Lifts - Dips - Aerials
kurt lichtmann

WHAT: Acrobatics in swing dance date to Lindy dancer Frank Manning's adaptation for a dance contest at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom in the '30s. They derive from acrobatics which date back well in the B.C. era. In dance, lifts, dips, jumps, and drops are special moments of intimacy, & intensity in partner dancing. One or both partners are closer to the floor, or ceiling than usual. (In some cases, lots closer!) More acute sensitivity, partner awareness, and trust are necessary. Throws constitute a whole other level of skill, and are definitely for stage-only.  Any kind of showy partner dancing (ballroom, latin) incorporates moves of this type.

Work with a practice-partner. On the social floor, do these moves only with your practice-partner. In general, beyond a few simple dips, NEVER try these moves someone you just met on the social floor.

WHERE: Practice at home, not on the social floor. Teaching a Low-Risk Lift/Dip "off to the side" at a dance is fairly common practice. However, more than a minute of "off to the side" teaching is considered gauche. Observe Swing Club policies. (California swing clubs seem to considerably more liberal in this respect than clubs in the Northeast.)

WHEN: If the floor is crowded, hold off. If it looks like you have some safe space, exercise more-than-usual awareness. Floor conditions change quickly. You won't be able to live with yourself ever again if during your beautiful dip, your follower has her teeth kicked out by a suddenly appearing Lindy kick (it happened). Occasional collisions and kicks on a crowded dance floor are a reality, and forgivable after the usual apologies and expressions of concern. Leaders should maintain a protective (rather than a cavalier) attitude towards the follower at all times during these moves. Collisions during lifts & dips are very bad.

HOW: Beyond a simple dip, partners MUST inform each other what move is coming up! AND to verify agreement! Many of these moves require advance prep signals. Things can go pretty bad if the leader goes for one move, while the follower goes for another. It definitely happens.

HOW MUCH: Showy moves like lifts & dips are fun and impressive a few times a night. Your fancy move becomes exceedingly ho-hum by the fifth time (or the fourth. or the third...).

OOPS! In your practice session, if one of these moves gets off to a bad start, abort it. Don't try to fix it on the fly, because you are then really asking for trouble. Stop, figure out what went wrong, and start again. It's not like reading music, where you just keep on playing through the mistakes. In a performance, it's probably best to just let it go. (But I once saw well-loved top USA dance stars try again THREE TIMES in a row, until they finally got it right. When they did, everyone in the nervous crowd cheered wildly. It was just one of those things...)

JAMS: When dancers form a circle for couples to show off, now's your chance. But your risky move had better be good, or you'll really look stupid (is that so bad, after all?) If an injury occurs (THAT is bad), everyone will be horrified, and you will be stigmatized and guilt-ridden.

OBJECTIONS: Concerning Lifts etc., no other topic in social dance draws as much fire from conservative types. This is as true now as it was 70 years ago! If a dancer is comfortable with basics, is attracted to these moves, and observes the guidelines suggested here, why not? Issues of personal psychology disguised as "real" objections (I CAN'T do them, so YOU CAN'T do them," or " I CAN do them, so YOU CAN'T do them" and other such identity issues) are sometimes discoverable upon reflection, a fascinating topic in itself!


1. Low Risk: Leader has two hands always on follower. Follower has both hands on the leader, although she really doesn't need to do so. Wide margin for error. Mild average worst-case scenario. Abortable.
Examples: Sit Dip, Deep Dip, Back Fall, Leader's Back Dip, Straddle, Back To Back Dip, Wing Jump, ...

2. Medium Risk: Leader has two hands on follower, but less margin for error. More precise timing & leader's back alignment. More strength required of the follower. More strength and coodination required of the leader. Average worst-case scenario isn't so mild. Abortable up to a point.
Examples: Pull-Through, Swing, Side Cars, Straddle Jump, Shoulder Sit, Roo, Airplane Spin, Back Flip, ...

3. High Risk: Throws. Leader has one or no hands on follower after lift-off. Follower assumes sole responsibility for landing safely. Not abortable (once airborne). Narrower margin for error. A third person (spotter) highly desirable for practice. Average worst-case scenarios include severely pulled muscles, and torn ligaments, ankle and knee injuries: stuff requiring surguries. Responsible for most professional dancer injuries.
Examples: Jump-over, Roo With Throw, Belt With Throw, ...

4. Very High Risk: More throws, but from higher altitudes. A third person (spotter) highly desirable for practice. Average worst-case scenario includes broken bones.
Examples: Running Overhead Leap, Headstand Pull-Up To Overhead Throw, ...

5. Ultra High Risk: Follower goes upside down in the air. Catastrophic worst-case scenarios have been recorded (reincarnation).
Vertical Down The Back Dive: appropriately nick-named "The Death Dive", Aerial Somersault, ...