It was December, a couple of weeks before Christmas. I was standing by the sidelines watching people dance when I saw a familiar sight, one that replays itself over and over during every night of dancing. The lead, probably copying from a different dance he saw, wanted to dip his partner. So he awkwardly tried to pull his follow over, and she giggled with a mixture of pleasant surprise and anxious discomfort as she found herself struggling not to fall over. I tried not to cringe as I saw this play out … yet again.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love dips. When done right dips can be some of the most amazing moves, and they feel fantastic. Done at the end of a song, they’re the best for eliciting a sense of completion from the great dance you’ve just had.
But that’s if they’re done right. I’ve been doing Lindy Hop for many years, and I can’t help but feel that instead of being the fun move they’re supposed to be, they mainly create discomfort, particularly on the faces of follows. To be honest, I don’t think Lindy Hoppers have ever done dips well.
(And then of course there are the horror stories of people hitting their heads on objects or other people …)
I don’t want to be a stickler either. I get it. Dips are fun between friends. Who cares whether it’s done well or not? When two people are having fun the last thing they want is some dance expert coming in telling them they ought not to be doing that because it’s not comfortable and they’re doing it all wrong. When people think dance, they think dip, and by golly that’s what they want to do!
I’m not trying to be fun police. I just find it interesting to notice how other dances have developed their dips to the point where the average dancing couple makes dips seem fluid and beautiful … then along comes Lindy Hoppers who make it look awkward and difficult. Why have we, as a dance, never tried to properly develop something that pretty much every dancer tries on the dance floor?
Of course there have been many classes on dips over the years. Who hasn’t been to a ubiquitous Dips and Tricks class taught by an international? But those dips are always specialty moves, done only with a ‘partner-who-has-also-done-that-class.’ And even then people would never practice afterwards and master what was taught.
The closest Lindy Hop has to an actual dip is the Tango Dip, but I’ve rarely if ever seen it done successfully on the dance floor. Those who have done it don’t do the full Tango Dip, somehow it comes out different, softer, a version they weren’t taught. Then of course there are ‘non-dip’ dips, like the K-dip which is an aerial, and the Mini-dip which isn’t even a dip! These are Lindy Hop’s versions of ‘dips.’ It seems like Lindy Hop has no actual dips.
In reality, dips have always seemed quite peripheral from the main dance, like an afterthought, tacked onto the curriculum as evidence that Lindy Hop can ‘do the fun stuff’ too.
And perhaps that’s part of the problem – dips are not part of the core of the dance. They’re something you only learn in a specialty class that happens once a year (if that), something you can add in ‘if you want.’ In a crowded curriculum including the complexity of the Swing Out, an array of six and eight count moves, all the Charleston forms, not to mention just plain weird moves that don’t fit anywhere like the Rag Doll, who has time to focus on dips?
And if no one’s taught the teachers, how is anyone supposed to know how to dip?
Even when I look through vintage videos of Lindy Hop there are no dips. There’s amazing aerials, fancy footwork, and big blammy moves … but no dips. Lindy Hop is so energetic, and in the modern era it focuses so much on self-improvisation. How could you slow the dance down long enough in order to connect and synchronize so you could get in a comfortable dip?
It seems to me that dips are not a thing that Lindy Hop does. We don’t know how to dip. The way we teach Lindy Hop and the way we dance the Lindy Hop is incompatible with socially led dips. By their very nature dips don’t seem to have a place in the fast and free world of the Lindy Hop. Any time a dip is taught it's more a personal styling or choice of the teachers than a solid understanding of dips in general.
Perhaps this explains why throughout my long Lindy career I’ve never been convinced that Lindy Hoppers could do them well. For those who successfully pull off dips, it’s still mostly guesswork, or they learnt it from a different dance/art form.
What is Lindy Hop? If we teach dips that are grounded in solid technique, are these techniques moving away from what we perceive as the Lindy Hop identity? Or are they building on past techniques to make for a safer and richer tapestry of Lindy? Regardless of what one thinks of as Lindy Hop or not Lindy Hop, one of the more important questions is whether something is good technique or bad technique. No dance should retain a technique that is bad, even if its part of its heritage.
This is why over the next four weeks I will be teaching a course in dips. It will teach dips as a skill, as a socially leadable move that makes everyone feel comfortable. It will not be a prescribed move that you can only do with someone else who did the class, or as a specialty trick that you’d never get a chance to do anyway. You’ll be taught the mechanics of how dips are actually supposed to work socially, how follows can recognize what is being asked of them, and how leads can create the conditions to make a successful dip. By the end of it you'll learn how to do dips regularly on the dance floor and make it part of your everyday style.
Dips are one of the most glaring holes in Lindy Hop, but they're also one of the most satisfying types of moves. If you want to do dips, it’s worth learning them correctly. And though as Lindy Hoppers we are generally quite bad at them, it’s something that as a dance we can get better at so we no longer have to live with stiff or awkward dips.
As a dance form, Lindy Hoppers have to either make dips a solid part of the dance, or don’t do them at all. And somehow, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to legislate people not to do them …
WHAT: Dips Course
WHEN: 8pm, every Monday, 15th Feb - 8th March
WHERE: St Patrick's Hall, 731 Beaufort St, Mt Lawley
COST: $15 or a tick off your Swing Pass
Azza is a lifelong swing dancer, the founder of Swingtopia Dance in Perth, Western Australia, and a lover of Bubble Tea. Sign in to comment below, or send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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