Lesson OneLesson One
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Lesson 1 -- scroll to the bottom to exit
Ray Phelps
Ray Phelps
At Bourston's in LA, 1946

Prefatory Note

A long time ago, we used to teach Lindy Hop. We don't do this anymore (mainly because of work responsibilities) and we reccommend that you seek out current instructors in the DC Area. This section is included as a historic artifact that demonstrates the difficulty of developing instructions for dancing. If you can't take live lessons, video is the absolute next best thing. The best of the "dance lesson" websites is Unlimited Swing that lets you pick and choose from LOTS of instructors. If you go through our curriculum, you'll probably laugh at our attempts to use clumsy math-like nomenclature to get points across. We experimented with animated GIFs to teach Charleston (Lesson 3) because in 1998, it could take five minutes to download a grainy 20 second video. Times have changed....

So, read along and have a chuckle at our attempts at pedagogy.

Lesson 1: Basics

Lindy Hop is a collection of dance movements that grew out of the improvisations of dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in about 1927. The dancers literally created the dance while the musicians were inventing the music --- the two evolved together. Lindy was put together from the popular dances of the day, including Charleston, Fox Trot, Collegiate Shag and Black Bottom. Each dance was adapted to the new syncopated swing music with eight beats to the bar.

There are literally thousands of possible Lindy movements based on variation and recombination of a small number of basic forms. Think of it this way: there are hundreds of thousands of words, but only 26 letters. We're going to begin with the ABC's.

Language is a good analogy for dance. If you think about learning to speak something other than your native tongue, it goes something like this:

  • (a.) first you learn some things about grammar and pronunciation;
  • (b.) next, you do conversation with "stock" phrases, such as might be found in a travel guide book;
  • (c.) you acquire sufficient vocabulary and confidence to carry on a two-way conversation;
  • (d.) you begin to think in the new language; and
  • (e.) eventually, you can really groove on the language by writing poetry or making puns.


As we study Lindy, we are going to be using the terms "Lead" and "Follow". In the 1990s, these historical terms may be charged with some meaning that we'd like to dispel. In partner dancing, especially at high speed, one partner takes responsibility for choreography, or signalling which movements are to be executed. The other partner executes these moves. The speed of the music precludes time for consensus negotiations. In general, the Follower has the more challenging and attractive part of the deal; in a sense, a good leader knows how to show off a follower. There are rewards to both partners --- the Lead has simpler moves in order to focus on choreography, the Follow has more complex moves to focus on style. "control" or "domination" should not be implied when "Lead" or "Follow" are used in the context of dance. Anyone who mistakenly believes the contrary will find opportunities for leading severely restricted... If you can't come to terms with the Lead-Follow compact, you should probably stick to free-form individual dancing.

Historically, Men have done Leading and women have done Following. This need not be the case. Anyone can lead and anyone can follow. In conversation with the masters of the dance, there is a preference for following as a means of showing off expertise.

Whether you choose Lead or Follow, you have to become attuned to the particular series of hand and body movements that constitute the actual signals. This universal set of signals should enable you to dance with any other Lindy Hopper anywhere in the world. Dance leads are the true international language.


We're going to be dancing in "duple meter" or as hepcats in the '30s were wont to say, "eight to the bar." Most contemporary American music is written in 4/4 time; that means that there are four beats to the measure and the quarter note is the duration of one beat. (i.e. 4/4 means that one bar, or measure, is made up of the equivalent of four quarter notes.) In duple meter, we cut that in half --- each bar is made up of the equavalent of eight eighth notes. The business about bars is very important because the musical forms call for the regular change of chords on particular bars. We'll talk about chord changes later, but remember that the dance is inseparable from the music and that we've got to deal with things that come in multiples of eight.

Each of these eight notes has three components: a Downbeat (D), an Offbeat (O) and an Upbeat (U) (Represented by saying something like "One And"). The upbeat may also be called the backbeat.

  • Down beat is the odd numbers.
  • Upbeat or BACKbeat is the even numbers, not the ands. [Back beat refers to when the drum makes a loud crack on the 2s and 4s such as in rock and roll.]
  • OFF beat is term for the stuff in between the down and up beats.

