Beginners are the best. / by Jeff Leyco

Let the swing geekery begin.

I've been teaching the past several weeks over at Brooklyn Swings. Even though I've been teaching pretty regularly for the past couple years now, it's been a little while since I've been able to teach a really big class of beginners, fresh to the whole dancing experience, ready to embark on this crazy little thing we call Lindy hop.

If it isn't abundantly clear already to everyone who knows me: I geek out. Hardcore. And when there's people around me who are excited about the same things I'm excited for, a torrential downpour of awesome ensues.

Some things I wish I knew as a beginner.

I still remember sitting in my dorm room in sophomore year, typing "Hellzapoppin" into the YouTube search bar, wondering if that was actually how you spelled it, and watching that entire clip for the first time. Same thing for "Buck Privates" and watching Jewel's magnificent swivels. This was already months after I'd started learning how to do East Coast Swing (sigh, yes). No one had told me about these clips before. I didn't even know who Frankie Manning was.

Let me repeat that. As a beginning swing dancer, I had no idea who Frankie Manning was.

Yeah. This guy.

No clue who he was. At all.

No clue who he was. At all.

Somewhere, someone failed. (Probably me. I'm terrible at listening to other people sometimes).

As a teacher, I like to really emphasize the important things new dancers should know about that aren't about dancing technique itself. Don't get me wrong—you take a lesson from me, you're going to get a lot of technique drilled in. But the history of it all is so important—Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, the movies, the evolution of the dance from Charleston to Lindy hop, the bandleaders, and all that. 

Partly, it's because these are things that I wish I knew about when I was just starting to dance. When I was a beginner, I figured East Coast Swing was its own thing and that the people who did Lindy hop were strange magical beings who were way more coordinated than I would ever be. Today, I'm a little bit more coordinated than before but probably not magical. Strange, though. Definitely strange.

I didn't know how deep that history ran. I never really got an appreciation for it until years and years later, when I started delving deeper into that stuff myself (blogs like Swungover and Wandering & Pondering were major factors in that, plus all the random folks who assembled classic clips on YouTube).

Getting to teach beginners now, though, my love of the dance and its history is something I want to spread. It's the same thing with how I'll geek out about movies and TV shows and comic books to anyone who'll lend an ear to listen. Or how obsessive I get about certain musicians (Edmond Hall is the best you guys). Geeking out about swing and everything about it is something I never thought I'd get to do as a job, however part-time it may be. And man I'm happy I get to do that now.

You're one of today's lucky 10,000.

A little while ago, after one of my beginner lessons, several follows came up to me and asked about "that crazy side-to-side swivel-y thing that good follows do."

"Um. You mean swivels?"

"Yes!"

I'm hardly qualified to teach proper swivels myself (though, seriously, my man-swivels are ... something). But I could talk to them about how so many follows develop their own signature ways to put swivels in their swing outs. The conversation turned to older clips and I mentioned Jewel McGowan.

"Who's that?" 

Congratulations. You're one of today's lucky 10,000.

Jewel McGowan and Jimmy Stewart, from Pot o' Gold (1941). You know, I should probably watch this movie.

Jewel McGowan and Jimmy Stewart, from Pot o' Gold (1941). You know, I should probably watch this movie.

I pulled up YouTube on my phone and showed that clip from Buck Privates. Sadly, YouTube won't let me embed it, but if you're reading this far, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about anyway.

There's something amazing about seeing people experience that clip for the first time. Everyone's wide open eyes, the exclamations of "holy crap" when Jewel launches into her swivels. I imagine it's empowering for follows, a clip that shows that you're not a slave to whatever the lead's doing but rather that you can put your own stamp on the dance and own it.

I'm geeking out again. But that's the point.

Beginners are the best. They're the ones beginning this journey. They get to experience all these amazing things for the first time. They get to struggle and triumph through their first swing outs. They get to learn the Shim Sham. They get to watch the old clips of Frankie Manning, of Dean and Jewel and Al and Leon and Norma and Shorty George. They get to see the new clips of Skye and Frida and Jeremy and Laura and Kevin and Jo and Kevin's badass mustache. 

A lot of the time, I wish I could experience all that for the first time over again. I'll settle for being a helpful guide on their journey.