Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wylin's Swing Euphorium - A Vision Realized

Over the last couple of years, I have grown to love swing dancing, swing music, and, much more significantly, swing dancers.  Those who have read my other articles are aware that I espouse an expansive vision of what this multifaceted activity can do in people’s lives.  But now I have finally decided to put my passion for swing into action.  Here are three things that motivated me to start my own swing dance club:

As I understand it from those who have been active in our local swing scene far longer than I have, swing kind of hit the peak of its wave around approximately 2004.  I have been told that back then one could go swing dancing in Bellingham almost every night of the week.  Now, however, the opportunities to dance are quite limited.  My own experience has reflected this.  I began swing dancing at Whatcom Swing, but they ceased operations about a year ago.  I have also been dancing regularly at Swing Kids of WWU but, from what I’ve been told, and from what I’ve observed, their attendance has been declining as well.  Local swing dancers typically have to drive all the way down to Seattle to access really good clubs.  The sad reality is that our local Whatcom County swing community seems to be dying off.  Needless to say, this really concerns me.  Should we just sit around and let something this good be lost?  Should dancers who really love swing just have to give it up and move on to other things simply because the local opportunities to dance are so limited?  I believe that our swing community can be revived.  In fact, I believe that it must be revived.

Another motivation that really hit me in a sudden and unexpected way happened at one of our local high school benefit dances, to which Swing Kids was invited both to teach a basic swing class, as well as to dance with the students.  As a matter of policy I always offer to dance with every follow in the room.  Two of these high school students in particular made a very significant impression on me.  When I asked them to dance they were both rather unsure about dancing, telling me that they had never danced before and that they had two left feet and etc., etc.  But, while dancing with them, I quickly realized that they were not only fantastically fast learners, but that they also had amazing natural dance abilities!  They truly didn’t realize how good they were.  I was quite astounded by this whole experience.  I enthusiastically told them that they had a fantastic gift for dance, and that they simply must keep dancing!  I then tried to tell them where they could go to dance regularly, but I simply couldn’t think of any places in our county where I thought that they would feel comfortable and at ease.  To be honest, that experience was the final trigger that set this idea of starting my own dance club in motion.  If these students were any indication, then there are many, many young adults in our community who would love swing dancing immensely if they only had a local dance club where they could go to develop their dancing abilities and share their passion for dance with other like-minded dancers.

Foundationally, however, there was something else - something very solid and very significant.  That something was what I have both observed and experienced during my one and a half years of dancing at Suburban Swing in Abbotsford, Canada.  You can read my original review on that beautiful place here:   

Suburban Swing is, in my experience, much of what I have dreamed and envisioned that a swing dance club could be.  The excellence of Suburban Swing is the result of many good people working together:  There are the excellent owners and managers Jason & Crystal Warner, their fantastic staff, their fabulous DJs and, in truth, and most significantly, the truly good-hearted young people who come to dance and visit there every Sunday night.  The kindness, the friendliness, the genuine spirit of welcome, the excitement, the joy, the just fantastic goodness and loveliness of these people has blessed so many, in so many ways, and I have been greatly privileged to be blessed by it as well.  Sadly, though most of our local experienced swing dancers know about Suburban Swing, very few of them have been willing to go through the difficulty of crossing the border to go and dance there.  They don't know what they're missing. 

If only the greatness of Suburban Swing could be replicated for the young people of my home community of Whatcom County.  If only they could have what I never had when I was growing up.  If only they could experience the fantasticness that I have found there.  I know that it would do them so much good.  They would grow in so many different ways and that would give them such a great start in every area of their lives.  They would meet such great friends that really cared about them, and they would have such good times together.  They would gain such great memories to look back on and to cherish for the rest of their lives.

The bottom line is that I know how much good this kind of a dance club can do in the lives of people (especially young people).  I know what a positive, life-enhancing thing this can be for them.  That is why I am basically pulling out all stops and pouring my life into this project right now.  I know its potential.  I don’t just dream it.  I don’t just envision it.  I can see it.  I can feel it. 

I know this won’t be easy.  I know that it will be a challenge just to convince people to get in their cars and drive to a dance venue out in the country and to try swing dancing for the first time, but I believe that it is totally worth the investment, the time and the risk.

