Lindy Hop Follower? Here’s 9 reasons why you should learn to Lead too!

Leading and Following in Lindy Hop are both fun roles with a different – but equally challenging – set of skills and different outlets for creativity. Typically students choose a role in their first class and stick with that role forever. But at JazzMAD we encourage all our students to learn and social dance both roles. If you take our Swing Dance Beginners Course you will learn to Lead and to Follow from day one. And all our higher level classes use gender neutral language to support students dancing in non-traditional roles. There’s so many reasons learning both roles is a good idea – technically, musically, creatively, socially!

This week’s Leading for Followers intensive workshop was so much fun, we will definitely run more in the future. Here Sharon Davis lists some reasons why all Followers should learn to Lead:

1. Audit your following skills

Learning to Lead is a great way to audit your Following skills by revisiting your fundamentals. You’ll also increase your empathy as a Follower by walking in the Leader’s shoes.

2. Better musicality

Learning to Lead can improve your sense of musicality, as you need to listen to the music and be responsible to it in a totally different way to Following. It’s not that Leaders are more or less musical than Followers, just that there are different opportunities in each role to translate the music into dance, and express your own musical/rhythmic ideas.

Two women dancing together in the Savoy Ballroom, Harlem New York 1940s | Lindy Hop | Jitterbug | Swing DanceAbove: two women dancing together in the Savoy Ballroom

3. Efficient fundamentals

Revisiting your basics as you learn to Lead can help fix problems you might have with your dance fundamentals like posture, coordination, proprioception, using your centre, shifting your weight, frame or pulse. The efficiencies you learn while Leading will crossover to your Following too.

4. More trust on the dance floor

Good Following involves putting a lot of trust in the Leader. Understanding the Leader’s role better will help you trust them more on the dancefloor. This means you are less likely to “anticipate” or take nervous unled actions as a Follower.

5. Get rid of “Follower guilt”

As a Follower do you ever feel like you “disappoint” your Leader by “missing a lead”? Experiencing Leading will help you get rid of that mistaken and pointless feeling. Leaders are never “disappointed” in their follower for “missing a lead”. The dance is a collaboration and a two-way conversation. Mistakes are both and nobody’s fault… or to put another way, there’s no such thing as a mistake in Lindy Hop. Leader’s genuinely feel this way – or if they don’t, they’re a blameful jackass and that’s got nothing to do with you! Get rid of your Follower guilt by seeing the dance through Leader’s eyes.

6. Get confident!

Get more confidence! Being a swing dancing champ (who can swing anyone out) feels awesome! Be your ultimate swing self by dancing this whole dance… not just half of it! It’s impressive, it’s inspiring, it’s cool… be that person!

7. More dances at the party!

If you can dance and enjoy both roles, you can ask anyone to dance. You never need to sit out for lack of a partner again! And it’s a double bonus – you get to dance, and so does your partner, another Follower who was also sitting out. The benefits multiply for your fellow Followers, so do it for your tribe!

8. Make friends with everyone in the swing scene

Since we so often socialise with only members of the opposite dance role to us, it can be hard to make friends with other Followers. Lead and you’ll get to know these wonderful, fascinating, unique people waiting to be your friend! And why not propose a practice session, to practice Leading on each other, as a way to get to know another Follower better?

9. Let’s build a better swing culture

If everybody danced both roles, I genuinely believe the swing dance community would become more equal, more friendly, more inclusive and safer too.

One mission in my life is to pass on what I humbly learned from the legendary Frankie Manning. And what I’m describing is the community of swing dancers that Frankie envisioned. A true community among dancers, with mutual respect and cooperation, inclusivity and warmth. You can read more about Frankie’s values at the Frankie Manning Foundation website.

In general we swing dancers like to think of ourselves as progressive, liberal, creative and open-minded people. But a statistical look at our community shows it’s actually very homogenous and heteronormative, and on occasions it can sadly be a bit homophobic or misogynistic. I can understand that. We revived an antique dance, based on an antique social code. We are still figuring out how to stay in touch with the roots and spirit of the dance, but reconcile that with modern values. This isn’t about blame. This is about moving forward.

So let’s do it! Be a role model and inspire others to join the revolution! Let’s build the culture that Frankie dreamed of and be a force for good in this crazy world!

JazzMAD shortlisted for Dance Enterprise Ideas Fund!

