It would be easy to get lost in the fashion of the London swing revival: the vintage dresses and suits from the ’30s, the prohibition-style speakeasy bars, the iconic fusion of old and new in the music of electro swing. But there’s one central part that can’t just be put on: swing dancing.
This is dancing you need to do right, and there are plenty of classes available.
Swing Patrol are a group of dancers who run over 40 weekly classes at 17 venues, mostly around north and east London. The number of classes varies per venue, but they cater to all abilities, from experts through intermediates to absolute beginners. Which is what I was when I went to a class at the Upper Room in Camden.
The class was led by Scott and Serena, who took about 40 of us through the Lindy Hop or Jitterbug for an hour. Swing dance is made up from various different steps such as the Charleston and the Balboa, and the Lindy Hop is, according to Scott, ‘the mother of all swing dances’. It’s an eight-step basic rhythm – and that’s about as far as the technicalities went. Even then, Scott and Serena were sure to explain every move in simple detail, so that even the most rhythmically ignorant could keep up.
Scott was keen to point out that we were learning one of the most complex and most useful steps, which was either encouraging or daunting, depending on your outlook.
Our partners (classically men ‘lead’ the step and the women ‘follow’) were rotated as we learnt a short simple routine, one move at a time. This provided a brief opportunity to meet half of the people in the room, with short conversations largely consisting of: ‘Do you know how to do this?’ and ‘This is my first time, I apologise.’
By the end, however, under Scott and Serena’s watchful eyes, there was a sense that people were starting to get it. Some of my partners added a bit of improvisational flair, I gave a couple of my swings some extra oomph, and the first steps started to click. It seems swing is all about the rhythm – once that’s mastered you can start adding in the character and style, and then the real fun begins. As we filtered out, the intermediates came in and started warming up (you can also stay on and attend this class for half the price). Just the way they moved made me want to come back.
There are a diverse number of swing nights in London where you can show off your skills, including the upcoming Swing Ball at the Bloomsbury Ballroom on Saturday 23 February.
The Upper Room
8 Greenland St
Every Monday from 7pm, with other classes taking place throughout London
Photo by Sin Bozkurt (c)