Saturday, January 29, 2011

Swivels: Don't cheat your turnout

I'm an old school LA style Lindy Hopper, and as such I've spent more time watching old clips of Jewel McGowan and Jean Veloz do swivels than is strictly healthy. Fuzzy black and white images, played in slow motion, over and over and over...retina strain? OCD tendancies? sleepless nights?

In an effort to save you this pain, I thought I'd share some of my observations -- if you're interested in swing dancing, I'm very interested in your feedback. If you're here because of a more general interest in vintage style, please enjoy the clips and come back for future posts on fashion, music, etc!

Watching clips today, I realized that one of the critical elements in achieving sharp swivels is having an equal amount of turnout on both legs. A lot of girls will turn out their left leg on beat 8 of a swingout, but not rotate back in toward their right arm and turn out their right leg on beat 1. If your turnout isn't even, your swivels will have all the snap on only one side and not be smooth and even.

Here's the classic Buck Privates example:
At 1:37, Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan lay into some of the prettiest swingouts ever recorded on video, followed up with the epitome of switches at 1:49. Even if you can't see her feet the whole time, you can see that Jewel's knees rotate an equal amount left to right.

And Groovie Movie:
At 3:45, Jean Veloz (dancing with Arthur Walsh) lays into some deep swivels of her own - even though her footwork is different from Jewel's, she still gets plenty of turnout on both sides. (I'll go over footwork in a future post.)

Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule...Jewel McGowan usually has amazing turnout, but in the Baby Boogie, her switches at :25 aren't even on both sides. Does it look as good as usual? I don't think so - her right side kinda drags along.

Nitpicky? Absolutely. But the main differences between LA style and other forms of Lindy Hop are stylistic  - we do the same moves, but in a different way - so if you aren't precise about your execution, the style gets lost.


  1. This is really interesting! I've been wanting to take swing dance for a long time (I do other types of dance too) but haven't had the opportunity. I'd be interested in hearing anything you have to say about it!

  2. Ooohh, can we also point out that your shoulders are almost as important as your hips! I find that it's best to not allow your left shoulder to open out instead of keeping it square to your partner on eight. By doing this you can really leave the attention on the hip area and really make your swivels pop!


  3. I never could get this nit picky about social dancing. Which is probably why I haven't been able to enjoy dancing as much since I've been living in LA from the mid west with my mutt style. I have never been able to learn this stuff in classes, they used to make me cry. However I find it hard to get even swivels when dancing with a lead who pulls me mid swivel.

  4. Miss Virginia: That's great! Most major cities across the world have a swing scene, and they're very plugged into the internet, so just google your locale and you can probably find something. Hope you enjoy my posts!

    Jen: Shoulders are incredibly important, you're right - I'm planning a whole post on that, too. :)

    Cosmo: I'm sorry to hear you aren't enjoying dancing here in LA. I hope you recognize that my comments aren't intended to say that anyone's style is right or wrong - swing is a street dance, and individual style is really important. But I frequently get asked by newer dancers how to do this styling, so I'm trying to help break it down and inspire them to look at the old clips. The great thing about styling is that each person gets to choose what to do, so you're free to decide if something works for you or doesn't, and dance how you want!
    Good comment about leads pulling in early and not letting a girl finish her swivels - that's really common. I'm trying to get my husband to write some guest posts on leading, and maybe he can offer some tips on how to avoid that.

  5. I suppose this is an aesthetic choice, but it's one I totally agree with.

    I have an incomplete thought that's been bouncing around my head about the travel of the swivel being more aesthetically pleasing to me than the distance of the hip rotation. That is, I like to see smooth travel between the left and right sides with good body isolation. It seems like a lot of time, the goal becomes turning out as far as possible even if that means the travel between isn't smooth.


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