Start Travelling… Swing Dance Festivals!

Swing Dance Festivals take place all over the world and are a fantastic opportunity to learn from international teachers, dance to the best bands, meet dancers from other scenes and improve your dancing. We asked student Norman Wakeman why he decided to travel to swing dance festivals and what his experience was at Birmingham Swing Festival 2019.

Norman: ‘Having starting dancing for the first time last year I felt it time to maybe expand into weekend festivals and Birmingham seems to offer a wide range of options of tracks and classes. Lindy Hop, Balboa, Shag & solo Jazz all featured and was encouraging to see this was catered for across a wide spectrum of levels from beginner, Intermediate to advanced. So I tentatively found a follow, the lovely Nicola and decided to take the plunge! We signed up for Intermediate Lindy and the 9 month wait for the festival began! (Yes we signed up on the day tickets were released!)’

Norman at Lindy Hoppers Delight 2019 (Barcelona, Spain) with Suky and Bex

Between signing up and the Birmingham Swing festival I had ended up attending two swing event weekends in mainland Europe… clearly I had gotten bitten hard by the swing bug and simply could not wait 9 months for Birmingham, so I had some Idea of what to expect by the time it came around and it did not disappoint!

Birmingham Swing Festival 2019
On arriving & initial registration Friday evening the event team were so welcoming and helpful. It was great to have a little 1 hour taster class before the first social dance that night so that people who had potentially never done any dance before had something under their belt to practice that evening. The venue for both the socials and the classes took place in the same geographic location so was not too stressful or time consuming having to travel between venues for next classes or social dance evenings.

The Friday Night social (photo Bex Philips)

Intermediate and Advanced has a ‘level check’ Saturday morning which made me a little apprehensive but the team delivered it like a mini 30 minute lesson where everyone was practicing at the same time and learning together. I am not sure I would have felt as comfortable as I did if it were set up as an ‘audition style’ so really pleased they delivered the level check in a non pressure mini lesson environment.

Catching up with dancers you know and meeting loads of new dancers!

Lessons were generally afternoon based. Great as the mornings were needed to recover after the previous night socials and gave time to go out and have breakfast/brunch and travel in. Teachers were, as you would expect – very experienced and focussed very much on helping us to get the detail right and even stamping out some bad dance habits that were starting to creep in. To spend time on these elements and explain fully was great – coming away with a full and deeper fundamental understanding of moves was very beneficial and made a change from learning loads of new moves. Lessons felt no pressure as everyone in the group was at the same level and overcoming the same difficulties so I think they got the level check just right.

A well deserved break during class

Socials were the mainstay of the evenings, live bands on Friday and the Saturday evenings made the evenings feel so much more authentic, giving a real buzz of excitement! If you wanted to then there were competitions to enter from Lindy & Balboa to Solo Jazz if that is your thing. It was so inspiring to see just what can be achieved and well done to all those competitors who gave it a go, they all looked amazing! My highlight of the socials was an absolutely amazing near 10 min Jam circle at the end of the Jim Wynn Swing Orchestra final set – an exhilarating experience and emphasised the what swing music and the feeling it gives you is all about! 

Dancing to live music…
‘a real buzz of excitement’

Really pleased I went to the Birmingham Swing Festival and a big thankyou to the organisers who facilitated and made it happen. It’s the first festival that was made to feel 100% welcome making me feel a real part of the festivities, something omnipresent all weekend. Was lovely to meet and dance with so many new people across Europe and cool to make new connections from countries such as Switzerland & Germany etc to here in the UK. Plaudits to the organisers as they made the weekend accessible and inviting to all, irrelevant of ability or skill set, as long as you had a passion for swing dance then you were welcomed with open arms.

Norman Wakeman.

Inspired? Start travelling!

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Swing at The Bothy – The tiniest social dance floor in the world!

Introducing: The tiniest social dance floor in the world!

‘Swing at The Bothy’ is the notorious biweekly swing social dance run by The Swing Era, a swing dance school in Birmingham (United Kingdom). The Bothy is a shed with rustic charm in the beer garden of the beautiful independent Prince of Wales pub in Moseley. ‘ Swing at the Bothy’ is sometimes referred to as Birmingham’s version of Herrang… but then a tiny notch smaller! Ever since The Swing Era started running classes at a nearby dance school in 2014 the students have come to The Bothy for a drink and a dance after class.