    The best way to think about it is tapping your feet to the music. Your foot taps the floor on the downbeat and you raise it on the upbeat. The eight Lindy beats can be represented like this, with "D" or "U" meaning "tap foot on the beat" and "O" meaning "raise foot on the offbeat":

    Beat 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
    Left D O U O D O U O
    Right -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    Left -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    Right D O U O D O U O
    <>Beat 5 & 6 & 7 & 8 &
    Left D O U O D O U O
    Right -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    Left -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    Right D O U O D O U O

    The notation shown above is simply tells you that: The LEADER taps the left foot in time with the rhythm --- down (D) on the downbeat and up (U) on the upbeat --- while your right foot remains still. The FOLLOWER does the same thing except that the right foot taps and the Left foot remains still. All sorts of other Lindy dance movements or "moves" can be written down like this.


    If you look at the notation example, if the Leader is facing the follower, one person is the mirror image of the other. In later moves, we will use the phrase "Mirror Symmetry" to refer to the fact that the Lead and Follow are doing something different that appears to the observer to be the mirror image of one another.

    Those among us who are scientifically inclined may welcome this notation, hoping that you can do Lindy by formula. THIS IS A FALLACY --- you can't learn to dance from formulas and notation. YOU HAVE TO GET OUTSIDE YOUR HEAD AND INTO YOUR BODY The reason for writing things down is so that you don't forget them. Also, when your instructor isn't around, the notation provides a way of refresing your memory. ("Did he say hop on the left foot on beat three?" is heard frequently after classes.)


    Guess what! Anything that is good doesn't come easy. Lindy uses muscles that you don't know about, so plan on being sore for a bit. It is necessary to learn Lindy steps in two places: first in your head, to find out which foot goes where and second in your muscles so that they do things practically without any further thought on your part. During the learning process, your body may not want to do what your head tells it to do. To counter this, most basic steps have a "muscle memory" exercise that will get your mind and body back in synch. Better yet, you can do your muscle memory exercises without a partner. The best time is right after you get up in the morning -- it gets your blood moving and your body is more receptive at that time.


    You need to do the Rock Step and Triple Step. This is GROUND ZERO.

    Think of each Swing song (which is three verses composed of 32 bars, or 96 bars) as a TRAIN that is 96 cars long. Later on in the course, we are going to show you some "locomotives" and "Cabooses" to start and end your dance. For now, each car has to be hooked to the next one. The vehicle for doing this is the ROCK STEP. Every Lindy Move begins with a Rock Step, or counts One and Two. For the moment, we're going to fill the rest of the car with some triple steps.

    The Rock Step:

    Beats 1, 2: For the Lead, the Left foot moves backward about six to ten inches on beat one with weight shifting back during beat seven. On beat two, weight is shifted forward, onto the right leg and the feet are brought together. The reverse is true for the Follow (i.e. Right foot back, etc.) It is a rocking, weight shifting motion, not a stepping motion. In the learning stage, we start each Lindy move with a rock step --- although there are some exceptions in later, advanced stages of the dance. In your initial training, we have kept this consistent so that you can string moves together to make a dance.

    The Triple Step:

    The triple step figures highly in Lindy and must be mastered thoroughly. It is a rapid alternation of the feet with emphasis on the first step (left foot for Lead, right foot for non-Lead). For this reason, some older works refer to this as a "stutter step." A good method for getting the rhythm and timing is, in fact, to say the words "triple step."

    The three syllables and their relative pace match the required alternation of the feet.


    This is the most elementary way of moving your body to Swing music. This basic position is rarely seen in actual practice. It is mostly a device to accustom your mind and body to the music. It is, however, a rich framework for interesting and dramatic variations.

    The partners face each other. The Lead presents palms up and the Follow presents palms down. Curl fingers and lock hands. Press very lightly. Both partners' elbows should be at their sides. During the movement, your arms should not move from this position. Contrary to what you may have seen, or believe you have seen (for much of Lindy is illusion...), Lindy is done close together.