So, now that I’ve explained a bit about why I am starting this club let me provide you with a few details about what kind of club it will be, where the venue is and when this all will be happening:

We will be a 1920s to 1940s style swing dance club.  We will dance mostly East Coast Swing, Charleston, Lindy Hop and Balboa.  We hope to branch out, however, into other great dance styles like the smooth and artistic West Coast Swing, the graceful Night Club Two Step, the fun and relaxing Salsa, and, of course, the ever classic Waltz.

We will do this to the best swing, Jazz and Pop music we can find with the help of some of our area’s best local DJs.  I have purchased top quality equipment for a sound system that I have specifically designed for this particular venue.

I will soon be collaborating with some of our area’s best up-and-coming young adult vocalists to accompany our vintage music.  As there are few more enthusiastic and supportive audiences than swing dancers, I believe this will be a fantastic addition to our club for all involved. I am also reaching out to our local Jazz and swing bands to provide live music.

Our venue is charming, historic and unique.  It is the original 1906 Glen Echo Schoolhouse, located a mile east of the towns of Everson and Nooksack, at the corner of the South Pass and Goodwin Roads.  Its address is 7694 Goodwin Road Everson, WA.  It is about 8 minutes south from the Sumas Border Crossing with Canada and about 27 minutes from the lower parking lot of the Viking Union Building of WWU in Bellingham.  It has its own lighted parking lot with abundant free parking.  It has a large and beautiful, clear, vertical grain, 110 year old Douglass Fir floor suspended on fir joists so it is naturally resilient and thus easy on the ankles and knees.  The building itself is rich with history.  After the public schools were consolidated in 1943 it became a community hall, just in time for the golden age of swing dancing during World War Two.  And now, swing dancers will grace its floors once again.  Just imagine the nostalgic beauty of that!

As for when this will all be happening, we will be having our Grand Opening and Ice Cream Social on Monday, the 11th of May, just 3 weeks from now as of this writing.  We will be opening at 7:00 PM for our basic East Coast Swing Class followed by our Social Dance Party from 8:00 to 11:00 PM.  Thereafter, we will be open for dancing every Monday evening during those same hours starting with our drop in class and followed by our social dance party.

My rather popular and always charming twelve year old daughter Tiffany and I will be teaching the class.  People can dress casual if they like, or they can dress up and brighten the evening for everyone in attendance.

We have a Facebook page on which you can find an interactive Google map to the venue as well as other information and Photos that will give you an idea of what swing dancing is like.  If you would like to, you can also click "like us" on that Facebook page as well:


As for the cost for the class and the evening dance - all this fantastic fun can be had for just $5. US or Canadian at the door.

And now, about our club’s name.  Some of our more inquisitive dancers may have attempted to look up the word “Euphorium” in their dictionaries only to find that it doesn’t exist!  That’s right, it’s not an actual word.  But that’s nothing new for me as I make up words all the time.  Why, even my first name was made up (by my parents).  The advantage of this arrangement is that you can create your own meaning to match your made-up word.  So, to me, it seemed like a “Euphorium” should be a place where people can go to enjoy the fantastic freedom of “euphoria” – officially defined as: “A feeling of great elation, joyousness and well being.”

And that’s our goal for this dance club - to bring euphoria, friendship and real joy into the lives of the people we serve.  And, as I’m sure you can imagine, I’m really, really looking forward to that, for there is nothing in this life that compares with the experience of seeing genuine joy in the faces of our dear friends. 

All the best to you all, and Tiffany and I would love to welcome you as our guests at our grand opening, and every Monday evening thereafter,

Wylin Tjoelker      Dance Evangelist      Dance Club Review

Sunday, March 8, 2015

1940s Mystery Dinner Night

My good friends at one of my favorite local dance clubs - (Swing Kids of Western Washington University in Bellingham Washington) rather enthusiastically told me about an event being put together by a number of WWU student organizations.  Those organizations were: Foulplay - A murder mystery club, Viking Radio Theatre - a radio drama program, and, of course, Swing Kids - the university swing dance club.

They said that people would be dressing 1940s style and that there would be dancing.  Naturally, that sounded interesting to me so I decided to attend.

The event took place in the historic Fairhaven Library building in the quaint old downtown area of Fairhaven Washington.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how heavily attended the event was.  The line to get into the building was quite long.  A fair number of sharp thinking couples apparently decided that this event would make a great date night.  I soon found out how right they were.

The staff at the registration desks had dressed the part.  This was looking good.

The mock casino gaming was taking place on the first floor of the building.

