How to Fail like a Badass Swing Dancer

Posted by Krista Hershberger on

Have you noticed that lindy hoppers, jitterbugs, boogie woogie dancers, and all those hepcat jumpers and jivers are real smooth during a dance wipeout, fall, or fail? You never see them storm off the dance floor in a huff! 

What is their secret? How do these dancers continue to jump, jive, and wail regardless of unforeseen mishaps?  


My early experience with dance included pink tights, bars, and ballerina buns. I had very encouraging ballet instructors but the general sentiment seemed to be - there's an ideal or perfect way to perform every dance move and you should always be striving for that ideal. 


For me, learning to swing dance felt like breaking all the rules! Initially, the improvisation elements of lindy hop and solo jazz dance were a real challenge for me. Without a choreographed road map of what was expected, I felt like a nervous wreck fumbling through the song and always searching in the wrong places for cues of what I should do (note - your feet will not tell you what to do next, don't look at them for help). I slowly learned to love the self expression and moment-by-moment response that swing dancing enables. Along with that, came an openness and even embrace for dance mistakes. 


Like me, I think a lot of new swing dancers try to avoid mistakes like the plague! If that's you, focus on this swing dance mantra: IT'S NOT A MISTAKE, IT'S A VARIATION. I promise that becoming comfortable with your swing dance mistakes will empower your dancing in a whole new way! Here are a few tips that I've found useful as I learn (and am still learning) to fail like a badass swing dancer.  



I used to be so, so very guilty of this one! Now, I find it detracts from the dance when new dancers apologize for every little step that didn't go well. To be honest, I understand that you're not a robot and I expect those unexpected "mishaps." But let's not focus on those! Let's focus on how we can create a meaningful and exciting dance within those limitations and mistakes.

TO CLARIFY: If you think you accidentally hurt, tripped, or inappropriately touched another dancer, PLEASE APOLOGIZE. If the mistake has to do with someone else's comfort, apologize like an empathetic human being! If it has to do with the dance not going as you planned, apologizing is probably unnecessary. Every once in a while, it's ok if it makes you feel better (but not every other dance move, please). 



I used to see mistakes made in the dance as little disturbances and disruptions. I thought these should be avoided at all costs (including the sacrifice of creativity and exploration). If they did happen, they should be ignored (except for profuse apologies) so that the regularly scheduled perfect dance could resume. 

For me, the first step to mastering the art of failing like a pro swing dancer, was to change my perspective of mistakes. Rather than avoid and disdain them, I challenged myself to see them as surprise sources of inspiration. Start asking yourself questions like: Where can the dance go from here? What movement or connection can I experience in this unexpected position? What happened because of that mistake that I would've missed out on otherwise? Could that "mistake" actually be a dance move? Could I incorporate that mistake into my dancing now as a unique variation?


dance to enjoy each step, enjoy the journey, embrace your mistakes



So now that you don't hate dance fails, how can you transform them into stellar moments in your dance? One strategy I see all the time in the swing dancing community is to exaggerate your mistake. Did you just slip a little? Start sliding around dramatically, making it look like the dance floor is covered in ice! Did you trip a little? Continue "falling" in that direction, hop on one foot like a big ole goofball. You get the point! However you slipped up, exaggerate it in a comical way.



wild swing dance expressions, lindy hop faces are animated and comical Since we're speaking of goofiness, swing dancers are notorious for wild facial expressions while they dance! React to your mistake with a crazy facial expressions. Surprised? Unsure? Confused? Worried? Apologetic? Show it with your face. Usually, your partner will be amused and it'll allow you to share that moment together in a comedic way.



And yeah, be able to laugh at yourself! Laughter can turn an awkward moment into an inside joke between dance friends. I see a lot of laughter between swing dancers, lindy hoppers, balboa dancers, and most folks on the social dance floor. I love it! Stop being so serious and stop worrying about your two left feet. Take a lighthearted but committed approach to your swing dancing. 



No matter what you want to improve, the answer is always - "practice the basic steps!" But this is really helpful for failing like a badass. Usually dance mistakes result in completely losing connection to your partner and/or the music. If you don't know the swing rhythms inside out, it can take you a while to reset. If you don't know the basic steps - your mind has to go back to the beginning instead of being able to jump into the middle, right where you are. Being really familiar with jazz swing music and the basic triple step patterns, minimizes your freak out and recovery time when a mistake happens. It enables you to incorporate mistakes more fluidly into your dance.



Still getting comfortable with the basics? No problem! You can always connect with your partner in side-by-side position and take a stroll around the dance floor. This gives you time to reconnect with your partner and the music. Maintain a loose connection and take small steps to allow your partner to add variations, if they'd like. Follows - this isn't as applicable for you. However, anyone can incorporate this into their solo jazz practice. If you mess up or don't know what to do next, walk it out! I usually stride around in a half circle.



Leaders or followers can use this one in partnered dances! If you're really twisted up and need a bit to recenter, let go of your connection and start some solo jamming! This strategy works splendidly when you accidentally loose connection too. This can lead to really fun and unique interactions between you and your dance partner. Playing off each other's solo dancing can be a sneaking way for you to reset while continuing the dance and even creating an opportunity for unique dance expressions. You can always reconnect on that rock step! 


As always, comment or message me with your thoughts and tips for failing like a badass swing dancer!


If this blog post jived with you, here are a few products from my store of swing dance merchandise that I think you'd enjoy. Click the pictures to learn more!

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