    Frame refers to how you hold your body and how you connect with your partner. Hold your elbows at your side. Lead has palms up, Follow has palms down. Grasp each others fingers in an interlocking grip (gently). Push against each other. You have proper frame when it feels like you are pushing a shopping cart! This is the proper distance for dancing. This is called OPEN POSITION.

    Keep your shoulders level, always squarely face your partner.

    Keep the movement in your feet and legs. Your body above the waist should be perfectly still. You should not bounce up and down, and you shoulders should not sway from side to side.


    Here is the Basic step:

    • Beats 1,2 (Rock Step): As above, every Lindy Move starts with a Rock Step
    • Beats 3&4 (Triple on the Left): The LEAD starts with the left foot and alternates "Left-right left" IN PLACE The FOLLOWER does the mirror image: "Right-left right"
    • Beats 5,6 (Step Step): Next is a discrete step of about 15 inches. The LEAD steps with the Right foot 15 inches to the right and then steps with the left foot to bring the feet together. The follower does the mirror image --- Left foot 15 inches to the left and brings the right foot together. At the end both partners are facing each other about 15 inches from where they started.
    • Beats 7&8 (Triple on the Right): The LEAD starts with the right foot and alternates "right-left-right" IN PLACE The FOLLOWER does the mirror image: "Left-right left"

    Here's the Notation

    Beat 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
    Left Back Rock Together Step Step
    Right Rock Together Step
    Left Rock Together Step
    Right Back Rock Together Step Step
    <>Beat 5 & 6 & 7 & 8 &
    Left Step R. Together Step Together
    Right Step R. Together Step Step Together
    Left Step L. Together Step Step Together
    Right Step L. Together Step Together

    Muscle Memory #1: "rock step, triple step, step step, triple step" Just do the combined eight beats in place while you think the phrase. Do this about ten minutes a day until you can repeat it 20 times without flaw.

    Leads may say: "rock step, Left-Right-Left, step step, Right-Left-Right"

    Follows may say: "rock step, Right-Left-Right, step step, Left-Right-Left"


    We will illustrate the first variation by placing a TURN on beats 5 and 6 --- that is, we will replace the "Step Step" with "Turn Turn" for the follower. Beats one through four are the same (Rock Step, Triple Step. The Lead will continue with the step as outlined above.

    Lead for the Turn

    The leader lets go with the right hand, and raises the left (the Follow's right...). The raising of the hand is the universal signal for a turn. Leaders should lift the follower's hand so that the elbow is at about a 90 degree angle. Lift the Follower's hand so that it is about four inches above the head. The Follow turns halfway (180 degrees) on beat five and the other half on beat six. Both partners repeat the triple step as before.

    There are Five types of turns:

    • Inside Turn: Lead moves the hand between the partners. The Follower turns counterclockwise
    • Outside Turn: Lead moves the hand behind the partner; The follower turns counter clockwise.
    • Cuddle IN: Lead does NOT drop the hand, but executes an inside turn, drawing the follower to his side. the triple on 7&8 is executed side by side as is the rock step. (Watch this in a mirror -- you will see what we mean by "Mirror Symmetry")
    • Cuddle OUT: Rock step (1,2) and Triple on 3&4 executed side byside. Lead executes an outside turn moving the partner away and back to open position on 5, 6. Triple on 7&8 executed in open position.
    • Texas Tommy: From Open position. Rock Step (1,2), Triple Step (3&4). Lead drops right hand and pushes his left (and follower's right) behind the follower. Lead places the partner's right hand in his right hand and pulls gently with his right. This signals the follower to execute an outside turn on 5, 6. Change hands on 6, then hands together and execute triple on 7&8.

    You should be able to do these as CALLED out by the instructor who will mix and match them.

    About the photo: This is Ray Phelps, a noteworthy swing dancer from the 1940s who is still dancing. The shot was taken at Bourston's, a Los Angeles club,in 1946. Ray Phelps is the brother of our beloved Jean Veloz, and both Jean and Ray were on hand for the "Hooray for Hollywood" weekend in March, 1999. Photo: Maxie Dorf


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