The Swing dancing was happening on the third floor complete with a beginning dance class by Swing Kids.

We later sat down to an excellent catered buffet dinner as we enjoyed three live radio shows being put on by the cast of the Viking Radio Theatre hosted by Walter Lutsch.  These shows were all 1940s type radio dramas written and performed by the students.

First up was: "The adventures of Liz Baxter" a private Investigator story.

Next was: "Blood Gulch" a western.

Lastly there was: "Sergeant USA: A Nazi in New York" a wartime superhero story.

These performances were first rate entertainment and all those in attendance enjoyed them a great deal.

After the performances we took a break for more swing dancing and casino gaming.

To close out the night we were treated to a murder mystery by Foulplay.  Who would have guessed who the guilty party turned out to be - he looked so innocent!

As those who are regular readers of this blog are aware, I only write about clubs and events that really impress me a great deal. So as you already know I was very impressed with this entire event.  Everyone involved did an outstanding job.  They put on a really high quality show and all of us in the audience greatly enjoyed it.

Hats off to all of them, and all the best to them on their next entertaining endeavor,

Wylin Tjoelker    Dance Evangelist    Dance Club Review

PS.  You can listen to past episodes of Viking Radio Theatre at:  youtube.com/vikingradiotheatre

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ritmo Latino Salsa Club – Outstanding Leadership!

Those who have been following for some time may have noticed that, although I named this blog “Dance Club Review,” I have only posted one review of a dance club.  This is because I only post reviews of dance clubs that I find to be truly outstanding.  There has to be something so special about them that I simply must extol their virtues to my readers.  There are times when one simply must give credit where credit is so abundantly due.

Latin dances were the next step in my journey to learn all the dances, and it was from my friends at WWU Swing Kids that I discovered the Ritmo Latino Salsa Club of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.  They came highly recommended by several dance friends of mine who are students at the college.  I soon found out why.  Here is a link to their Facebook page:


Due to a prior speaking engagement, I arrived late for the first day of this year’s Ritmo Latino Salsa Club.  I missed the opening welcome, announcements, and warm up drills.  I joined the class just as the leads separated off from the follows to learn the basic Salsa footwork.  I noticed right away that this club had obtained a lot of participation.  The Viking Union Multipurpose Room in which the class is held was quite full.  The leads were directed to one end of the large room.  In order for them to see the instructor’s demonstrations, they were arranged in four rows across the entire end of the floor.  These rows were rotated so everyone would get a chance to be in the front row.  I joined in off to the side on one end, whipped out my trusty notebook, and commenced writing down everything I was learning.

I instantly became aware of something significant.  The instructor clearly had the attention of this entire group of guys.  This was a positive, enthusiastic type of attention - and it was universal.  It was hard to describe exactly.  You could feel it in the air.  Keep in mind that these guys are college students and are not normally known for their Olympic attention spans.  I began to think that I must have missed something special in those opening remarks. 

As the class proceeded, I began to understand how this degree of attention had been obtained.  The dance instructor, a young man by the name of Sean Cavanagh, apparently has that very rare quality sometimes referred to as natural leadership ability.  It is not the type of leadership technique that one learns in books but is instead more of a spiritual type of thing.  Either a person has it, or he doesn’t.  An individual might not know that he has it until crisis or necessity forces it to the surface, but it was already there to begin with.  It is, in part, the ability to inspire others with a positive vision.  It produces enthusiasm and the adoption of a shared goal by others.  It quickly creates a spirit of good-hearted unity and camaraderie among the participants.

It was also immediately obvious that Sean Cavangh was not just a leader to these guys.  They perceived him as a friend, like a brother, a man who has attained both their attention and their respect.  He is what is known as “a man’s man”.

As the class proceeded, I also perceived a lot of happy noises coming from the other end of the room, where the follows were practicing their own set of basic steps.  As the two groups converged to practice their newly learned footwork together, I soon learned the reason for those happy noises.

