33 Tips & Actions How To Become A Better Swing Dancer (+ Bonus)

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How To Become A Better Swing Dancer - 33 Tips & ActionsHave you ever asked yourself:

“How can I improve my Lindy Hop / Balboa?”


“What can I do to become a better swing dancer?”

or have you heard:

“I'm stuck, I have reached a plateau and I can't make any more progress.”?

I hear these and similar questions and statements all the time.

Therefore I have compiled a list of more and less obvious tips & actions – in no particular order – that will push your dancing forward. Some of these points are related to one or more others.

Additionally, I recently asked the question on Facebook and Twitter: “What tip would you give to your friend, if he/she asks you, how to become a better dancer?“.

You'll find a summary of the answers as a bonus later in this post. But first, let's start with the list.

Tips & Actions that bring your Dancing to a New Level

1. Practice regularly

At least once a week, the more the merrier. It doesn't matter if you do it alone or with a partner.

2. Watch dancers you like

Ask yourself, what you like about other dancer's dancing: rhythm? moves? musicality? simplicity? complexity?

3. Watch YouTube clips

Classes reviews, competitions, teacher's presentations, performances, old clips, …

4. Practice Solo Jazz and Charleston steps

Extend your repertoire of steps and movements.

5. Watch instructional DVDs

There are plenty of them published by international swing dance instructors. Find out, what are the similarities and differences between the concepts of different instructors.

6. Listen to Jazz

What kind of music makes you dancing, what not?

7. Learn about the AABA jazz form

The 32-bar AABA structure is the most used form in jazz/swing music. This is related to musicality.

8. Take private lessons

Get individual feedback and inspiration. Probably the best way to quickly improve your dancing.

9. Go social dancing

Hey, that's obvious! Yes it is, but not for everybody 🙂

10. Join a competition team

It might be easier for some of you to compete in a group instead on your own.

11. Learn a routine/choreography

You can do that on your own (alone, with a dance partner or in a team/group) or you can take classes.

12. Watch dance movies

Get inspired. Steal moves, even if it's not a swing dance movie.

13. Participate in a Jack & Jill competition

Jack & Jill competitions are for fun, so don't take it too seriously. Competitions can push you forward to learn new moves or variations. It can be very inspiring (I know, though, not everybody likes to compete).

14. Join a performance group

Do you like to perform? Then join or even establish a performance group.

15. Run a practice session with dance buddies

That's especially interesting, when your buddies are more or less on the same dance level. You can teach each other new moves or you can give direct feedback to each other.

16. Listen to swing music

Do it as often as possible. Get the feeling for the music. The Song of the Week is a great starting point to find danceable songs.

17. Attend a dance workshop

Instead of just taking classes. It's more intense, sometimes even overwhelming, but it brings you faster to new heights.

18. Listen to blues music

This is related to Jazz and swing. Learn the difference of the styles. What feelings do you get while listening?

19. Learn about the 12-bar blues form

Beside the AABA form, this is the most used form in swing music. Also related to musicality.

20. Attend a Lindy Exchange

The focus is usually more on the social aspect of dancing. Often without classes, but with lots of social activities. Meet new people, get inspired.

21. Register for Herrang Dance Camp or another camp

Camps that last a week or even longer are quite different to workshop weekends. You can dive into the swing dance world and forget about everything else. You even start to dream swing :)! A perfect environment for grand strides.

22. Attend a musicality class

Learn the difference between micro and macro musicality.

23. Read the biographies of Franke Manning and Norma Miller

If you like biographies, then you should read at least these two (see: book tips). Also interesting: biographies about jazz musicians.

24. Watch documentaries

You can start directly here on the blog with these:
Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging
The Unforgettable Hampton Family
Cab Calloway: Sketches

25. Learn other dances than swing dances

Three advantages:
1. You learn the differences and similarities.
2. Your body learns new ways of moving.
3. You get new moves and variations you can include in your swing dancing.

26. Teach a taster class

While teaching, you get a different point of view to the dance.

27. Dress up for events

Style is king and encourages self-esteem.

28. Participate in a Strictly competition

Similar to Jack & Jill competitions. In Strictly competitions, the focus is on partnership: lead and follow, harmony etc. So, you usually sign up with your regular dance partner. This is another great way to improve your dancing, especially when you like competitions.

29. Learn the opposite role

Learn to follow as a leader and learn to lead as a follower. It not only helps you to improve your dancing, you also start to appreciate more your partner's skills!

30. Teach a regular class in your local swing scene

The same like teaching a taster class, while teaching regular classes goes much further. You have to be able to break down steps, moves and variations, to make it understandable and easy to learn from you. It's obvious, that your dancing will improve automatically.

31. Learn/Play an instrument

To play an instrument gives you another angle to the music. By the way, Herrang Dance Camp is offering a swing orchestra class in week 5 – for the third time in 2012!

32. Become a swing DJ

Why not spinning yourself from time to time? You learn a lot about music while discovering danceable tunes. If you are interested in swing DJ'ing, then you can sign up for my swing DJ resources emails.

33. Learn about jazz dance history & culture

That doesn't directly improve your dancing, but your alliance with the dance gets closer for sure.


As I wrote earlier in this post, I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers for their tips. Here is a summary and some interesting statements.

Most mentioned:

  • Take privates
  • Music: listen a lot of music, enjoy music, feel the music, be the music, play with the music
  • Social dancing, practice, have fun

Interesting statements:

  • Alice Mei: “Become a better person!”
  • Tina Loppacher: “Don't judge yourself too harshly.”
  • Carl Nelson: “Dedicated and disciplined practice. Break your education down into parts while also developing a larger mental model of your goals.”
  • Jeanie B: “Learn to be generous.”