We boldly make the claim that THIS IS the tiniest social dance floor in the world! Is there anyone who can beat this?

  • 5×3 meter (15m2)
  • Record number of 43 swing dancers dancing at the same time (2017)
  • Record number of 14 swing dance couple dancing at the same time (2018)
  • A 5 piece swing band performing live (2017) (see video below)
  • Performances of the Shim Sham, Tranky Do and… even The Big Apple take place regularly (see video below)

Other fun facts:

  • The DJ booth is the first seat on the bench on the left (everybody knows this)
  • Dancers have travelled from far and wide to attend this social: USA, Canada, Romania, Lithuania, Portugal, Korea, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Holland, Italy, Nigeria, Australia, Scotland, France, Wales, Mexico, Greece, Spain and India
  • Regular visitors are now masters in floor craft


See ‘Swing at The Bothy’ in action!

The Big Apple performed to a 5-piece swing band in The Bothy:

The Shim Sham record in The Bothy:

Visit the tiniest social dance floor in the world!

  • Every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month
  • 8-9pm Beginners social dance practice
    9-11pm social dance
  • Free event
  • Find the next event on our Facebook
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Swing Dancing Music – DJ Workshop

The other week DJ ColoNel Swing AKA Martyn Nelson hosted a DJ workshop at Cherry Reds. Here’s what you missed!

First things first…

Tools of the trade!

DJ Hardware

Hardware wise, assuming you don’t have to provide the speakers to the event, your laptop will do. Also it’s useful to get a 3.5mm jack (red + white one) & phono cable that can go into any mixing desk/Dj mixer or speakers.

Now for the Software…

A pretty standard way is to just get a playlist together and use itunes queing function. It’s not the most convenient things to use as a DJ though, so here’s some DJ software that we found you could potentially download:

·         Megaseg

·         Traktor…

·         DJay Pro

for iTunes

· 2.O – links only to itunes


If you’re like me, you’ve been loving and dancing to songs for years that you don’t even know the name of, so now you’re going to have to go out your way to do some song-searching.

Spotify playlists is a great way to find out about new music – just search for Swing Dance music and have a listen! You can also download tunes when there’s no Wifi.


–          Swing at the Bothy

–          Swing music for dancers 

Google Play is another way to find new music, as is the old fashioned way, buying CDs & boxsets.


So you’ve got all your kit set up, the DJ software is running, you’ve got hours and hours of hoppin’ music to dip into. The dancers have arrived…time to get this party started!

Are you ready?

Here’s some notes on how to PACE yourself (and the dancers) throughout the night.

First off, know your audience.

Are they Beginners? Advanced? Balboa dancers?

Is this the first night the Weekend long Swing Exchange, or the last few hours of a Sunday Tea Dance?

This sort of thing will determine the speed of the music that the dancers can actually dance to.

If you’re unsure, always ask the organisers what they want.

I’m going to talk about the BPM here – beats per minute.

Here’s a rough guide on the BPM suitable for different levels.

·         For beginners: a BPM from 1.10 minimum to moderate 1.70 is probably your maximum.

·         A nice sweet spot lies somewhere between 1.30 – 1.60 bpm

·         If you’re going to crank it up for faster Lindy hop…1.60 – 2.10 bpm

·         Advanced dancers can go to 2.50 if they really go for it.

·         Balboa can go from 1.70 – 2.00 right up to 3.00 bpm

Examples of what some of these sound like:

·         Sister Kate – Gentleman and Gangsters (plenty of stops, 1.12)

·        Shake rattle and roll – Charlie Barnett (1.30)

·         Sweet Sue, Just You – Artie Shaw(1.60)

·         Flying Home No.2 – Lionel Hampton (1.60)

·        Til Tom special – Benny Goodman’s Sextet (1.80)

So, when to play what?

That’s really up to you, and the feeling of the room you’re in.

It might be a good idea to go fast and slow in waves, building up to a fast song before slowing it down again. Maybe 2 fast, 1 medium, 1 slow, 2 fast again to keep the energy high.

But really, ultimately it comes down to the DJ. There won’t be a formula for the best DJing because it depends on the dancers, the event, the time, the organisers…best thing to do is be prepared and have fun.

Further Education

If you’re interested in learning more about swing music:

  • Rock Step Radio
  • Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary
  • The Swing Thing BBC documentary (on youtube)

Thank you for reading!