The follows’ instructor was a young lady by the name of Anna Magidson.  When I first saw her, a number of things became immediately and strikingly apparent.  This young woman simply exudes positivity.  When she smiles (which she somehow manages to do almost all the time), she smiles with her whole being.  She is one of the less than one percent of the human population who possesses a truly spectacular smile.  Now, I admit that my ability to read people is limited, but, as I observed the follows while Anna spoke with them, I noticed that her effectiveness in explaining the dance steps was greatly leveraged by her positive aura.  She had more than just their attention.  She had their admiration.  That is what I felt I saw in their eyes.  It seemed to me that they wanted to be like her.  They too wanted to be positive, accomplished, cheerful, radiant young ladies.  One can only imagine how much happiness they will bring into the lives of others if they are successful in emulating her qualities of personality.  To these girls, Anna is more than just a dance teacher; she too is a friend, and there are few things better in this world than a good friend.

When Sean and Anna demonstrate and explain the dance moves together they present a cheerful, unified experience for the students.  They don’t second guess each other - no negativity occurs.  The result is that the nothing detracts from the students' positive learning experience - nothing dampens their enthusiasm.  Sean and Anna are not just teaching Salsa moves; they are imparting a positive vision of the dance to the entire class. The result of this is clearly noticeable - this is a very happy dance club.  In fact, the spirit of happiness is so powerful here that I was originally going to entitle this article “The Happiest Dance Club,” but I decided to focus on the power of this club’s leadership instead, as it appears to me that the universal happiness here is very much a result of the positive example set by those who direct it.

I had to ask myself: Is this particular group of college students a cut above the rest, or am I just seeing them at their best because they’ve been influenced by Sean and Anna’s positive vision.  I don’t know for sure, but I have met many of them and have observed the others over the four consecutive Monday nights on which this class has been held so far, and they all seem like good, wholesome, friendly young adults.  They certainly have been very kind and welcoming to me.

But wait, there’s more!  Sean and Anna are doing more than just imparting a positive attitude.  They are also teaching Salsa, and they are not just going through the motions.  No, they really want their students to effectively learn the dance.  Their attention to detail as they work diligently and patiently to ensure that everyone in the group truly learns the foundational steps and moves reveals a serious dedication to their craft.  It also reveals that they genuinely care about their students.  Instead of leaving struggling people behind, they assess people’s moves and provide individual attention and encouragement. 

They even accommodate students who have joined the class 1, 2, 3, and even 4 days late.  To do this, they separate the class into sections based on what stages of instruction they have already mastered.  They have assigned trained teachers who share their positive vision to instruct these separate classes.  At the beginning of each session, they take time to review what the students had learned the previous week.  This greatly helps both to solidify the previously learned move and to prepare the students to learn the next move.  Recently they have also started a number of small mentoring classes that will meet independently with an instructor to master the finer points of the dance.  These in depth salsa fundamentals lessons have proven to be very beneficial, and, judging by how the class numbers have remained high, they have also been a real hit with the students.  Recently, I learned from a friend that this outstanding program of instruction was primarily organized by Anna.  So, she is not just radiant and visionary, but very wise as well, a truly unique and specially gifted individual.

In summary, let’s look at the basic elements here and see what they add up to.  We have charismatic inspiring leadership + the imparting of that leadership vision to additional trained instructors + the adoption of that positive vision by the students + dedicated, careful, complete, and intelligent instruction in the fundamentals = one very competent, accomplished, happy, friendly, and welcoming dance club.  And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing, a very rare and beautiful thing indeed.

For me personally, it has been a real pleasure and a privilege to meet these wonderful people, to see them in action, and to witness the positive results in the lives of their students, whom it has also been my very great pleasure to meet.  They are what true leadership looks like, and they are a great credit to our entire dance community.

Keep up the very good work, and see you on the dance floor, fellow dance enthusiasts,

Wylin Tjoelker     Dance Evangelist      Dance Club Review

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to really support your favorite dance club - Part Five: The drop-in class needs You!

Those of us who have been dancing for some time fondly remember the classes we attended as our introduction to the fantastic world of dance!  We have personally experienced the value of these classes and we know what a blessing they are to individual dancers and to the entire dance community.

In a typical drop in class, the lead and follow instructors stand in the middle, and the class of lead and follow student pairs surrounds them in one big circle.  This class occurs before the actual social dance.  Other smaller specialized classes and workshops follow the same general format.  These classes are a great way to learn to dance initially, as well as to learn great new moves and the finer points of dance fundamentals and advanced skills.  They are also a wonderful way to meet your fellow dancers.

Everyone can benefit greatly from these classes, especially when we all work together to make that happen.  Here are a few suggestions that will help you be a fantastic and valuable part of the team.

