Using Aerials in Swing Dance

aerials in dance

Master Swing Dancers Natalie and Yuval do an air step

Whenever I get a new dance student, they often say “Swing, that’s the dance where they swing you up in the air, right?” The reason people equate air steps with swing dancing is because that’s what they see in the movies. Air steps are fun to watch, so any movie with swing dance scenes will show the dancers tossing their partners into the air. It’s not historically accurate, but it’s entertaining.

In fact, air steps are not social dance steps. They are performance and competition steps, not done on a social floor except in jams. Jams are a spontaneous phenomenon where dancers form a circle and one couple at a time shows off for a few bars of the music before being edged off by the next couple.

Aerials are fun, though, if you are young and able, and the mistake many beginners make is that of jumping into the fun stuff before really learning to dance. Air steps are flashy attention-getters and often get lots of impromptu oohs and ahhs from the crowd even when done badly. Experienced dancers, however, know the difference between bad dancers using aerials to cover up their lack of skill, and good dancers using them to enhance a performance.

In this clip, a couple is doing air steps pretty well while lacking the basic dance skills to go with them.

 

The result reminds me of the time I went to a pool hall with a friend just for fun with no real experience shooting pool. The hall was filled with regulars and we didn’t exactly fit in so everyone noticed us. My very first shot was a perfect example of beginner’s luck. To my astonishment I made a very tricky shot that I wasn’t even trying for and everyone stopped to watch what I would do next. My next shot was, of course, commensurate with my skill level, and everyone nodded as if to say “Oh. Right.” and went back to their respective games. It was way more embarrassing than if I just just played the appropriately lousy game from the start. Doing a flashy aerial along with a poorly executed dance is like wearing a sign saying “Look at us!! We can’t dance!!”

Okay, this couple is really not that bad.  If they were I wouldn’t be able to find them on youtube.  They have good connection, can execute complicated moves safely and have good basic leading and following skills.  But aerials are performance steps and this is not a good performance.  They’re not using the music, none of their moves are timed to use the music in any way, and the air steps are better than the rest of the dance.  They are having fun, though, and that’s a very good thing.  You’ll get what I’m talking about when you see the next example.

In this clip, an advanced couple uses air steps to great advantage. Their dancing is amazing, the aerials pop at the right places, are timed perfectly with the music and show off their skills. To be fair, this couple is more than just “advanced”.  They are champions, and this is about as good as it gets.

Of course dancing is all about fun and if you’re having a good time, who cares? But since air steps are rude, not to mention dangerous, to do on a social floor, when are you going to use them except in front of others to show off what you can do?  You might want to consider honing your dance skills before adding flash to show off your lack of them.  You don’t have to be as good as Natalie and Yuval (few people are) to use aerials in your routine, but I would recommend taking as much care with the rest of the dance as you do with the air steps, making sure your  air steps make sense with the music, and having a dance your can be proud of even if you left the aerials out of it.

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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