Dance Ideas Summit

JazzMAD is delighted to announce that we have been shortlisted to pitch for the Ideas Fund at East London Dance’s Dance Enterprise Ideas Summit.

On Friday 31st March 2017 at Stratford Circus, East London Dance will be hosting a day of conversations, provocations and networking alongside a dragon’s den style pitching process as the bursaries from the Ideas Fund are awarded.

Sharon Davis will be pitching in front of a live audience and panel of dance industry judges, seeking funding to workshop a swing dance show and produce a short film documenting the results.

Tickets are available to attend the summit (here), so why not come for a day of dance inspiration and to support Sharon and JazzMAD!

The Best Shoes for Swing Dancing

One of the top questions JazzMAD gets asked is what shoes should I wear to swing dance class? Here Sharon Davis tells you what shoes work and her favourite brands…

There’s no real rules for swing dance shoes. You just want a well-fitting shoe that clings to your foot without rubbing. They should be flat or with a low heel, no higher than around 2 inches. Leather shoes breathe better and will last longer than synthetics, but cost more.

Traditionally, Lindy Hop was danced in street shoes – whatever you would wear to go out at night in the 1930s or 40s. Often this meant canvas tennis shoes (what we in the UK call plimsolls), or leather lace-up shoes like oxfords or brogues. Sometimes ladies would dance with a small heel or wedge. For dancing in heels you usually want a shoe that is closed or with straps, so it doesn’t come off your foot while dancing. Mary Jane or T-Bar styles were common. For balance, the heel shouldn’t be too skinny, so avoid stilettos, tango or latin shoes.

The sole is the most important thing, but is really about personal preference. Rubber soles will be more sticky, which some prefer for dancing Lindy Hop fast (you can grip the floor). Leather soles will be very slippery, so this is better for spinning and sliding. For dancing Balboa or for smooth style swing you want to be able to slide. Suede soles are somewhere in between. Some dance shoes have a leather sole, but a rubber heel, so you can slide on your toes but stop by putting down your heel. But if you want to do heel slides, you’ll need a wood or leather heel.

Shoes that are made for swing dancers typically have a leather or suede sole. Or you can buy street shoes and have a cobbler glue a suede sole onto it (sometimes called “chroming”). Or you just might prefer dancing with rubber soles. Rubber soles often start out sticky, but get slippery as they wear down, so many dancers love their well-worn Keds.

The dance floor at JazzMAD’s studio is fairly slippery, so rubber soled shoes are usually fine for our class. If you wear your leather soled shoes in class, you will slide, but if that’s a skill or style you are working on then practicing it every class is recommended.

If you’re interested in buying swing dance shoes, here are the most popular brands in Europe:

Remix Vintage, £185-£230
Based out of Los Angeles, USA. Leather shoes that are recreations of styles from the 1920s-1950s. They aren’t officially dance shoes, but they all have leather soles and are beautifully made, so they are good for dancing in. In the UK buy them at Revival Retro Boutique (, which is owned and run by a swing dancer. Beware, you will want to buy everything at Revival Retro!

Tranky Shoes, €160-€220
A newcomer to the market, these are Italian-made swing dance shoes. They are currently only available at their pop-up shops at swing dance festivals around Europe, and are not yet available to order online. Made from beautifully soft leather, these shoes need very little breaking in. Leather dance soles with hard heels. Lots of bright, happy colours available, as well as classic neutrals. Definitely some of the most comfortable swing dance shoes available. Great for all foot widths, because of the soft leather that moulds to your foot shape.

Slide & Swing, €125-€150
These are shoes made specifically for swing dancing, and I like them a lot. Mens and womens styles. leather soles. Nice designs, bright colours, comfortable and good quality. Leather is quite soft, and these shoes will suit wide as well as average width feet. Order them online from Spain.

Swingz Lindy Shoes, €120-€140
These are ladies’ swing dance shoes produced by a company that traditionally made Flamenco dance shoes. So the leather is very thick and a bit hard, so they take a bit longer to break in. But once they are molded to your feet, they are very comfortable and also last an extra long time. Really pretty styles, with low heels suitable for Lindy Hop. Order them online from Spain.