One:  If you really want to attain the maximum benefit, start by anticipating what a fantastic class it is going to be!  Just think about the great new things you are going to learn!  Think about the profound new insights the instructors will give you!  Anticipate the exciting new moves you will discover!  Imagine the great new people you will meet!  You are going to love this!!  Prepare for the jump into Awesomeness!!!

Two:  Come to the class even if you are already a great dancer and don’t really need the instruction.  You can help the new dancers grasp what is being taught and you can also inspire their confidence by encouraging them with non-verbal positive feedback as you smile enthusiastically and nod your head etc.  Be careful, however, to avoid the temptation to "side teach" or to proceed through a move further than the stage up to which the teacher is presently teaching it.  This way you won't run the risk of distracting a student's attention from what the dance teachers are teaching.

Three:  Arrive early so you can change into your dance shoes and join in the initial warm up before the class.  Relax and enjoy yourself during the typically goofy warm up.  No one is watching you, really!  They are too busy enjoying their own goofiness.  Some of the better dance teachers will introduce steps and moves in the warm up that they will build upon later in the class, so pay attention too.

Four:  Confidently greet each new follow you meet during the normal rotation of the class but keep it really short, something like: “Hello, I’m (your name), nice to meet you.”  Be sure to engagingly shake her hand as you do this.  Listen carefully as she tells you her name and start memorizing it in the back of your head as that segment of the class proceeds.  At the end of that segment, when it is time to rotate to the next follow, face her directly, smile happily, bow slightly at the waist and thank her by name.  Remembering her name is very important as it will make her feel honored and accepted as part of the group.  When you rotate to the next follow, do so by passing behind the follow you just danced with, not in front of her.  In this way you will be communicating respect for her.

Five:  This is so vitally important that I cannot emphasize it enough: I implore you, please be very careful to talk as little as possible during the class other than that simple greeting and farewell mentioned above.  The instructors and your fellow students really need your help in this.  We are all naturally inclined to talk more than we should during class, especially with our best dance friends or when we meet a new and very engaging personality.  Remember, you can always talk later while dancing with her after the class.  If you must talk, say as little as possible and say it as quietly as possible

None of us wants to make the class difficult for anyone, but the tragic truth is that our talking out of turn has the cumulative effect of making our instructor’s job terribly hard.  It really messes with their minds!  It burns up the valuable the time that they desperately need to teach us successfully, and it is seriously frustrating and discouraging to them also.  It erodes their heart, and as the best teachers teach from the heart, that needs to be protected.  When we talk out of turn we are hurting our fellow students also because we are really distracting them when they are trying to concentrate on what is being taught so they can grasp it.  The bottom line is that our instructors and our fellow students do so much for us and they deserve our respect, so we really need to restrain our natural sociability during class, as well as during club announcements and such. 

A similar, and actually even more problematic situation, occurs when dancers who are not taking the class gather in groups just outside of the class circle and talk loudly and constantly.  It is as though they think that because they are outside the circle, that no one can hear them, when in reality everyone hears them and is irritably wondering when they are going to realize this!  Everyone in the class circle starts looking in their direction as the dance instructors contemplate whether to stop the class and march straight out of the dance circle to go talk to them!

Brothers and sisters, none of us wants to make life difficult for anyone else.  We have got to think more about each other’s well-being.  We have got to place this as a very high priority when we are at our favorite dance club. OK, I know we’ve got the point so I’ll stop the preachin’ now.

Six:  Be really diligent to catch the important details that are being demonstrated by the instructors.  What are the count numbers of the steps?  Is he leading her in an outside (to the left) turn or an inside (to the right) turn?  How and in what direction is the initial prep move being done? What is the instructor strongly emphasizing? – it must be important!  On what count is the main action of the move being done?  Is he pivoting on his left foot or his right foot and on what count number is he doing this?  An important part of learning dance is watching the instructors closely in order to get these and other vital questions answered; and without them being answered the move cannot be learned well.  If the instructor asks if anyone has questions, by all means raise your hand and ask them.  Half the class probably has the same question but is afraid to ask.  Some instructors will describe and perform the move they taught at the end of the class so you can record it on your phone or camera.  This can be a great way to review and grasp what has been taught more thoroughly.