Look out for DJ workshops and share with other DJs


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Swing Dancing: Talent or Grit?

The latest blog by swing dancer Charlotte

“I can’t dance” – does this sound familiar?

Even if you know you can dance somewhat, every beginner swing dancer wants to get past the awkward rock-step tri-ple step stage and onto the thrills of social dancing with everyone.

Blog Post By Charlotte Bailey
Blog Post By Charlotte Bailey

And once you’ve caught the swing dancing bug, you want to learn fast!

It can be pretty nerve wracking as well when some in your class learn quicker than you.

But if you feel like you don’t have a natural talent for dancing, this shouldn’t stop you!

Here’s the reason why natural talent isn’t needed to experience the life-long benefits of swing dancing…

GRIT trumps Talent 

I started dancing with a friend, and he quit pretty early on because he said he didn’t have ‘natural rhythm’.

Even I have to admit, I picked up dancing pretty quickly early on but then I hit a wall. I didn’t have the talent for it, I figured.

But this Ted Ex speaker Angela Lee Duckworth research shows that in everything in life,  Perseverance, or Grit, is the best indicator of success. Not Talent!

I’ve never mentioned this to my friend who quit, but a guy called Sahid began swing dancing the same time as us and he really struggled. He was always slightly off beat with the footwork. You could hear him muttering counts under his breathe.

Then I met him a few months later at a swing dancing social, and guess what? He was by far the most fun to dance with! He’d practised the moves so much to overcome his lack of ‘natural talent’!

When you’re getting things wrong and feeling flustered, keep going. Mistakes means you’re learning.

So if you want to learn, don’t give up! You’ll get there eventually.

Listen to the music in your spare time, while you’re cleaning or travelling.

Take 10 minutes to practise the steps in your room every now and again – even this much can make a huge difference!

Do it until it becomes so natural you don’t have to think about it.

If you want to learn to dance, you most certainly can!

Talent has nothing to do with it ; )

All the best,

Charlotte x


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Four Jazz Routines Every Swing Dancer Should Know (part 2)

So here’s part 2 of on Jazz Routines, read part 1 here.

#3 The Big Apple

Difficulty level: Difficult

It’s 1936, and three white students from the University of South Carolina manage to get special permission to smuggle into the black-only Big Apple Night Club to watch dancers from the balcony.

They witnessed dancers in a circle, and when someone cracked out an awesome dance move, someone would call out the name of that jazz step and then everyone in the circle followed. This was the original free-form version on the dance.

It left such an impression on those 3 students that a year later they danced the Big Apple at the Pavillion in Myrtle Beach. Everyone loved it, including a New York talent agent who then incorporated it at the Roxy Theatre.

Herbert White, aka “Whitey” caught sight of it and immediately called up his good pal and absolute legend Frankie Manning, who was in Hollywood at the time with his dance group, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Frankie put together his own version of the Big Apple to teach to his troupe and later to the dancers at the Savoy Ballroom.

Just two years after that the Big Apple dance routine was immortalised in the 1939 film Keep Punchin’.


#4 The Tranky Doo

Key Songs: The Dipsy Doodle (Ella Fitzgerald)

Difficultly level: Medium

It can’t be said for certain, but people think the dance originated in the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, like the Shim Sham. It’s another line dance that cropped up somewhere in the 40s.

The popular version of the dance which was filmed at the Savoy ballroom in the 1950’s can be seen being performed by Al Minns, Leon James & Pepsi Bethel in the dance documentary the Spirit Moves. Frankie Manning did a variation of the dance, too, so there are two routines floating around for you to learn if you’re a die-hard fan.

The first sequence of jazz steps includes Fall Off The Log, Shuffles, the Lowdown, Shoe-Shine & Boogie Forward.






Where can I learn this Jazz Routine?

Watch this space for jazz workshops or book a private lesson with one of our excellent teachers to learn one of these routines.



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Four Jazz Routines Every Swing Dancer Should Know (part 1)

Jazz steps give you the opportunity to strut your stuff on the dance floor solo,  and is a great way to add flair to your partner dancing.

The best way I’ve found to learn Jazz Steps is through learning the Jazz routines, so here’s some popular jazz routines every swing dancer should know!

