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You Don't know, What you don't know!

What is your dance level? What are the next steps?

Zen Dance

What is your dance level? Here's a guide.

This is a general guide that I created to help you determine your dance level. When I was learning Lindy Hop I never had an accurate sense of my dance level? Teachers and workshop levels were vague, even if you auditioned for a level, there are too many factors that might affect your performance. I hated being scrutinized in that one nervous dance moment then being placed in the wrong level.

In San Francisco–in the early days– if you danced one year it was like dancing five anywhere else because we were dancing every night, seven days a week at multiple venues the same day. At dance camps and workshops was difficult for us to answer the question, "How many years have you been dancing?"

We would hear terms like, hanging to the music, dancing to the music, shading, beats per minute, connection, AABA, 12 bar blues etc. But, what does that all mean? Who do we ask? We had no idea. Information on the Internet was in it's infancy.

When I taught Lindy Hop classes people would say they were intermediate and they couldn't do a swingout. It caused huge problems in having to tell people they didn't belong in class when another teacher from somewhere else said they were an intermediate dancer. If you spent the time catching them up to the level of the class it would take valuable time away from students who belonged in class.

I know I would have benefitted by a guide of what I needed to learn to advance. My skill level might be accurate but there might be gaps of knowledge about music, or connection, in order to dance and improvise to the music.

I have broken the levels down into two or three tiers within each category to make it easier to see what a dancer might need to improve or to better understand their level in Lindy Hop.

Even as a martial artists you can only see one or two steps above your rank. As a high ranking black belt you can see all the steps because you have the perspective and the knowledge to see it clearly.

"You don't know what you don't know!"

• This guide is not meant to judge your dance level! The information is just to fill in what you might not know. There are some teachers who do not teach East Coast Swing and start with Lindy Hop which is fine and their prerogative. I started with ECS because many students interested in Lindy Hop came from ECS. Other students where interested in knowing ECS because they social danced with ECS and later Lindy Hop.


Level 1

Learning the 6 count steps (Step, Step Rock Step) or

(Triple Steps, Triple Step, Triple Step, Rock Step) aka East Coast Swing

Learning Open and Closed position.

Knows how to Rock Step correctly and can use spring momentum to

rebound back and forth with their partner.

Respects their partners!

Learning East Coast Swing Basic turns:

1) Inside Outside turns from Open Position

2) Cuddle, Hammer Lock from Closed Position

3) Inside Turn from Closed Position

Level 2

Knowing how to transition between a variety of 6 count moves without

causing undo stress on your partners limbs or body (No Arm Leading).

Learning Triple Step, Triple Step, Rock Step

Learning East Coast Swing Basic turns Beginning Lindy Hop Basics


1) Belly slide turns from Open Position

2) Pass Behind the back

3) Peabody Steps with Arm Slide with exit Cross Hand Open


4) Tuck Turns from Closed, Open Position & from Cross Hand

5) Cross Hand Position Behind the Back Turn from waist high

6) Charleston Kicks 8 count to 6 count transitions

Musicality Levels 1&2:

Can “hear”and keep rhythm to the music

* Remember, “At the end of every arm lead is a jerk”


Level 1

Knowing the basic 8 count (Step, Step, Triple Step, Step, Step, Triple Step)

swingout & 6 count (Rock Step, Triple Step, Triple Step)

and how to transition between them.

Musicality Levels 1:

Can hear the “1” in the music

Can keep rhythm to the music

Level 2

Can do the Lindy Basics:

1) Swingout from Open Position

2) Circle to Close Position

3) to Charleston Kicks

4) Swingout from Closed Position

Knowing some transitions between moves

Can get in and out of Tandem Charleston

Follower knowing when to turn around on the “3&4” on the Swingout

Knows where the”5” is in the Swingout

Can get through the Swingout without undo pulling or anticipating

Knows who Frankie Manning & Norma Miller is.

Musicality Level 2:

Can hear the “1” in the music

Keep Rhythm

Distinguish between the”1” and “4” in the music.

Level 3

Doesn't need to count when dancing

Doesn't arm lead

Know more than a 10? Classic Lindy Moves

Knows how to expand 6 count moves into 8 count

*Knows what Louie Armstrong and Billy Holiday’s contribution to Swing is.

Knows where the name Lindy Hop came from and who Shorty George is.

Musicality Level 3:

Understands pause and breaks in the music and knows what to do.

Knowing where the “1” is in the music and how to get back to the

“1” from 6 count.

How to improvise the extra counts from 6 to 8 count to get back to the

“1” in the music.

Learning how to Hang to the Bass


Has enough dancing in muscle memory to multitask effectively

Has constant tension connection

Doesn’t have to think about the 8 count

Can transition between 6 and 8 count easily

Leads let go by”5”on the swingout

Can Swingout in a straight line without rotating clockwise.

Learning Jazz moves, Shim Sham, Jitterbug Stroll

Exploration of slower more intricate new music that swings beyond classic

mono recordings (because you have danced those song a million times).

Knows how to “hang” to the music and the definition of “It don’t mean a

thing, if it ain’t got that swing”.

*Know the history of Lindy Hop, Jazz and it’s originators

Musicality Level Advanced: Can hear and keep rhythm

Connecting with their partner in the music not holding your

partners hand & solo dancing.

Knows AABA Swing music structure, 8, 12, 16 Bar Blues Music, Boogie

Woogie & Jump Swing

Can "hear" the different music levels, Melody, treble, bass and rhythm

and identify the instruments and singer in the music

Pauses and breaks to the music

Hanging to the bass not dancing to the drum beat

*Optional, Can sing the Swedish Birthday Song


Has danced at least 10,000 hours

Uses momentum not strength ot move

Intuitively understands the concept of Lead and Follow.

Can improvise different combinations of moves seamlessly

Can connect without impinging on the partners balance or momentum

Adds energy and momentum to the dance not taking it away

You are aware on the dance floor & use of Floorcraft to avoid bumping into other dancers.

Call and Response conversation with your partner on the dance floor not monologuing.

Understands Shading to fast songs

Understands concept of Contrast in dancing movement and music

Not afraid of mistakes knowing it is a part of the creative process

Knows Lindy Hop classic jazz moves and can incorporate them while dancing Lindy Hop.

Can dance fast Lindy and Swingout in a straight line without rotating clockwise.

Uses whole body leading and following not using arm strength alone.

Understands the mechanics of a Swingout and can dance the different variations

Can switch between Smooth style Lindy and Savoy and knows the difference.

Still social dances with beginners and all levels.

Musicality Levels Expert

Can improvise, with your partner to the music on the fly, Call and

Response without thinking or counting

Knows how to express all the different levels in the music Melody,

Treble, Bass and Rhythm

Can syncopate step pattern to the music 1&2&3&4&5&6&7&8

* Optional, knows aerials, when and where and how to be safe

* Has done performances and knows the difference between performance and social dancing

The Lindy Hop Etiquette

(The secrets that made our Bay Area Lindy Hop scene best and friendliest in the world?)

No matter what level we were, we welcomed new people to dance with zero prejudice.

We knew if we didn’t nuture the scene would not grow and we would not have people to dance with in the future.

We respected each other, helped to promote each others events and venues and tried not overlap each others Lindy Hop events.

We did our best to talk about, settle differences and resolve conflicts.

We believed we could own the dance within ourselves, but we did not own Lindy Hop.

We were passionate about this dance and made lifelong friends and still care about each other.

We were so passionate about Lindy Hop we danced wherever whenever we heard swing music.

* Frankie Manning loved SF because we shared, loved and respected him we did not fight each other over him.

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