Seven:  Immediately after the class, while everything is still fresh in your mind, sit down somewhere whip out your trusty notebook, write down the name of the dance club, the date, the instructors’ names, the name of the move, and then write down the individual elements of the move in sufficient detail that you will be able to read and understand it when you use these notes to practice it at home tomorrow, or even a year from now.  Use abbreviations that you will always understand like “LF” for left foot, “RH” for right hand, and “F” for follow, etc.  You can also take this opportunity to write down the names and short descriptions of the great new people you just met during the class.  There are few more engaging ways of honoring people and making them feel truly welcome than by enthusiastically addressing them by name whenever you meet them in the future.

Eight:  Search out the instructors, heartily shake their hands and thank them for the valuable things they just taught you.  Be specific about the things that they taught that helped you the most or about a particular way in which they taught the class well.  Don’t worry about having to wait in line to do this.  Very few people realize how valuable and powerful positive feedback is to these dear people.  Instructors often struggle with whether they are actually helping people at all.  Free them from these troubling doubts –   free them! – and give to them as they have given to you.  It’s the right thing to do, and you will realize this when you do it.

Nine:  Ask several successive follows to dance and practice the new move with them.  Now you can talk and laugh and have a great, exuberant time as you help each other to iron out the kinks of the move!

Ten:  Practice the new move at home with your sister, friend, wife, daughter, etc., whoever you may have available.  This is how good dancers become really great - consistent daily practice!

To sum it up, we have a really good thing going with these classes!  We need to recognize their great value and leverage that value to its fullest potential!

All the best to you, fellow dance enthusiasts,

Wylin Tjoelker     Dance Evangelist     Dance Club Review

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Protect Follows - from dance floor injuries

I’ve put off writing this post for way too long.  I just didn’t feel that I had learned enough to do justice to such an important subject.  But I have decided to go ahead and write what I knew at present anyway in hopes that my fellow dancers will leave some comments that will fill in the blanks.

Now, admittedly, this feels like kind of a negative subject.  I mean dance is really a fun and fantastic experience.  Why spoil it by reminding us of any attendant unpleasant realities?

It’s simple really.  Any of us who have been dancing for some time have seen injuries occur, or we know someone who has been injured, perhaps permanently.  Also, this blog is mainly written for leads, especially new leads.  And as leads, and gentlemen, we care about follows.  And those whom we care about, we protect.  This is written in the DNA code of every man.
It is also one of the many important reasons to work really hard to learn to dance well.  It is only when the steps and moves become as natural as riding a bicycle that you will be able to free up some mental capacity to apply to the other really important elements of dance.  Like making eye contact with your follow and actually smiling.  Perhaps even carrying on somewhat of a conversation, encouraging her with well deserved compliments on her dancing ability and things of that nature.

Once you arrive at this level of dance proficiency, take a few weeks, at least, to really focus on how you are leading your follow.  Are you leading in such a way as will protect her from injury?  Ask advice of your follows and talk as well with fellow leads to learn their insights on how to lead well and safely.

Let’s start with some theory.  Ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu stressed the importance of knowing yourself and of knowing your counterpart.  Let’s focus first on yourself.  As a man, you naturally enjoy the application of energy.  This is one of the reasons you love to dance.  You exalt in the centrifugal force, the inertia, the compression, the bounce.  This is why the various forms of swing dancing, especially Lindy Hop, are so exhilarating to you.  Now, many follows, especially the advanced follows, enjoy these things also, but honestly, there are few who will ever enjoy them as much as you do.  Admit it, you’re essentially a Star Wars Wookiee minus the laser crossbow.  You’re like a young German Shepard playing with a rag doll.  Yeah, you know you are!  And it’s not just your natural inclinations as an energy application junkie that make you dangerous.  You have the upper body strength and build to match.

Because of these realities, a vital element of the art of dance, for you, as a lead, is restraint.  The better and stronger leads strive to practice this restraint all the time.  If they didn’t there would be many follows without arms and multiple follow-shaped holes in dancehall walls.  

So herein lies the most important reality to grasp.  Your follow is not you.  She is different from you.  If you are really going to advance as a lead you must recognize, respect and appreciate her for how she is and not make the mistake of assuming that she’s just like you.  Keeping this in mind does not come naturally because we tend to see others through our own eyes and thus interact with them as though they are just another one of us.  Trust me, this natural blind spot gets both men and women into no end of trouble with each other all the time.  Success in interactions between people is therefore largely dependent upon recognizing others as they actually are, rather than just assuming that they are as we are.  We are all individuals and few experiences reveal this reality more than dance.