#1 The Shim Sham

Key Song:  Jimmie Lunceford’s ‘T’aint What You Do (popularised by Frankie Manning), Stompin’ at the Savoy (Benny Goodman), and Tuxedo Junction (Erskine Hawkins).

Difficulty Level: EASY

If you’ve ever been social dancing, you know how it goes. You’ve got your eye on your next partner over there, you slowly make your way over to them, anticipating the next song…

And boom, the music changes and it’s old familiar. The room explodes into a communal jazz routine.

Family discos have certain songs, old familiars that will get the whole room up and happily dancing to the same steps: The Macareena, Saturday Night, The Cha Cha slide. In the Swing Scene, of course, we have The Shim Sham.

Legendary dancers such as Frankie Manning & Norma Miller from the swing era (the actual era) have played no small part in keeping this part of swing history alive by making it popular at dance events.


#2 The Jitterbug Stroll

Key Songs: “Woodchopper’s Ball” by Woody Herman,

Difficulty Level: EASY

The Jitterbug Stroll is actually a recent addition to the jazz steps world. English swing dance teacher Ryan Francois choreographed the routine in 1992.

Consists of some Jazz Step favourites like Tick Tocks, Shorty Georges & Suze Qs

Check out The Swing Era performance group’s Jitterbug Stroll!


 Where can I learn these Jazz Routines?

Looking to go swing dancing in Birmingham? Join The Swing Era’s Performance Group on Mondays 9.15pm (after the level 2 class at St. Annes Parish Centre) to learn or perfect your Jazz Routines!



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New Swing Dancing Course Starts in September

The Swing Era is bringing a new dance course to the heart of Moseley at The Dance Workshop.

We’re bringing 6 exhilarating weeks of swing dancing classes for adults, all geared towards giving you the skills and confidence to develop your dancing.


There is a range of sessions for everyone of all abilities, from basic to advanced:

Level 1 is an Introductory course into Lindy Hop, where you & your friends will learn the basic steps & build a solid foundation ready for the next level. Click here to book your place now!

Level 2 is for the improver/intermediates, where we’ll build on level 1 to learn an abundance of cool Lindy hop moves.  Go here to book onto level 2.

Level 3 is Intermediate/Advanced. You will take your dancing to the next level, adding style, variations and dynamics to your dancing. Click here to book onto level 3.

Each course runs on a Thursday at The Dance Workshop and is £42 for 6 weeks starting 1st September.

Book your place now!

We look forward to welcoming you to The Dance Workshop for an inspirational 6 weeks of swing dancing!














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Thursday Social Dancing

Social Dancing Every Fortnight on a Thursday!

Join us after Thursday’s dance classes every 2nd & 4th Thursday of the month for a drink and a friendly dance.

We’re so busy dancing with our partner in classes that we barely get chance to get to know them, do we?

These social dances are the perfect opportunity to make friends and practice what you’ve learnt in class!

I for one only really started improving when I went to these socials, so if you want to make the most of the class, best join us afterwards for a bit of a boogie ; ) and it’s FREE, so no excuses, really!

Though if you really love us a donation in the pint glass we put on the side would be lovely : )


Where & When?

Find us in The Bothy, a room round the back of The Prince Of Wales pub (just up the street from classes at The Dance Workshop).

Beginners Social starts after class at 8 – 9pm. 

Feel free to stick around for when the show offs come marching in at around 9pm ; ) which is when Level 2 dancers finish their class and will be coming over for their social dancing.

We’ll carry on dancing the night away ’till 11pm!


I wouldn’t miss these, they really are a lot of fun : )


See you there!

– Charlotte


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New Routine with the Performance Troop

If you’re interested in joining us for our next performance then fantastic!

We’ll be learning a whole new routine now after our performance at “Put Your Foot Down” as part of International Dance Festival Birmingham, so you can join us now without missing anything.

We’re a mixed bunch of beginners, improvers & intermediates that just love dancing & want to learn more!

Lessons are held on Mondays at St Anns Parish, 9.15PM ’till 10PM

It’s a great opportunity to learn some great Lindy routines that you see at all the socials you go to, and learn new moves in a structured, repetitive way.

It will be challenging…all that we ask for you to join this group is that you are committed to coming as much as you can to keep up with the routines!

It’s a known fact that when you have a goal in mind you learn quicker and better, so if you want to improve your Swing Dancing, join us! : )

Remember to bookmark our Blog for updates.

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