So, you’re going to a lindy hop festival. You’ve packed every single item of clothing you own, and cleared Boots out of their plaster supplies. What about when you get there? Here are our top tips for getting the most from a swing dance festival:
1.Pace Yourself – the schedule for most weekenders will include your nominated track of classes, plus a number of “taster” classes which anyone can go along to (although some have requirements, such as aerials, where you will need to find a dedicated partner). It can be tempting to try and do EVERYTHING – which is definitely an option if you’re feeling it – but do remember that there is nothing wrong with taking a rest if you need one. If you are shattered, but curious, you can usually go and watch a class, but remember to ask the teacher/one of the organisers if that is OK first. This also applies in the evenings – there will be some Duracell bunnies who are fuelled on red bull and keep dancing til 5am, get two hours sleep and then go to classes the next day. You do not have to keep up with them if you are craving a bubble bath and some sleep.
2. Levels – you will have chosen a level when you registered, and it is normal to be given a coloured wristband which corresponds to your level. Level choice is important, but not always easy to get right, particularly as it largely depends on the other students and how they have interpreted their own level. If, after the first class or two, you feel that you have made a mistake in your level choice (either because you are over or under challenged) then do go and have a word with an organiser to see what can be done. Do remember, though, if you end up in a level where you feel under-challenged, there is still a huge amount you can get from staying in that level. Use it as an opportunity to nail everything – test your lead/follow skills, make sure that you are doing everything as perfectly as possible. The best, most advanced dancers still take beginners classes… If you are over-challenged but it is not possible to change levels, don’t put pressure on yourself to “get” everything. Concentrate on the aspects of the class which feel appropriate for you, and work on getting them right. You’ll get more from the classes that way and so will your partners.
3. Feedback – it is likely that in classes you will encounter more feedback than you do in your local scene. Learning how to give and receive feedback in a class is an important skill. A few golden rules to remember: Firstly, do not assume that it is your partner at fault if something is not working. It is more likely to be a combination of things which you are both doing. Secondly, in giving feedback, try to avoid saying things like “you’re doing X wrong”. It is more helpful to say “X doesn’t seem to be working quite right – can we work out why?” or “something feels strange on count 6, can we try that again?” Thirdly, unless someone is being an outright douchebag, try not to take feedback personally – it is a very useful learning tool. Fourthly, if something works with some partners, but not others, ask yourself why. Is it due to an insufficiently clear lead? Are some follows executing the move without being led (because they know the pattern)? Lastly, if you are really struggling, get the attention of a teacher and ask for help – they are the experts and may spot things which you can’t feel or see.
4. Social Dancing – it is perfectly normal to feel a little daunted when faced with a giant room full of people, a lot of whom you won’t have met before. Asking people to dance can feel scary. Remember – everyone is there to DANCE. The chances are, if you ask them to dance, they will say yes. I find that if you get stuck in as soon as you arrive in the evening, it is much easier. The vast majority of lindy hoppers are nice people who live for dancing, and it helps to bear that in mind if you are feeling shy. If they say no, it likely isn’t personal – they may just be tired. Some people have a lovely habit of asking you for a second dance when the first one has finished – which is lovely, and also means you get longer to get used to dancing with that person. Don’t feel shy asking for a second dance with someone – they’ll most likely be flattered! Oh, and if someone asks if you shag, they (probably) aren’t making a move on you.
5. Practice – it is really easy to attend festivals, learn lots of awesome new shizz, and then promptly forget it all. Usually, all levels will have covered similar material during the day, so most people will have been working on the same things. This makes the evening social dances a very good time to practice, if you feel you want to. Note: there is also nothing wrong in forgetting everything you’ve done during the day and just dancing your feet to stumps! If you want to practice you may find it useful to think of a few things which you have learned during the day and try to concentrate on those while you social dance in the evenings. For example, leads might make an effort to try out a few of the “moves” you have learned to make sure they find their way into your social dancing. Follows might try out a variation or two, or decide to spend some time thinking about a technical aspect they worked on during the day (such as keeping up your pulse, always responding to the direction/energy suggested by your lead, or something else). Oh, and hopefully it goes without saying, but if you are doing any aerials classes over the weekend, pleeeeease don’t practice them on the social dancefloor…
6. Teachers – teachers are not rock stars, they are not unicorns. They are just people who happen to have put a lot of work into becoming good at something. The vast majority of them are completely normal humans who love dancing even more than you do. Sometimes teachers don’t social dance as much as everyone else (teaching gets tiring, they might be jetlagged, they may be catching up with friends they only see once a year etc…) but if they are dancing, you can absolutely ask them to dance. You don’t have to be super-duper advanced to get involved and it can be a wonderful learning experience to take them for a spin. This also goes for anyone in a higher level than you.
7. Self Care – very much linked to pacing yourself… Stretching is your friend, as is hydration and maintaining some sort of decent blood sugar level. Most festivals have a massage therapist on hand, so use them if you feel you need to. Lots and lots of booze plus dancing is not usually a wise combination for reasons of coordination and dehydration. Get rest when you need it. If you develop a serious dance festival habit, you might decide to have some festivals where you challenge yourself during the day and take it easy at night, or vice versa. You do not have to be bionic – you do not have to do everything.
Most of all – enjoy! Festivals are wonderful ways to learn, and develop your dancing but they are also supposed to be FUN! You’ll probably come home from a good dance festival tired, but very inspired. Just maybe book the Monday off work, yeah?