Thus, the quest to protect your follow from dance floor injuries is greatly dependent upon how you view her.  Now, while it is true that a particular follow might especially exhibit that precious quality known as good, solid frame, you must not let that tempt you to view her as: “Strong!!, Like Bear!!”  No, no, that’s you!  Instead, you must recognize her as: “delicate, like pretty flower” and then dance with your follow, or, your flower, accordingly, making sure that none of her delicate petals become detached and float to the dance room floor.

Now, with that shimmering vision so pleasantly inspiring our minds let us examine the practical meaning of that beautiful word: “Delicate”.

Let’s get right to the bottom of things and start with her feet.  Her delicate feet.  The real danger to your follow’s feet is not so much that you will step on them, but rather, that another dancer on a crowded dance floor will.  Though we recognize that it is very difficult for most of us guys to multitask, we really need to pay attention to the other dancers around us to keep our follow safe from being stepped on.

Some follows who are very new to dance will ask for help with the basic steps.  This is a great opportunity to encourage them to take shorter and much safer back steps.  When we first learn to dance we naturally take longer back steps as a normal effort to establish muscle memory.

Dance instructors try to correct this by discouraging it during class but it is a very hard trait to overcome.  It is most obviously identified in the dancer sending their foot way back, sometimes 36 inches or more, during the back step.  On a crowded dance floor this is a very dangerous thing to do.  It can result in them getting their heal and Achilles Tendon stepped on.  you can show them how to take more shallow and much safer back steps by placing their toe where their heal previously was and making a full weight transfer.  As you practice this together while counting out the steps you can sell them on the three great benefits to this shallow back step: it will enable them to dance to much faster music without falling out of sync with the rhythm; it will enable them to dance for hours almost every evening with out getting excessively tired; and it will protect them from one of the most common dance floor injuries: that of getting the back of their heal stepped on.

Some follows communicate a real interest in learning the finer points of dance and it's a joy to see their excitement as they master new things.  New follows tend to have a wealth of humility and they often appreciate the help.  Their success in mastering these new skills gives you the opportunity to praise and compliment them which has the beautiful effect of enhancing their confidence on the dance floor and their general overall state of happiness, which then inspires other leads to ask them to dance. 

Protecting our follow’s delicate feet can be more important than we normally realize.  A good friend of mine was stepped on three times in one dance evening.  The third time the side of her foot was stepped on and she suffered permanent damage from that injury.  She loves to dance, and she is one of the sweetest kids you will ever meet, but now her dancing is limited by her pain.  Yes, dance floor injuries are still going to occur regardless, but that does not absolve us as leads from doing what we can do to protect our follows from them.

Next let’s consider our follow’s delicate hands.  Always bear in mind that your follow is not some inanimate object that you need to crank around and throw like a rope with a grappling hook at the end.  The real point of hand connection is to provide only direction and the safety provided by reversing, stopping or catching or supporting that direction once it has reached its intended end. 

The really important thing that you need to do is to ensure that your follow’s hand is not trapped or restricted within your hand.  As she turns and pivots, her hand needs to be able to move with complete freedom within your hand.  This freedom of movement will protect her fingers, wrist , elbow, shoulder and back from strain.  Think of her hand as a pivot pin and your hand as a shallow cup.  Sometimes the opening of the cup will face down as it does when her hand is over her head as she is turning.  Sometimes the cup will face upwards as it often does when it is behind her back during a Texas Tommy move.  The point is to always provide her hand with as much freedom to move as possible.  Also, avoid pinching her hand with your thumb.  Actually, avoid using your thumb at all.  Always adjust your lead to your follow’s ability and personality.  Don’t rush her through a turn.  Let her go at her own pace.  Always check for other dancers before you swing her out so that you can avoid collisions.  Be gentle with your follow.  Invite her to follow your lead, don’t compel her.  Remember that key word: “delicate”. 


Now we must talk about what is probably the most important thing: our follow’s delicate shoulders.  Keep in mind that her shoulder bones, muscles and ligaments are considerably smaller than yours and are very vulnerable.  They must be protected.  The really important rule is that you must never allow her upraised hand to be sent behind her back.  Always keep her hand in front of her or at least well within the range of her peripheral vision.  Also, keep her hand low to avoid the effects of excess leverage.  As she pivots, her and your hands should just clear her fancy hair.  Envision a halo of about 15” in diameter above and around her head and trace her hand on the rim of that halo, again allowing it to pivot with total freedom within the down turned cup of your hand.  When initiating a turn, use the flat of your hand in a high five position and quickly reform it into a downward facing cup to ensure full freedom of movement for her hand.

