Help me help my husband dance with me!
January 7, 2011 11:32 AM   Subscribe

One of my greatest wishes in life would be to swing dance/jitterbug/jive etc. with my husband. I used to swing dance a lot with friends and at dances, and now I've got my sights set on the jitterbug, lindyhop, and Jive. HOWEVER. My husband, bless his heart, has NO sense of rhythm.

I know that people say it can be learned, but he grew up in a very musical family (his mom was a music teacher) and plays the guitar (badly - again with the rhythm thing), so it's not like he hasn't been exposed or anything.

When we have attempted to swing dance, he cannot do the steps in time (if you don't know, basic swing is a very simple "1, 2, 3-and; 1, 2, 3-and"
rhythm, if that makes sense). Also, he "bops" and "bounces" to his imagined "beat", and its like... I don't know. Adding way too much movement, which just confuses the whole thing.

There aren't any local dance classes we can attend, but we could practice in our living room. I'm looking for tips and suggestions for how I could help him dance better, without him getting frustrated with me or me getting frustrated with him... blah. Also, any dvds, youtube videos, or anything else you could recommend would be fantastic.

If it comes down to it, I'll find another dance partner and I *will* do these dances someday! But I really really want to do this with him.
posted by nataliedanger to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't say I have any specific tips for someone who is rhythm-challenged, but I can provide a few resources that might help with learning to dance swing in general.

I take lessons in Chicago at Big City Swing, started by Julee Mertz, who makes these videos. Her teaching style is easy to follow, clear, and definitely focuses on the correct "bounce" of the dance - which will help eliminate the unnecessary movements you describe. She also has a lot of videos on iDance.

And yeah, I get what you mean about frustration. Back before I could dance, my girlfriend tried to teach me, and its tough. It's hard to separate those significant other/teacher relationships. You say there aren't any classes you can take, but are there any dancers in town who'd be willing to do private lessons with you and your husband? Lindy hoppers tend to be everywhere.
posted by lholladay at 11:46 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

How much does your husband want this? Because he will probably have to work really hard if he's starting from a place of having no rhythm at all. I've never heard of a quick fix for a lack of rhythm. This question from a couple of years ago has some good ideas. Do you have a game console? Maybe try to get him playing Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution, etc.?
posted by mskyle at 11:49 AM on January 7, 2011

Try backleading him through the rhythm with hand cues? I'm not particularly musical, but mr. tautological is, and I learned by following his lead; now if we're around guys who just want to learn the basics, I usually backlead them through a few steps for a song, and it works okay. It isn't good technique, but it can get the job done, and it tends to help new guys grasp the basics without you ending up too bored. Make sure you have decent arm tension and then hand cues are unmistakable. East coast swing may also be easier for him to master than west coast, so that may be worth a go. Get him to a reasonable level with ECS (or WCS, if you prefer) and only then get into the fancier footwork of anything like lindy.

Try Indigo Swing for music with an utterly unmistakable beat, too.
posted by tautological at 12:04 PM on January 7, 2011

If you two have some time to make this a vacation, you could go to Swing out New Hampshire. It's Aug 31 to Sept 5 this year. It's camp for grownups. They'll probably put you both in the same class, and you'll spend the whole four days dancing. With each other and with different people.

I haven't been yet, but I'm hoping to get to go this year. My boyfriend is an awesome dancer and I have (for a variety of reasons) no sense of rhythm and no reliable knowledge of where my body ends and begins, or maybe more descriptively, how much space I take up.

There are probably other intensive Lindy Hop workshops, but Swing Out New Hampshire is the one I hear about over and over again as the one you must go to.
posted by bilabial at 12:15 PM on January 7, 2011

Oh, I meant to include the websitefor the camp.
posted by bilabial at 12:16 PM on January 7, 2011

I used to dance just like your husband. I also missed the whole rhythm development stage and it took a lot of work to now be able to swing dance. For me, I had two synergistic obstacles which had to be separated to be able to make progress.

1) I was, and still largely am, very unaware of my body in three dimensional space and no amount of rhythm could have helped me dance. I took up Yoga and a martial art which helped immeasurably.

