First off, if you’re new to Lindy Hop and you’re getting ready to travel to your very first dance event, congratulations! Fair warning: you might get hooked and start traveling a lot. Also fair warning: there is absolutely no problem with that situation.
There are some things I wish I had known before my first dance event. I usually try to give these tips in some form to any new dancers I’m traveling with, and I thought compiling them into a blog post might be a handy reference for the future!
Remember your dance shoes! It may seem obvious, but I once had a new dancer traveling with me forget theirs. Just…double check that they’re in your bag. You won’t regret checking. (If you are able, bring dance shoes that are different from your everyday shoes. This is because many dance venues require “clean shoes” to keep their floor nice.)
If you’re not sure what to wear, my favorite rule is: comfy during the day, classy at night. Jeans, leggings, and soft T-shirts are all welcome in class. But do dress up for the evening dances – it shows that you care about the live band (if there is one) and all the other dancers there. Trousers, formal shirts and tops, skirts, dresses, pretty ties, fun socks, and hair accessories are all great.
Be courteous to your fellow dancers by packing deodorant, extra shirts (I like to pack extra tank tops to wear under my formal tops for evening dances), mint gum or breath mints, and a small hand towel to wipe your sweat. Body wash to use in the shower is also important.
Pro tip: If you don’t want to lug your suitcase around all weekend, pack a smaller dance bag that you can bring to classes and evening dances. My dance bag includes dance shoes, a water bottle, deodorant, chapstick, and other essentials.
Communicate with your host ahead of time regarding what you’ll need. I always prefer to bring my own towel and pillow, and I usually bring a blanket as well, as I get cold easily and like an extra even if my host is providing bedding. Sometimes you’ll need to bring an air mattress or something else to sleep on – ask ahead and be prepared!
Get in touch with other people staying with your host, and ask what classes they’re taking, if any – carpooling with them is a good idea!
Bring a small gift for your host – they are inconveniencing themselves to host you for free, and that’s something to be grateful for. A handwritten note and some baked goods to share are my go-to!
You don’t have to experience everything at an event to have a great time. Please, if you signed up for classes, be on time to those classes – this shows respect for your instructors – but otherwise, take your time, and enjoy the people around you and the things you do attend.
Dance events are extremely taxing on your body, no matter how flexible or in shape you are. Get plenty of sleep, take time to really stretch out, stay hydrated, and eat real food that fuels your body. I always a bring a bag with some carrots, bananas, and trail mix to eat between classes.
If you have health concerns, take care of them. Bring your ankle brace, your meds, and whatever else you need. Never apologize to anyone for taking time to care for yourself.
If you’re an introvert, take active steps to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed or burned out. Know that it’s okay to split from your friends and eat lunch alone, or leave the late night early. Taking time to recharge will help you get the most out of the event.
Be attentive and engaged in class, and please stand the whole time – your instructors have to stand and talk to you, and it shows respect to them to remain standing as well. The only exception to this is if your class space means that some people are standing behind others, in which case, getting low while the instructors are demonstrating something can help make sure that everyone sees what is happening.
You may have heard that many instructors will allow you to film them doing a class recap at the end of class. Some do, and some don’t. If it’s unclear, vocally ask the instructors’ permission before filming them doing anything. (Michael Jagger has a great discussion of this issue, if you’re interested.)
As an alternative to filming a recap, take notes in class! Keeping a small notebook and pen in your back pocket is perfectly fine, and writing things down can help keep you engaged during those periods in class where your instructors are talking for a while. You do have to ask permission to film, but you never have to ask permission before taking notes!
Dance with every person in rotation. This might seem obvious, but sometimes you may encounter something you weren’t expecting. I’ve danced with people who use wheelchairs or hearing aids, people who are significantly older or younger than the average age of the class, people who are dancing a different role than what you might expect based on how they look, and people who have dance styles that are very different from mine. In my opinion, the only acceptable reason to not dance with someone in a class is if something they are doing is painful, or if they are making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe – in which case, it is more polite and proactive to either communicate with them verbally about it, or step out of class to go find an organizer and report the issue (more on this below).
