A few semesters ago, I was talking to my friend S about how I used to take dance classes, and we started wondering if there were any options for social dance classes at our fairly large university. That night, we saw a poster for a swing dance event, and thought it might be a fun thing to try out so we could meet new people and find a unique activity to do together. Since then, we have attended several meetings for the swing dance club as well as a few of their social dances. Today, I will be sharing my tips for learning to swing dance with low vision, and attending swing dances with visual impairment in general.
First, what is swing dancing?
Swing dancing is a style of dance that was developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s-1940s. There are hundreds of different types of swing dance techniques, with some common types including the Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, and others. The specific swing dance club at my university in Virginia uses East Coast Swing, another popular style of swing dancing.
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Where can I learn to swing dance?
A growing number of colleges and universities have free swing dance and social dance classes for students, which is what my friend and I chose to participate in. There are also swing dance classes and events at local community centers, dance studios, libraries, and dedicated swing dance clubs, though some of these events may cost money. For younger students in the southeastern US, cotillion dance classes also teach many different types of swing and ballroom dances, as well as different etiquette lessons- I took these classes in middle school.
Other helpful resources for learning to swing dance
Since I had some prior dance experience and needed a quick refresher on certain dance terminology, I turned to the internet for other helpful resources on learning to swing dance. Some of these resources I like the best include
- YouTube videos- I would search the style of dance I was interested in along with the term beginner
- YouDescribe- While there aren’t a lot of audio described dance videos, watching the available videos helped me refresh my memory on common dance techniques
- College database- My college has lots of awesome information about dance in the library database, so I was able to check out several different videos and text descriptions of choreography. This approach isn’t for everyone, but it did help me better explain things to my friend.
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What to wear
When attending club meetings, I would wear whatever I had on for school that day, as there are no strict rules for what to wear to club meetings.
For social dances, there is often a dress code announced in advance for what people should wear. I typically wear an a-line or fit-and-flare dress with shoes I can easily dance in, and I also have a pair of 1.5-inch heels that are specifically for dance. Guys frequently wear a collared or button-down shirt with nice pants and shoes that are nice but comfortable to dance in. Some wear accessories such as ties or suspenders to complete their outfit.
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Ask for instructions to be described verbally
Before a lot of dances and during classes, there are often beginner’s lessons so that everyone can be caught up with how to swing dance. I ask the instructor to verbally describe all movements when teaching, so I’m not left wondering which direction to go in or which foot to use. If I look particularly confused, my dance partner is typically happy to describe what is going on, or alternatively, I use my phone to zoom in on what the instructor is doing.
If needed, get help from another instructor
Remember how I said there are moments I look particularly confused? This is typically when another instructor or experienced dancer comes over to help me figure out what is going on. Oftentimes, when they are able to demonstrate the choreography in close proximity to me, I get a much better idea of what is going on. I can also practice with the instructor and ensure I am doing all of the movements in the right order. I’m not afraid to ask for help, though someone often comes to help me before I have to even ask.
Finding people to dance with
At a social dance, it can be difficult to see anyone on the dance floor due to dim lighting. I typically hang out near the dance floor with my friend as a human guide, and people come over and ask us to dance. Other times, I will just ask people if they want to dance, although there have been times I have mistaken trash cans for people. It’s pretty easy to find dance partners at these events regardless of gender, and some people prefer to dance with a partner that is the same gender- my friend S and I danced together a few times when no one else asked us to dance, and it was a lot of fun!
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Should I tell my partner I am visually impaired?
I tell my dance partner that I have low vision, because a lot of visual cues are used in swing dance and I need them to be provided verbally. I’m very open about my vision loss, and people often catch on to the fact I can’t see very well since I use a blindness cane to navigate campus and wear tinted glasses. By self-disclosing my disability, I don’t have to worry about suddenly spinning or crashing into the wall. Plus, in case someone saw me ask a trash can to dance, I have the opportunity to explain why I was doing that. I don’t go into detail about my visual impairment, but I do tell people I have some usable sight.
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Other tips for swing dancing with low vision
- If you’re worried about making eye contact with your partner, look at their shoulder- they probably won’t notice much of a difference
- Avoid bringing a blindness cane on the dance floor, as it may be difficult to store while dancing. If possible, leave it at a table area so no one trips over it
- Students do not have to be a member of the swing dancing club in order to attend dances, though there is often a dance lesson offered before the dance officially starts
- Make sure to talk to your partner! These dances are designed to give students a fun way to make friends, so don’t be afraid to talk about yourself and your interests.