MARK KIHARA issued his Lindy Hop challenge gently, but firmly. The Century Ballroom instructor wrote to say he enjoyed a column I wrote about swing, but wanted to show me that Lindy Hop was not hard, like I had said. He offered to teach me the dance in one hour, using phrases like “the most joyful dance of all time” and “no previous dance experience.”
Lindy Hop evolved in the 1920s and ’30s, and is considered the original swing dance. Many swing moves you see are a variation of Lindy Hop ones.
But you don’t need any previous dance background. If you can run and you can hop, you can Lindy Hop, Mark said. Athletes like it because it is active and doesn’t require a lot of technique. After an hour of hopping around, I can say it’s easy to learn the steps, and you move constantly.
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We started off with the basic rhythm of Lindy Hop, clapping first, stomping our feet second, then moving our feet to the rhythm. The triple steps required for the basic Lindy-Hop step tested my sense of rhythm at first, but I was able to keep up. Mark took me into other moves, including the swing out, and kept me practicing the basic steps.
Lindy Hop has three gears, Mark said, and once you learn them, you can keep up. For the second one, the rhythm pattern changes to accommodate partner twirls and passes.
It was easy enough to follow when we stayed in one gear, but I occasionally got confused when Mark would switch between the two steps. He kept reminding me to look at him and follow his lead. He was encouraging throughout, declaring “that’s good!” and “gold!” whenever I managed to dance through an entire song.
The third gear is the Charleston, with kicks on each foot. I felt jazzy learning the Charleston, and I understood why the Lindy name includes “hop.” We hopped from foot to foot with little kicks forward and back. When I asked how I would know when it was time for the Charleston, he said it would be obvious — he would move from a smooth motion to up and down. We also added in a fun swing-out in the Charleston with double kicks, and suddenly I wanted to bop around all the time.
Most partner dances use a traditional leader-follower format. Lindy Hop is much more open, he said. He taught me the three gears, but either partner can throw in their own stylistic moves at any moment.
For our final dance, he told me I could either do what he was doing or keep dancing what we learned. My brain already was in a tizzy, and I decided not to go wild.
We started off with the familiar step, step, triple step, then Mark would throw in big hip swings or some jazzy steps. But he was such a fun, expressive dancer, of course I had to try to imitate what he was doing. Other times, his steps were more complicated, and I stayed with my reliable ones.
Lindy hopping is crazy fun. A class will teach you basic swing and add some cool new moves to your arsenal. Once you know the Lindy Hop gears, work on your moves at the weekly swing dances, Mark said.
I learned the basics in under an hour. Mark declared me successful at Lindy Hop. I’ll take it.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.