Anyone who tries to learn to dance from a book is a fool.

The basics of a dance need to be taught in person, where the student can see the moves from a variety of different angles, can see how the dance is supposed to flow as a whole, and can ask questions of the teacher. More advanced components of a dance have to be practised, to build up muscle memory so that the moves can be done automatically and instinctively.

However, this does leave a number of situations where a book like this can be useful. If a post-beginner dancer has got the basics, then they may well be able to pick up variations just from a description and pictures. A reference can help to remind dancers of moves and sequences that they've learnt in the past, but have forgotten some of the details of. An organized collection of moves can help dancers to organize and understand what they already know, by illuminating inter-related aspects of the dance that they'd previously learned by rote.

A typical Lindy Hop class mixes up a variety of different components, which helps to appeal to a wider range of people. It might teach:

  • partnered moves, including the information needed to lead and follow those moves on a social dance floor
  • footwork variations, which can be performed during a "standard" move without affecting its timing (so one dancer can choose to do the variant footwork in a social dance without affecting the other dancer)
  • styling tips, to help the dancers achieve a certain look, whether authentic or not
  • prearranged, choreographed sequences of jazz steps, which are usually done with the dancers not holding each other—so it is definitely not led or followed.

This book concentrates mostly on the first two of these components, and much less on the last two.

Styling is particularly difficult to get across in a written description, no matter how many photographs accompany the text. Moreover, styling is a much more subjective area than footwork, rhythms or lead and follow; as such, styling is only sparsely covered in this book. This may be contentious—some would consider the styling to be essential to the spirit of Lindy Hop—but once a move becomes familiar and comfortable, most dancers will relax into a style of their own.

This also reflects the primary focus of the book, which is on social Lindy Hop—a common vocabulary of moves and leads for those moves that enable a leader from London to dance with a follower from California (or Sweden, or Singapore, or …), when they've never met before, dancing to music that neither of them have heard before. Unlike electrical connections, where a plug from one country rarely fits into a socket from a different country, the dance connection in Lindy Hop spans many countries and variants of the dance form. At the heart of this compatibility is a shared understanding of the core moves and rhythms of the dance, and how those moves are led. The improvisational nature of the dance then gives endless variety—every dance is different, even to the same tune, with the same partner, in the same place.

This compatibility of moves is more important than consistency of naming. The names for the moves in this book vary widely throughout the world, but the names are only relevant in rare situations—for example, as a shorthand when communicating a choreography. During the dance itself, moves are identified by leading them rather than naming them.

The focus on social Lindy Hop also means the book skips or only briefly covers some topics that others might consider of vital importance—for example, choreographed sequences or airsteps. These omissions don't represent an opinion that these areas aren't important, just that they don't fit within the scope of this book.

Various jazz steps are covered, but they are mostly treated on their own as small building blocks, rather than in the longer choreographed sequences that might show up in a dance class. Even if every dancer in a particular dance community knows a particular sequence—so it can be performed successfully on a social dance floor—it is unlikely that the same sequence would work in a different environment.

It's important to emphasize that the contents of this book are not the only way to do the dance. Different dancers will vary the styles, the positionings, the leads and the timings—the best guide to the dance is whether it feels and looks good. Hopefully this book has a set of ideas that will lead into other things by helping to understand how and why some things work, sparking new thoughts, styles, moves and dances.

Book Structure

Organizationally, the book is divided into three parts. The first part, Basics, covers the moves that make up the core of Lindy Hop. Readers should probably be familiar with most of the material in this part—it is sufficiently fundamental that dancers would have a hard time learning it from a book—so it serves to introduce the format of the presentation in the context of moves that are already known.

The second part of the book, Variations, builds on the steps described in the previous part to create a much richer vocabulary of moves. These variations are of two different kinds—those that change the shape of a move in terms of the positions of the dancers, and those that alter the footwork of a move without changing its larger shape. Another way to think of this division is to think of hands versus feet: the former variations involve a change in lead, which normally means that the leader does something different with his hands; the latter involve the dancers doing something different with their feet (while hands and bodies stay in roughly the same place as for the base move).

Both in real dance lessons and on the dance floor, this distinction is artificial: dancers and teachers will frequently vary both the footwork and the shape of the move at the same time. They are separated here to clarify what's involved in each variation, and to illuminate a wider potential range of combined variations.

However, this separation does involve fair amount of repetition; no move variation involves a change to every single step of the base move (if it did, it would be a different move) and so the description of the variation repeats a fair fraction of the original move. These repeated steps could have been skipped, but it was considered that the advantage of having the full sequence of steps all in the same place outweighed this downside.

The third and final part of the book, Context, explores Lindy Hop from a wider perspective than just lists of steps and moves. This includes performance aspects of the dance—both for performing socially and for display—together with an exploration of other related dance styles. Most experienced dancers are comfortable with a range of dances, and it is interesting to examine some of those dances in the light of Lindy Hop.

Terminology and Conventions

Throughout the book, names of particular moves that are covered elsewhere in the book are capitalized, which helps to distinguish them from descriptions of movements—for example, a mention of travelling kicks refers to a kicking motion that moves across the floor, but Travelling Kicks is a specific move with an associated rhythm and lead.

As discussed above, there are no standard names for moves in Lindy Hop—even the most central move of the dance, the Lindy Turn, has more than one common name. The names used here reflect typical European rather than American conventions, and are also biased towards longer, more descriptive (and so less ambiguous) names. The glossary at the end of the book helps to translate alternative move names to the ones used here.

For the text, an apology for inappropriate pronoun use. Throughout the book, the text uses the male pronoun for the leader, and the female pronoun for the follower. This is neither accurate—many women are happy to lead, and some men enjoy following—nor politically correct but it does allow the text to be more compact while still being completely unambiguous. Where the role of the dancer isn't relevant, the grammatically incorrect but inoffensive "they" is used.