2) I was completely unable to hold a rhythm, many hours embarrassing myself in front of DDR and then Guitar Hero helped to give me an internal metronome. Think of it like a skill that most people pick up easily as children, like a language, but can still be learned with effort.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:18 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like Blasdelb's ideas, and would like to second the yoga/martial art recommendation for a different reason - not worrying about hurting someone. I'm big, and used to be very, very uncoordinated. This made any sort of partner dancing very scary, because I was convinced that I was going to kick my partner in the shins or knock them over at any point. You can't relax into learning the dance if you're perpetually worried about injuring someone! So I'd recommend working on something he can do without worrying about injuring someone else until he's confident moving in space.

An odd suggestion, that I'd only suggest taking up in your own home - wearing something that jingles when you move. If it was a woman, I'd go for a belly dancing coin belt, but I can see blokes objecting to that. The point is that something like that jingles when you make a 'beat' movement - without looking or feeling you can know that you're in time with the music. I don't know which bits of you are the bits that need to be moving in time for those particular dances, but you can put morris bells anywhere!
posted by Coobeastie at 1:07 PM on January 7, 2011

You can work on leading first, taking turns, without worrying about music or rhythm; then once he can follow your lead you can add rhythm without him trying to count.

Step 1: put a strong right hand on his back, and work just on him following that lead pressure both forward and backward as you glide around the floor slowly — then let him lead you

2: add the front hands, with the partner's fingers hooked over the lead's and the thumbs lightly on the backs of the fingers, and work on turning both left and right

3: take the thumbs off and turn lead-left just with positive front hand pressure, and right with negative

4: add music on your turn and start working on rhythm and steps
posted by nicwolff at 2:31 PM on January 7, 2011

Starting without music should help tame his bouncing and extra movement too.
posted by nicwolff at 2:31 PM on January 7, 2011

Start without feet. I repeat, start without feet. MOST people's biggest failing in learning dance are their feet - they feel uncontrolled, or they stare at them, or they're not doing what your brain earnestly tells them too.

Instead, try the following BEFORE even starting to dance with him:

1. Sit at table, and mimic the man's basic step with your hands tapping on the table. Left hand for left foot, right hand for right foot. He should tap it through many times and then put on music. Don't start with the feet until he can tap it through with his hands to a whole song rhythmically.

2. Then, you need to find an instructional video that shows just the man (lead), doing his own step again and again and again. He'll need to train his feet to move to that rhythm, in the right positions, before he can start partner dancing.

3. When he can do this, stand in front of him, and VERY SLOWLY go through the basic, with you doing yours. Not touching, just allowing him to get the positioning of the steps right, and then slowly speed up the rhythm, till h's doing it to the right speed.

4. Now you may try partner dancing.

The approach above is not always necessary but when someone is rhythmically challenged, it affects every other aspect of their dancing - spatial awareness, lead and follow, musicality, and the stress from it can affect their ability to actually learn the dance.

Whenever I teach someone who has issues picking up either footwork, rhythm, positioning or anything else, I make them use their hands - much easier to control, and requires no extensive thought, which frees up the brain to listen to the music, and catch the timing.
posted by shazzam! at 4:21 PM on January 7, 2011

I used to teach beginners' swing, and I promise, even the rhythmically-challenged can learn to do it! Don't despair!

For the rhythm, just an idea, but instead of counting 1-2-3-and (which in my experience many rhythmically-challenged people end up making into 1-2-3-4), could you count it in 6, where you hold 1 and 3? As in 1-2-3-4-5-6. He may find holding 1 and 3 less confusing than trying to figure out a new rhythm for "and". (Plus, added benefit: once you advance in swing/lindy a bit more, counting in 6 will be a much better basis for learning triple-step East Coast basic and for moving on to swingout- and Charleston-based steps, which happen in 8 counts.) Prioritize the location of the rock step (3-and/5-6).

For consolidating footwork, I used to tell my students to do the 6-count basic in place while they were brushing their teeth or doing the dishes.

Nthing learning the leads separate from the footwork. And dance camps are amazing if you can go, and will be far better than trying to teach yourselves, even if you don't have access to a regular class nearby.
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 2:38 AM on January 8, 2011

Oh, and if you're feeling really dedicated, you could listen to a lot of swing music and just count the beats out loud, without trying to dance at the same time.
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 2:40 AM on January 8, 2011

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