Out on the Hop

Written by on 10 October 2011 in Alternatives - No comments

Swing dancing at a ball, minus alcoholic drinks. Admittedly only because I cropped them out the image. (photo: Jo Casey)

Weekends can be a funny time if you don’t drink. Staying in is hardly exciting, but going out tends to mean queuing in packed bars amidst the eager elbows of drinkers.

Mind you, if you find the thought of other people’s sweaty uncoordinated limbs less than alluring, then maybe a beginners’ Lindy Hop (swing dancing) class isn’t the answer, either.

Regardless, I end up at the Carriageworks in Leeds for one of the weekly ‘Lindy Fridays’ events.

I’d probably have felt nervous if I came here a couple of years ago but, after my Colombia experience, I’m now familiar with trying to learn dances that are unfamiliar. That in itself breeds confidence, not to mention pompousness.

Practice makes perfect-ish

There’s a lot to be said for practice. I think when you do something like this enough times, some part of your brain gets used to the idea that nothing fantastically bad is going to happen, even if you do get it wrong. At least as long as you’re not learning that Scottish dance with the swords.

It’s a predominantly a twenty-something crowd and the instructors are pretty young, too, giving the classes a great vitality. The indefatigable Rob – with microphone headset – and his co-teacher Christina break a long sequence down into manageable segments, and those segments into even smaller segments. The whole thing ends with a punctuating moment, such as a stamp and ‘jazz hands’.

Swing dancing developed along with the eponymous Jazz style from the 1920s until the 1950s, and is currently undergoing something of a renaissance. There’s a whole vibrant scene surrounding it: people get into the music and the clothes, and the Burlesque revival is a close relative in some quarters, too.

Despite some marked differences in our group’s ability, by the end of the session forty or so stamps are all ringing out at the same, indicating that all our practice has resulted some kind of group competence. Or maybe that we just all like stamping.

Dancing on empty

Of course the whole point of me blogging on the subject is because it’s a night out that doesn’t revolve around drinking. In this instance, there’s not an alcoholic drink in sight, despite there being a bar on the same floor. Instead everybody’s gagging for the free water from the cooler.

Dancing, of course is a really good thing to do if you don’t drink, and not drinking has many benefits – I think I’ve established all that, at least through force of repetition if not compelling logic.

Inhibition can be a real barrier to dancing, and is also one of the reasons people drink.  But something to do with physical exertion, along with the format (everyone in a big circle, periodically swapping partners), seems to have a loosening effect of its own.

The British politeness is still in full force, of course: Everyone greets their new partner, then thanks them as they part, regardless of whether any elbow-in-face moments, and we all fall all over each other to apologise for falling all over each other.

The Social

There’s a really good sense of a living community here in general, with people who’ve been attending on a regular basis, plus a healthy turnover of fresh faces who tell me it’s their first or second time.

The evening ends with some social dancing, in which the beginners see how many times they can repeat the exact same sequence from the class, whilst the experts slide about in full physical conversation with their partner and the music.

Come around 10pm, I’ve had a great night and I feel like I’ve done enough: there’s only so many times you can repeat the same small repertoire, as any of the friends who have to listen to my travel stories will tell you. I walk out into a welcome breeze feeling strangely euphoric, past bars full of Leeds folk drinking themselves into oblivion with time-honoured competence.

I bet they were rubbish at it when they first started – it’s amazing what a bit of practice can achieve.

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