Expressions you can commonly hear in the swing dance world are, “I’m trying to become an advanced dancer.” or “Oh I am a beginner go easy on me.”
The weird thing about this is I have had followers who claim they are beginners to a dance clearly outshine people who say they are intermediate or “know” a dance.
What it comes down to often is subjectivity. I know small community colleges that consider knowing a swingout as a sign of an advanced dancer. Put that in juxposition with the Orange County/Los Angeles swing dance scene, where if you claim the title advanced dancer you better be able to bust a move in the middle of a competition or jam circle.
What Is Intermediate?
As a fun little exercise I am going to take the descriptions of the requirements for an intermediate level track at different events in the Lindy Hop community to see if there is any parallels among them. To have an even mix I have selected nationally recognized events, smaller college workshops, and regular venues from across the United States.
SparX (College Swing Dance Workshop in Ohio): Intermediate: You’ve already conquered swingouts, lindy circles, texas tommy, tuck turns, other basic 8 count material, as well as common 6 count turns and side passes. And I mean you’ve conquered them– you execute them while throwing in variations so that people say “Woah, that was just a tuck turn??” (but in a good way). You also can easily mix the 6 and 8 count moves and have begun creating steps of your own. You understand musicality and now want to learn those subtle techniques that will take your dancing to the next level.
Lindy Focus (Ashville, North Carolina): “This track is for dancers who are already quite comfortable social dancing Lindy Hop on a regular basis. You have a strong understanding of the core repertoire including swingouts, lindy circle, texas tommy, tuck turns, other basic 8 count, as well as common 6 count turns and passes. You easily mix the two. You are strong with your technique, can move easily at a wide variety of tempos (dancing a little faster all the time), you’ve worked on frame, balance, and posture”
Camp Jitterbug (Seattle, Washington): You have a few Lindy Hop classes and/or workshops under your belt. The basics are comfortable, but you realize that continuing to fine-tune them will only make you better. While you can execute basics during classes, social dancing is a challenge still and you want to learn how to become more comfortable on the social floor. Higher tempos are a bit challenging still since you are still trying to think of the move the comes next if you are a lead or how to keep your frame so you can follow. Requirement for this track is to know the basics of Lindy Hop.
Tuesday Night Swing at the Verdi Club (San Francisco, California): For the Intermediate Level Lindy Hop Class, you must already be confident with 8-count basics, including the Lindy Hop Swingout and related turns, and basic Charleston steps. We will expect that you are committed to practicing your Lindy Hop regularly outside of class. New steps and concepts are introduced each month in the Intermediate Lindy Hop class. The Intermediate Lindy Hop class is meant to be taken continuously over several months or years
Flyin’ Footwork Productions (Orlando, Florida): You must be familiar with the 8-count Lindy Hop basic and the Lindy Circle to take this class. If you have taken our Lindy Hop Series, then you are ready for this class
Heartland Swing Festival (Collegiate level competition/workshop weekend in Des Moines, Iowa): Dancer should have at least a few months experience and be comfortable with the basics at medium tempos (up to 185bpm). Tuck turns, sugar pushes, basic charleston, footwork variations, and swingouts should all be familiar to you while you learn to integrate 6 and 8 count patterns. The trust relationship between partner’s connection is dawning on you.
So from this small sampling of six events from all over the United States here some things to notice:
- Five events explicitly list that you are comfortable with or have “conquered” the swingout.
- Three of the events list that you know how to do a Lindy Circle.
- Two of the events list that you should know how to do; a Texas Tommy, tuck turns, other basic 8 count, as well as common 6 count turns and passes
- Two of the events list that you know basic Charleston.
- Three of the events mention you should have a decent amount of class/social dance experience under your belt.
- Two of the events mention being able to handle medium level tempos.
The interesting thing for me is when putting this together I assumed the more nationally recognized events (Lindy Focus & Camp Jitterbug) would have stiffer requirements then the more regional lessons/college events. Surprisingly there was a lot of overlap though.
Camp Jitterbug as well does not get into specifics such as moves. Instead they choose to base their requirements on more situational requirements such as how a dancer feels about certain situations such as social dance, classes, and different tempos.
Also interesting to note that ILHC and Lonestar Championships do not have descriptions for requirements for the levels in their tracks.
Personally my (generic and non specific) view of an intermediate level Lindy Hopper is someone who can comfortably and confidently dance Lindy Hop on the social dance floor. However they lack the quality of movement and ability to handle extremes in tempos that separates them from being an advanced dancer. But they aren’t struggling to make it through a dance like perhaps a beginner may.
