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how to start lindy in your community

America is getting more unhealthy by the minute - and our butts are getting, um, well, we're number one in a lot of things and butts are certainly a category we excell at!

Anyone who has been lindy hopping for more than a few months has watched beginners go from "civilian weight" to aerodynamic lindy hopper size (gosh, who knew pounds would drop off if you did the equivalent of running track for 10-12 hours a week?!?).

America is also becoming socially inept - TV and video games are creating a generation of bores - the habitat of a dance scene fosters not just rigorous exercize, but sociability (dances are like cocktail parties without the drinks), manners (you have to politely ask her to dance), grooming (people actually shower and wear nice clothes to dances) and nobody does drugs! Wouldn't it be nice to bring swing to your town for one or all of these reasons?

And most of all: don't give up!
Tons of little scenes are thriving all over the world. Enlist a few friends and spread the love.

some suggestions:

  • Free Space:
    Will a local school/church/healthclub allow you to use space for free or cheap? You'll want to teach (or get someone who can) a beginner lesson before the dance starts. Always stress "you don't need a partner" and don't charge admission if your first attempts have a thin turnout.
  • DJing:
    Want to DJ a dance? There are lots of playlists on the web - SWING DJS .COM & LUV2SWINGDANCE.COM to name a few. To start inexpensively you can buy compilation CDs of 30s and 40s big band music.
  • Bands:
    Is there a swing/jazz/rockabilly/50's band that plays one night a week at a local bar? Ask the owner if you can teach a 30 minute beginner lesson before they come on. (We did this by showing up, doing aerials during the band's first song, then approaching the management... lasted 3 years).
  • Dress and act the part:
    At least look like you're in charge - a swing-themed tshirt or suspenders adds a little panache to your look, be sociable, dance with beginners and not just your friends who showed up to support you (encourage them to do the same). And learn a few safe but flashy aerials (there are lots of jumps and dips that will do the trick). Aerials make people say "Oh Yeah. I want to learn that!" Do NOT allow anyone to do aerials on the social dance floor. Stage a jam if you have to so they can show off their stuff.
  • Enlist experts:
    Just about every little town is within driving distance from a BIG town that has a swing scene. Contact them and pay an experienced Lindy Hop instructor to show up for an evening - or better: a weekend event. Contact Aris Allen and they'll send you a promo kit to add some splash to your weekend.
  • Travel:
    Go to some weekend events to hone your craft and see what other people are doing with their scenes.
  • Set up a Facebook page for promotion on the cheap.
  • Click here for a "swing dance" poster you can print out and fill in.
  • Click here for a little "free lesson" poster you can print out and fill in.
  • Remember: It's A Business!
    Don't think a scene can survive if you treat it like a hobby and run it all by yourself. This is not a yard sale. Get volunteers to man the door in exchange for free admission. Have a 2nd teacher (that you actually pay - even if it's just $20) because eventually you'll loathe not having Thursdays free! Make a business plan to guide you - and schedule: "hire a Part Time Employee" who will call radio stations and newspapers, distribute flyers, clean up/lock up, etc. after you're starting to make a profit. Your scene will thrive if you can keep the energy up and the best way to do that is to have real help that can do the things you've grown tired of.
  • Insurance:
    Don't be scared to pay for Event Insurance - it's cheap. Most places you'll be teaching at will already be insured... ASK.
  • Home Schooled Kids:
    Todd of the York Swing Dance Club (see his article below) pointed out that home schooled kids can take swing dance lessons for phys ed credits - and if you go the extra mile and have a Jazz Era appreciation class you can fulfill their need for history classes. Apparently anyone with a teaching degree can sign the paperwork - so see if you have any teachers amongst your swing flock. Home schooled kids also need to socialize with peers and swing dances help them with that. Todd told the first home student "Bring a friend next week and you get in free" which snowballed into enough aspiring youngsters to start a fabulous dance team. Their dances got so popular that they had to keep it 18 and over (unless you were on the dance team) to keep from overcrowding their venue.
  • The 8-Week Wonders:
    Tom and Debra of Washington, DC teach an interesting class - the concept? "If you've got $98 you're on a dance team!" Their 8-Week Wonders is a class that teaches a routine, then they go and perform it. What a great way to be social and get on a dance team! Performing at the VSO - Performing at the Air and Space Museum in DC - At the Kennedy Center - you get the picture!