Especially in Lindy Hop, and in other forms of swing dancing as well, avoid allowing either yours or your follow’s arms to be fully extended.  You need to be able to absorb the inertia at the end of a swing out with your somewhat bent elbow in order to protect your follow’s shoulder from any physical shock.

Lastly, we come to the importance of protecting your follow’s delicate head.  I will never forget the night at a dance venue way down south when one of my good follow friends tripped while dancing, (new shoes I think), and her head hit the dance room floor.  It was loud.  I think almost everyone on the dance floor heard it.  She suffered a mild concussion.  Though she recovered, we were all very concerned at the time.  A really sad fact is that the lead she was dancing with at the time was one of the best leads I have ever met.  She had tripped suddenly and without warning.  He tried valiantly to catch her, but she slipped from his grasp.  It was not his fault.  These sorts of accidents can happen to even the best of us.

One of the serious but rarely realized dangers to your follow's head (or ears actually) comes from the dance club's sound system.  Try to avoid the area within twenty feet or so directly in front of the speakers as, depending of the volume, your follow's hearing could be easily damaged.
In regular dancing the greatest danger to your follow’s head occurs, as you would expect, when she is being dipped.  The main danger, however, is not that you will drop her but rather that another lead will dip his follow at the same time and the two follow’s heads will bonk together.  Many of us are chuckling right now because this has happened to us.  Thankfully these bonks are usually very minor.  But again, this is why, as a lead, you always want to be checking for other dancers before you initiate a dip.  Also, in preparation for a dip you must prepare to set up with your left leg extended with knee bent to support the weight of the reclining follow.  Her safety depends on this vital step.

Lastly, a word about Lindy Aerials, or air steps,  I personally love them as does my eleven year old daughter who’s always pestering me to practice them with her.  That's the two of us in the photo below.  We were in costume for Suburban Swing's Star Wars Theam Night.  Tiffany was a young Princess Leia and I was Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The main point about aerials is that you only should do them if you are sufficiently proficient in them and only with a follow is also proficient in the same particular moves you plan to perform.  Very ideally, the two of you should have practiced them together in training with a spotter to protect your follow until the both of you have come to fully trust each other and you are able to successfully communicate to your follow exactly what move you intend next to do and she indicates that she is ready to follow through with the move.  You also want to be absolutely sure that the surrounding area is, and will remain, free of other dancers.  Remember that your follow has to come down eventually on her feet so you will need to temper your move to reduce that impact.  Also, always inquire of the dance hall hosts as to whether aerials are even allowed.  Most often they are not due to the significant liability risks involved.  Bottom line: never initiate an aerial move with an untrained, unprepared follow who does not fully know and trust you.  It’s almost a sure way for someone to get seriously hurt.  And believe me, that would not look cool. 

Another minor point I should mention.  You also need to be aware of how you are deploying your right hand.  You know, the one on your follow’s back.  In regular East Coast closed position hold this is not an issue as your hand is essentially placed on the middle upper area of her back.  But in a close hold position like is often employed in blues and fusion dancing you need to be aware of the importance of protecting her kidneys from being bruised by your hand.

Which brings us to a very important point.  Talk with your follow.  Encourage her to give you feedback on how you are dancing with her.  Does she feel safe?  Does she feel comfortable?  Is there anything you could do that would make the dance better for her?  Understand that if a follow says that she feels "safe" while dancing with you she is paying you one of the greatest compliments you could ever receive.

For us leads, this is really a major reason for us to learn to dance really well.  It frees up our mental capacity so that we can apply it in ways whereby we can protect our follows and make the dance for them the best, happiest and most fulfilling experience that it can possibly be.

For us as leads and as gentlemen a great deal of our success is measured by our follow's joy.  And that’s the real goal, the real pinnacle of dance attainment.

All the best to you fellow dance enthusiasts,

Wylin Tjoelker      Dance Club Review

PS.  I just know that I have missed some very important points about protecting follows from injuries.  If you noticed any glaring omissions, could you please bring them to our attention by clicking the “Comments” link below and sharing with us?  A few seconds of your time could save a follow from a serious, and possibly even permanent, injury.