at the beginner lesson, you’re the one they want to dance with when the music starts!
  • When you don’t know what a lead is asking you to do, do your best interpretation of what you think he’s asking and you’ve done your job. It’s just as much his job to adapt to your interpretation as it is your job to follow his lead.
  • If you’re sitting behind a table the guys may think you want to sit out this song. Stand up on the edge of the dance floor. Don’t fold your arms, do make eye contact, smile. Look like you’re ready to dance.
  • To some guys it’s very intimidating to approach a clustered group of girls talking and having fun. He’s got to approach the group, pick someone out, and ask her to dance, and risk rejection in front of several girls. There are a lot of guys who won’t do it. If you want to be asked to dance, try to hang out solo or with just one of your friends, both facing the dance floor.
  • Do the asking yourself! This is the 21st century, it’s perfectly acceptable! Women often outnumber the men at a dance so you need to get out there and ask them.  

I’m intimidated by the good dancers!

Don’t be. Every one of them started at ground zero, too. Rather than be intimidated, be inspired. Check out their moves or style.  Try to “steal” some of it. You’ll see all levels around you.
You can ask ANYONE to dance, and you should at least do a couple of dances per night with the advanced partners–they’re friendly, I promise, and it will make you better.  Be fearless!  If it makes it easier, you can say, “I’m not very good but would you like to dance this song with me?”

TSDS Code of Conduct

Please look at the TSDS Code of Conduct. Swing dancing can involve one-on-one interactions with a lot of different people. Like other hobby communities, you may need to stand up for yourself against against (or report) inappropriate behavior from others, including from teachers or more-experienced dancers. TSDS wants you to know about some rights and expectations.