The following article was written by Todd Schmenk, founder of the York, Pennsylvania York Swing Dance Club. York is a large, but quiet, town in southern Pennsylvania that really needed a nice swing dance scene so there'd be something worth doing on the weekend - and Todd made sure they got one.

He actually got money to start swing dancing in his town from the health department! He's kindly written us an article about how he started a dance-as-exercize program in York (which blossomed into the thriving scene that's there now):


Several years ago I had the good fortune of sitting in a meeting at the PA Department of Health. The meeting was held to discuss ideas that could be used to get people moving and for sharing programs that had a proven track record of achieving this goal. At the time I'd been implementing a walking program and had begun to provide a weight-training program, but had discovered that strength training was not for everyone, despite its benefits. I was looking for something in between, something that used body weight for muscle conditioning and motion enough to get the heart pumping at the target heart rate.

I had tied local hiking groups, cycling groups, bowling, volleyball, and kayaking groups into the a program called "Be Active York" modeled after a similar North Carolina program. These programs all enjoyed a certain degree of success but were more sports oriented and lacked a social element. It also worried me to offer just these types of "traditional" healthy lifestyles when research was showing that they only appealed to about 30% of the general population.

Then I sat through a presentation called the "Step-N-Rhythm" program that was being offered in Philadelphia. The program offered two different activities over a period of twelve weeks. The first activity was identical to the walking program I already had in place. It used pedometers and a track sheet to record activity levels. It offered walks and nutritional presentations, a newsletter and friendly reminders, all of which were present in the York Steps program, but it also offered another mode of activity; dance.

Dance was perfect. It was that middle ground between walking and competitive sports. It offered a way to reach and maintain the cardiovascular requirements of 30 minutes a day while providing an excellent activity to help condition and maintain muscular strength and flexibility. It had a social aspect that helped to connect people together and had the power to pull people away from their televisions. It had the potential to reinvigorate the downtown, the area of town that had been built during swing dancing's pinnacle. It was a lifestyle that could easily be adapted to just about anyone's daily routine, but most importantly - it was fun. Fun in that it was not perceived as exercise. Of all the people who went through the original dance program, not one in the post interview had perceived dancing as exercise. After two years, only about 10% of participants refer to the lessons aspect of the program as exercise and "light" at that.

Once I sat and listened, it all made sense to me. I had been swing dancing for years by that time and could recall bouncing around on the dance floor for two or three hours, heart pumping, legs pulsing, without a thought of it being hard work or exercise. It had never occurred to me that I could use dance as that middle ground I had been looking for because I myself had not viewed dance as anything more than a fun social event I went to. I definitely never viewed it as exercise.

This scenario above may have happened in Pennsylvania, but there is nothing to stop this from becoming a nationwide phenomenon that can help America return to its roots while reinventing an active healthy lifestyle to combat the ever present obesity epidemic.

--Todd J. Schmenk, M.Ed.

Todd's credentials (in about 2007 - he's since moved to Rhode Island):

When Todd is not dancing, his "real" job is as a Health Education Specialist for the City of York's Bureau of Health. He is responsible for the health of the community specializing in reducing the risk of heart and bone disease through good nutrition and physical activity. Having certification as a personal weight trainer and fitness instructor, Todd is constantly applying his knowledge of biomechanical coordination and human kinetics to dance. He is co-founder and coordinator for York's Urban Swing Dance Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the swing dances and getting people moving through dance. He is a member of the American Public Health Association, American Women's Medical Association, American Dietetic Association, National Dance and Exercise Trainer Association, International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, and the International Weightlifting Association. He received a Bachelor's Degree from the University of South Carolina and a Master's of Education degree in Community Health from Cleveland State University.