Please do ask people to dance! Even if you feel like you don’t have a lot of experience yet, you can still have a lot of fun on the dance floor and dance with many different people. If you’re not sure where to start, try finding someone you met in class and asking them to dance!
If you’re not sure which role someone would like to dance, it’s totally fine to say, “May I lead/follow you for a dance?” or “Would you prefer to lead or follow?”
It’s okay to say no to a dance! If someone asks you to dance, and for any reason, you’re not feeling it, just say, “No thanks.” If you’re tired, but you’d like to dance with them later, you can say, “I’m a little tired right now, but can you come find me later?” Otherwise, keep it short and sweet, so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
If there’s a live band, clap for them – even if you didn’t dance to a particular song! The band is working really hard to produce great music, and clapping and cheering is a great way to show your appreciation for them!
The same is true for DJs – when organizers announce a DJ, clap enthusiastically! As a DJ, I work hard to select each song I play to fit the floor in real time, and it means a lot to me to know that people enjoy and appreciate my music.
If you choose to compete in a Mix and Match, maybe for the first time, congratulations – that’s exciting! Try to remember that you’re there to make sure you and your partners have a great time, and keep an upbeat, positive attitude.
Be on time to any competitors’ meetings and prelims, and pay attention to the organizers as they line you up and shuffle you around – this helps make sure everything runs smoothly!
If you’re not sure where to have someone pin your number, a good rule of thumb is that if you’re leading, the small of your back is a good spot. If you’re following, higher up on your back is better, or just below the small of your back (the “license plate,” as my friends who follow sometimes call it).
Remember that the judges need to see your number, so when you line up, be sure to turn around so the judges can see it!
Give each person you dance with a high five and tell them “Thank you” – no matter what dancing with them was like. I often find that, even if my partner is a little less experienced than I am, smiling and staying positive often brings out their best dancing!
If you make it to finals, stay calm and pay attention to instruction from the competition coordinators. If you have any questions, it’s okay to ask! There are lots of online resources and videos from Mix and Match competitions (they used to be called Jack and Jill competitions, so searching for that on YouTube can help you find them), if you want to see what finals are like ahead of time.
IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG
While almost everyone at a Lindy Hop event is there to have a great time and enjoy jazz music and dancing, it’s important to understand that social dancing is an activity that involves complex social and physical interactions, and you might experience something unwanted, uncomfortable, or unsafe. In this situation, the first priority is for you to feel safe, whatever that means for you. If you would like to stop dancing for a while, leave the event, or talk to someone, those are all perfectly fine things to do.
If you travel with more experienced dancers from your scene, you may feel more comfortable talking to them than to an organizer you’ve never met before. Starting out with, “Hey, something weird/uncomfortable/scary happened to me, and I’m not sure what to do about it,” can be a good way to open that conversation if you’re not sure.
Most events will post something like a “Safer Spaces” policy or “Code of Conduct” that tells you what to do and how to report an incident, if you would like to do that. Generally speaking, asking an organizer is a safe bet. Many events also provide online reporting forms or a number you can text or call, if you would prefer to report anonymously.
Remember, you are always allowed to say no to any dance for any reason – and that includes a dance you are currently involved in. If your dance partner does anything that makes you feel unsafe, you can disconnect from them, say, “Hey, I’m not okay with that, and I need a break,” and then walk off the dance floor. Your safety is your first priority.
It is unlikely that you will experience harassment or assault at a Lindy Hop event, but just in case you do, you should know that there are people and resources in place to help you and make sure that appropriate action is taken. If you choose to report an incident, know that you are helping to make the dance environment safer for others, as well as yourself, and that’s a good thing to do.
Traveling to Lindy Hop events is really fun, and a wonderful way to meet new friends and get better at swing dancing. I have many, many friends who describe traveling to events as one of their favorite things to do, and navigating each event does get easier with practice. I hope you have a great time at your first event! If you’re a more experienced dancer with any tips to add, drop them in the comments!