Saint Savoy, €165-€220
Another brand of shoe made just for swing dancers. Mens and womens. Also perhaps the leather is a bit hard on some of these styles, so will take a while to break them in. Lovely unique styles though. Suited to an average or narrow width foot. Order them online from Austria.

Keds, £40-£60
Casual canvas shoes very popular with swing dancers (today and also back in the 1930s and 40s). The company supports swing dance events too, so we like them! Keds are street shoes, not swing dance shoes specifically, so they have a rubber sole that can be too sticky for dancing, but gets more slippery as they wear down. Some dancers have a suede sole glued on to them by a cobbler.

Aris Allens, £50-£80
Casual swing dance shoes that are fairly cheap. This brand does plimsolls (similar to Keds in style) that already have a suede sole. You can buy them in the UK at

Savoy Cats, €150-€170
This is the re-branded Spanish shoe label previously known as Savoy by Max Angelo, who have now cut all ties and association with Max and are continuing to make beautiful dance shoes under this new brand name. These shoes are a quality product made with love, and the swing dancers behind this business are good and honest people. Savoy Cats now even donate a portion of their profits to the charity Platforma Unitària Contra Les Violències de Gènere (United Front Against Gender Violence). They are Spanish-made leather dance shoes and boots in classic neutral tones. They have leather soles, double stitching for hard-dancing longevity, and a unique cork layer beneath the insole for shock absorption and moulding to the foot. From a shoe-making family going back generations. These shoes might take a few wears to break in and soften, but once they do they will last for many years. They are particularly suited to average and narrow width feet.


Al and Leon in Ebony Magazine 1961

In March, Sharon Davis is teaching the Al & Leon Shim Sham for JazzMAD. This is a must-know vintage jazz routine for all swing dancers. It’s also a lot of fun, with sweet rhythms and plenty of opportunity to inject your own character into the choreography.

Here you can see Al Minns and Leon James demonstrating classic jazz steps for the August 1961 edition of Ebony Magazine:

Al Minns and Leon James in Ebony Magazine August 1961

Al Minns and Leon James in Ebony Magazine August 1961

Albert “Al” Minns and Leon James were both Savoy Ballroom dancers in Harlem, New York. They were members of the most famous Lindy Hop team in history, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s they performed on stage and film. They were both Harvest Moon Ball champions in the 1930s – Leon James in 1935 with Willa Mae Ricker, and Al Minns in 1938 with Sandra “Boogie” Gibson. You can see Al Minns dancing in Hellzapoppin (1941) and the Duke Ellington Cottontail soundie Hot Chocolates (1941). You can see Leon James dancing in A Day At The Races (1937), the Cootie Williams & His Orchestra soundie (1943), and Boy What a Girl (1947).

Leon James and Willa Mae Ricker are the black dancers featured in the famous 1943 LIFE Magazine article on the Lindy Hop.

Al and Leon were significant in keeping jazz dance alive, by performing it into the 1950s and 1960s on stage and television, and continuing to teach classes in New York City, when most of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers had retired.

They named themselves “The Jazz Dancers”, specialists in the history of authentic jazz dances.

They were both filmed extensively as part of Mura Dehn’s The Spirit Moves documentary in the early 50s.

Al Minns & Leon James attended the legendary Newport Jazz Festival of 1960, and can be seen in some of the footage, dancing by the stage and on occasion, invited onstage to dance with the musicians.

They worked together with dance historian Marshall Stearns in the 1960s, and appeared in a number of television specials with Dr Stearns, including on Dupont Show of the Week (1961) and on Playboy Penthouse (1961). These appearances are part dance history lecture by Marshall Stearns, part demonstration by Al and Leon.

Leon James sadly passed away in 1970, but Al Minns continued dancing and teaching into his sixties, and was an important part of the swing revival in the 1980s. In 1984 the Rhythm Hot Shots brought him to Stockholm to teach. He sadly passed away the following year, in 1985.

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Lindy Hop New Year Resolutions

Lindy Hoppers of the world, let’s real talk New Year resolutions.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Lindy Hoppers. My kind of people, my community. I love being part of the international swing dance family. Lindy Hoppers are, in general, the best and nicest people in the world. But sometimes we can be a bit too focused on the swing outs, and miss the bigger picture.