What tip would you give?

Now it's your turn! Let me know in the comment section below, what else could be done to become a better swing dancer!?

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  • Harry

    Great tips Christian, everyone should read this!
    My tip? There’s no substitute for physical practice but if you’re on a long trip by plane, rail or coach (don’t do this in a car unless you’re a passenger) plug in your music and dance in your head. The benefits are incalculable because research has shown that the exact same neurones in the brain fire off when you imagine a physical activity PLUS you get to dance with the very best dancers in the world! (I’ve been dancing with Sylvia, Kelly, Laura, Kate, Anne-Helene, Nelle, Valerie and Maryse for years)

  • Stepan J.

    Hi everyone,
         I think it really depends on what one means by becoming a “better dancer”.. To someone seeking an improvement in technique I would recommend a dance camp or private lessons (again, depends on how much time they have/are willing to spend on it).. But to someone who feels confident about his/her technique and really understanding lead-follow fundamentals (as well as using them.. and by using them I mean that you really lead or follow, which not necessarily matches every time, try watching some dancers in “advanced classes”)… huh.. As I was saying earlier 😀 to someone understanding lead-follow I would recommend trying stealing steps (from videos, movies, at a dance, etc..). Helps me think of the move not as it was just steps, but more like it was a continuous motion (or stop times) and you have to find the feel of it, since you have no one to break it down for you. Makes me think of the motion and brings up a question “what would my partner do if I changed this little thing”. And that’s when you get to the point that while trying you pretty often come up with a brand new move you’ve never seen before. Usually accidentally..     Lastly the most important thing for EVERYONE: feel the music, listen to it. It’s not just tones, it’s a story you’re trying to translate into dancing. If I paraphrase what Frankie said in ‘Never Stop Swinging’: “the music is talking to you, listen what it tells you”. If you hear a riff, a stop time, or anything else and you missed it, don’t worry and just wait for it. Most likely it will come up again. And when that happens, surprise your partner that you really care about the music. (S)he will appreciate it..     So now you just have to get out and dance. Keep trying and don’t give up, it’s worth it!

    Stepan J. (a Prague Lindy Hopper)

    • So true, Stepan. Thanks for your contribution!

  • Kiki

    I try to do most of it, but my latest decision which should help me to get a better swing dancer is the following: changing my attitude. As an beginner+ (hard to judge) I excuse a Lot. If someone asked me for a dance, I always replied: ‘I would Love to dance, but I am a beginner’
    So the Most leaders were afraid of challenging me, which actually is a Double minus to the both of us.

    I stop this now. I think, if u Tell The people that u are a bloody beginnet 3 times per Night, u believe yourself Even more than The others do. This influences my Dancing and the codancers around me, actually in a Bad way.
    I’ll let u know if the ‘relax yourself’ theory works out… 😉

    • I totally agree Kiki, don’t tell all the time that you’re a bloody beginner, an advanced dancer will find that out anyway.

      I’m always impressed by beginners who just go out and dance their ass off, without thinking too much about their current level.

      We all were once beginners!

  • DJ Stephan Wuthe

    Tell people about your experiences with dancing, music, collecting records, clothing – a lecture helps you to concentrate on the essential (first step is: to find out your individual essential!) – and later you will write a book (I know what I am talking about!).

    You will see: It is fantastic to get in contact with other guys with similar interests, to interview the best dancers, to get to know musicians (or historical personalities or actual practicing people). Enjoy the inspiration and share it!

    It is all about sharing, like Jeanie B says: “Learn to be generous.”

    My quote as a leader: “Learn to make your Lady shine!”

    All best! Yours “swingcerely” Stephan in Berlin

    • Thanks for your comment and congratulations on your achievements Stephan. I’m looking forward to reading your book!

  • Debbietsujimoto

    Breathe. I find that most beginner leaders I’ve danced with are so nervous that they may forget to breathe, and then they can feel awkward to dance with, and look like they are trying too hard instead of letting themselves have a good time. Also,it’s ok to say that you are a beginner, but don’t feel like you have to apologize for it. I nean, we were all beginners at some point, so give yourself some credit for being there at the party and just do what you can and smile. You will be great if you remember that this is supposed to be FUN. 

  • Carlaheiney

    Take care of your mind and your body.  People also need to eat well, rest enough, stay in shape.  I also think a little meditation every day never hurt anyone 😉

    • An important tip indeed, Carla! Actually, after publishing the post, I was thinking about adding some points in the future and food & health was one of them.

  • Kara Fabina

    Record yourself! Nothing is as honest feedback as being able to see what you actually look like!

    • Kara, that’s another great tip I would add to the list myself. It always feels differently than it looks like.

  • Boulder-onion

    Leads:  Learn the follow’s perspective.
    Follows:  Learn the lead’s perspective.
    Leads and Follows:  Musicality first, technique second.

  • Josh

    I would say that depending on what you are trying to become better at, or challenge yourself with, stick to the basics. Obviously if you are working on a certain move, then that wouldn’t apply. Now if you are working on musicality or technique, then just try to stick to a plain vanilla type of dance. Especially if you are working on getting your swingout to feel perfect – don’t try a million different types of swingout and random stuff (unless you are working on the technique for that move/moves). Then for musicality, just try to pay attention to the music and even try skatting to it. If you can skat something, then I have found that it can become easier to understand and perform a move or stop in the music. 

    • Thank you Josh for taking the time to comment!

      I like to scat the rhythm myself, especially when I’m learning new moves. I realized, that I first have to get the rhythm before I can memorize the movements of my body.

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