Some people think levels are meaningless and just exist to serve peoples egos. However to play the devils advocate one of my biggest pet peeves about last year’s Camp Hollywood was people in the intermediate Collegiate Shag class who were unable to dance a double shag basic (6 count footwork: with two slows followed by two quicks) in open.
If you have any thoughts on the subject, I’d love to hear it.
7 thoughts on “Levels in Lindy Hop: “Intermediate””
I mostly agree with your view, but there’s a problem, at least in most of the camps/workshops I’ve been in. People tend to overestimate themselves. As it is most people that do so everything tends to work out eventually, except for the “novice-that-learns-fast”, if they are humble or not well guided.
Those “novices” (be through natural talent, excellent teachers/scene or sheer practice) learn fast, and in less than a year can reach a solid intermediate or even advance-intermediate. But, if humble they register as beginner, or beginner-intermediate, and sometimes end on the ugly end of the stick of feeling not challenged and probably not learning much.
Yeah, a good dancer can learn at any level (s)he’s in, but you need some more grounding for that.
So I guess things like auditions or setting the people in levels according to the data they enter (like the Grenoble Swing Dance Festival or the Barcelona Lindy Lab) are nice alternatives.
Hey thanks for commenting and I’m with you on the problem in camps/workshops. Its especially bad for myself anytime I have attempted to take an intermediate collegiate shag class. Often people have only danced it once before or don’t know things like how to dance it in open. For someone as myself who tries to seriously improve at the dance, it can be extremely frustrating.
Personally how I have always figured it out for myself was I asked my instructors (who I regularly take lessons from) what I would be safe in taking. That method has guided me well. But I can understand there may be people in isolated scenes or in special situations that they may not be able to get that kind of feedback and have to self-evaluate.
Auditions address the problem, but often with bigger events I’ve heard and read complaints of how audition tracks sometimes are not as effective as they should be.
Some of the venues in the Bay Area use numeric levels — Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 — instead of the beginner / intermediate terms. See 920special.com and wednesdaynighthop.com for examples. Both of those venues have just started to offer level 3.
What seems to be fairly typical, based on my casual observations and experience only, is that people will stay in a level for 3 to 4 months months before moving up. After that time, people feel like they have “mastered” the material (I’m using mastered loosely) and are looking to be challenged, so they move up from Level 1 to 2, or from Level 2 to 3.
For me personally, I’ve found that after a few months in a particular level, I’ve absorbed everything I can handle at that level on the surface, while knowing that there’s more to learn at that level, but that I’m not astute enough yet to see the finer points of what is being taught at that level. That extra level of understanding does not come for me until I go back and take a class again a few months later — the experience I get from social dancing slowly gives me the experience needed to go and understand those finer points months later.
I do like your definition of intermediate dancing, as I think it suits me well – I social dance a lot — sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. I know from watching videos of myself that I certainly don’t have the quality of movement to make the dance look as good as it can.
You know all of those definitions above have liberal and conservative interpretations. An intermediate at Camp Jitterbug isn’t the same as an intermediate in our local DC classes. The bell curve changes depending on where you go. So since there isn’t a uniform standard and some people are prone to over or under valuing, there is going to be some duds. I have found that most people place themselves with their peers if given the freedom. Nonetheless swing doesn’t have bronze, silver and gold levels (and it shouldn’t) so it is a minor inconvenience to put up with the occasional duds.
For chag, I feel you that some will go to an intermediate shag class if they don’t know the basic. On the other hand I can probably count on my fingers the number of true shag intermediates sooooooooo
You raise a valid point of the varying skill levels based on regions. The intermediate classes I took at ILHC would have been considered advanced classes in most scenes around the United States. Juxtapose that with some intermediate classes I have taken at some smaller community colleges would be seen as beginner classes in the majority scenes around the United states.
The comment on the uniform standard is also spot on. Reminds me of my old Tae Kwon Doe days of where you knew you were at a certain skill level because you got a belt for passing a test under the governing body of the Kukkiwon, in South Korea. I believe DanceSport has similar Proficiency Exams in the competitive Ballroom Dance world (which I shudder at the thought of that being implemented in swing dancing).
For Shag the difficulty is the small number of dancers, on top of the small amount of classes offered usually for the dance. Often most people have no idea how to place themselves, skill-wise within the dance. I’ve just generally followed my policy of trying to find the instructors beforehand and asking them if I am a good fit for their class.
I like the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition:
So the next step is, what are the different skills in Lindy Hop? Hmmmmm….