Here are a few things I wish would be amongst all Lindy Hoppers’ New Year resolutions for 2016, including myself:

Look after your body as a dancer

1. To look after my body as a dancer
To stretch and strengthen my body. To hold myself to a dancer’s standard of physical ability. To stay hydrated. To eat nourishing real foods to fuel my body. To get enough sleep for real healing. To take pain and injuries seriously. To rest injuries properly and let them heal. To invest in my body and value myself highly enough to pay for what I need (massage, physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, gym membership, personal trainer, yoga or pilates classes, nutritionist, the healthy food my body needs, custom orthotics, or good quality dance shoes that fit me properly and look after my feet). In 2016 I will listen to my body.

Be social, it's a social dance

2. To be social and behave like a human being
To ask more questions than just “Do you want to dance?” To ask the name of everyone I have a dance with. To have real conversations and meet real people. Leaders get to know other leaders, followers get to know other followers. To ask as often as I am asked. To buy a few drinks at the bar and support the venues. To not join the dance floor if it’s already over-crowded, but wait for the next song. To have good personal hygiene, even if that means taking clean-up breaks throughout the evening. To not expect anyone to dance with me if I am sweaty, wet or smelly. To learn how to say no to a dance – politely, truthfully and with compassion. To not take it personally if someone says no when I ask.

Practice makes perfect

3. To practice. To actually, genuinely practice.
I will stop expecting to get better without practicing. I will practice my dance thoughtfully and deliberately. I acknowledge that taking classes is important, but it’s not practice. Social dancing is important, but it’s not practice. Weekend workshops and events are great, but still not practice. None of that counts. Practice is deliberately making the time to train my dancing in a systematic way. Projects, drills, repetition, filming, self-analysis and getting feedback from others – this is the good stuff. Focus is important – I will keep practice sessions as short as my focus span, even if that’s only 10 minutes. I will invest my time and thought and energy into real practice with focus and intent. And I will get better.

Learn to listen to swing music

4. To listen and learn to listen.
To listen to jazz music just for me. To learn about the history of jazz so I understand the world that created this music and my dance. To read a book, watch a documentary, educate myself. To notice when there is a real band playing at a dance, not just a recording. To show my appreciation by applauding the band after each song, not just ignoring them as I hunt for the next partner. If there’s a killer solo, to notice and show my appreciation, even if I’m dancing at the time. To sometimes take a break from dancing and just enjoy the band. To vote with my feet – if I don’t like a song, DJ or band, I just won’t dance. But if I love it, I will dance non-stop until my feet bleed, then go shake the DJ’s hand or buy the band’s CD. If I love the sound of a musician in the band, I will learn their name and find out what other bands they play with. To not Shazam at dances – I will go ask the DJ instead, show my appreciation and have a real conversation. To not begrudge paying a cover charge to see a live band. They collectively represent thousands of hours of practice and training, passion and dedication, all to play for me. They are worth it, the experience of live music is worth it. I will value live music and support musicians and DJs trying to make a living playing the music I love to dance to.

Respect the artists

5. To respect the artists in our community & their intellectual property
I won’t teach other teacher’s material. I won’t copy choreography. I won’t use photographs without asking permission from both the photographer and the dancers in the image. I won’t crop out photographers’ watermarks. I will only use images or videos of dancers to promote my school or event if I have their permission. I will include a photographer’s credit next to photos I use where possible. I will list all the artists on my event’s website, not just the teachers. I will value DJs and musicians, as much as I value the teachers. If I run a workshop or event, I will pay my artists what they are worth. If I can’t afford to pay them properly, I will accept that my event plans are too big for my budget and downsize until I can afford to pay everyone properly. I won’t undervalue performers. Performances are valuable – I will pay for them! I will treat my artists professionally and with respect. As an artist, I will hold myself to high standards of professionalism. I will not undervalue myself, or Lindy Hop. As a professional Lindy Hopper, I won’t undercut my peers by discounting my rates.

Lindy Hop is a legitimate dance, with a rich history and a strong international community of devoted fans and participants. This dance is highly technical and diverse, and takes years (even decades) of training and dedication to master. Lessons in Lindy Hop should not cost less than other dance styles. Teachers of Lindy Hop should not earn less than other dance teachers. Lindy Hop is a spectacular, accessible and crowd-pleasing dance that deserves to be on stage, film and television as much as any other dance style. Swing dance shows and performances have value, and should not cost less than other dance shows. This coming year, I won’t undervalue Lindy Hop.