Solo jazz is one of the best ways to help you improve your Lindy Hop. Lindy hop is a partnered dance that gives a lot of freedom to each partner. Even when dancing in close position or in a break away or swing out, there is so much freedom to improvise and express the music with your feet.
Every single great Lindy hopper in the old times and now are great solo jazz dancers. No wonder why? One truly can’t be without another.
Have you ever been in the situation where your partner decides to break away for some solo jazz magic, and rather than free, you felt alone, and very unsure? Do you often feel you are out of time, or blame others if you do feel that way? Or maybe you've seen a video of yourself afterward a couple dance and realised you may not look quite as elegant as you thought in that moment...then these tips are for you.
1. Want to dance well in couple, learn how to dance solo first
If you are struggling with balance, or, for instance, rotations and turns which is very common, when dancing Lindy hop, consider trying solo jazz. Practice those elements solo first and as a result you will massively improve your Lindy hop. The truth is your partner is not there to help you hold your balance or turn you. Your partner is there to communicate and co -create in a dance together. If you want to improve your Lindy hop, invest in your solo.
In order to learn how to turn, keep balance, and have a good posture you really need to practice those dance elements by yourself first.
When learning Lindy hop we are focusing on leading and following technique. Basically, how does communication in a couple happen, how can one body invite another body into different states and figures. But the essential, fundamental elements of jazz dances, like bounce (pulse), timing, syncopation, footwork, turns and many many more, shall be practiced and learned in solo jazz, and independently of another person which is essential.
When you are confident in those, being in a couple and dancing Lindy hop will feel heavenly.
2. Improve your Lindy Hop by expanding and innovating your footwork
Develop intelligence in your feet. Only you are in charge of your footwork when dancing Lindy hop. Your partner is not going to “inject” variations and lead you for solo steps. You have to work on that part yourself solo. The absolute best way to improve your footwork in Lindy hop is to work on your solo jazz.
What is in your feet is in your feet. If you ever looked at professional Lindy hoppers and dreamed of being so playful and reactive with your feet, do know that it comes from solo jazz dance work. If you know how to do Shorty George and kick ball changes you can add a flavour during the 6 beat passes. Tacky Annies, Apple Jacks, Suzie Qs and scissor kicks can come in very exciting and handy when variating swing out. Lock turns can be a fantastic way to make your turns and under arms passes something spectacular and juicy.
3. Shine at the solo moments
I am sure you once were dancing with (or maybe you yourself is) a playful partner who loves once in a while to let the couple connection go for a moment of solo conversation. And maybe during that moment instead of going for a spotlight move you felt left alone, embarrassed and begging your partner to please come back into the safe shell of the couple...?
In this case, solo jazz is the way to happiness and jazz. Learn a couple of classic vernacular moves like boogie back, boogie front, TOBA break, to know what to do and take the spotlight. Or even learn how to improvise in order to be fully reactive and in the moment respond to the moves of your partner. And if you want to be completely on top of your game, unlock Secrets of improvisation technique to be able to create a few exciting moves or variations and have a call and response conversation with your partner.
So doing, you feel the music, you feel your partner and the two of you, together with the music will create a perfect, balanced triangle.
When you are dancing with your partner, for that two and a half to three minutes, you are in love with each other. You're corresponding with each other by the moves that you make. It's a love affair, between you and your partner and the music. You feel the music, you feel your partner, she feels you and she feels the music. So the three of you are together. You've got a triangle, you know. Which one do you love best? [Frankie laughs.]
- Frankie Manning
4. Variate your Lindy hop moves
The whole point of jazz is improvisation. Once the patterns, basic footwork and figures are in your system, fly away and variate them.
Improvisation and personality are the key points and characteristics of African derived black dances. Jazz is a continuum and its nature is to be continuously evolving with the influences of time and other people. Jazz is a continuous innovation based on strong tradition.
Let’s be honest, that is where the real fun in Lindy hop lies, - in creativity. In order to be creative with your body and footwork mainly, for jazz dances are footwork based dances, we need to learn the principles and the secrets of improvisation and variations. To do that we once again come to the home of solo jazz.
In order to learn how to variate your triple step in swing out, it’s essential to understand what is triple step, how it can be done, what is swinging 8th note and syncopation. Finally, what are the ways and tools to variate a given step! Same goes for rock step, which is as well one of the most common steps in Lindy Hop and swing dances.
It’s this understanding and knowledge which will make a difference and progress. You can learn by doing solo jazz. Eventually, you will be able to dramatically improve your Lindy hop and shine on every single send out and triple step swivel.
If you are specifically interested in Variations, you can check a 4 volume online course "Variation Lab".
5. Don’t only feel good when doing the Lindy hop, look good
Dance is an aesthetic form. Dance is a combination of feel, time and shapes. And shapes shall be aesthetic. No matter much we emphasise the importance of the feeling when dancing swing dance, dance should as well look good.
Good lines and style don't only come from feeling good doing a move. That works as well, no doubt. Though, in some situation to get the right feel, you need to copy the shape of the move.
What “good look” means in a dance is an almost philosophical category indeed. Aesthetic does not necessarily mean beautiful. To give an example, the famous choreographer Bob Fosse invented his own signature style with the idea of “ugly movement”. Though he transformed “ugly” into aesthetically beautiful.
However in Lindy Hop the emphasis is mostly on the feeling. The feeling of your partner, lead and follow signals. In some ways you can forget to pay attention to how you are looking when you are dancing. Practicing Solo Jazz we practice the feel and the shape in a holistic way. We do look in the mirror to make sure the shapes are balanced and aesthetic. Working on your moves and shapes solo will significantly improve your Lindy Hop.
6. Find your style
We shall as well talk about the style. To have a style, your own recognisable style, is to be on top of the jazz game. We all have different bodies hence same move will, of course, look different on each one of us.
Unlocking the secrets of your movement and bringing out your own style can be a long process. But it’s a journey for a treasure worth taking. You can spend some time researching your body, your movement solo in front of the mirror or camera. Ask yourself what are your strengths? What exactly makes your movement yours?
Jean Veloz swivels are so distinctive. You can recognise her angular shapes with loads of shoulder and hip movement and upright posture.
And now look at Jewel McGowan with her fabulous extreme knee swivels and the arm behind.
One more interesting female Lindy Hopper Genevieve Grazis (Jenny Grey) P.S. Don't mind the clap on 1.
Look at The Ambassador of the Lindy Hop, Frankie Manning and Willa Mae Ricker. The style is called Savoy Style. Low, fast and fierce. Frankie was the innovator and a creator of an acrobatics in Lindy. You can see he is bowing so low to his dance partner on the breakaway moments, when doing the kick back.
And here is Dean Collins with Bertha Lee gliding. Dean Collins has this impatience in his footwork. It's fast and energetic. Though the upper body stays "concentrated", almost bracing. You can see he is doing his signature turn in the solo moments.
7. Develop a body awareness
Practicing solo jazz helps you develop a body awareness and consciousness that is often not trained in Lindy hop classes. In a general Lindy Hop dance class you may focus more on connection, new moves to learn with your partner or just social dancing. In solo jazz, because of its individual nature, you really focus on yourself.
You are the only responsible for your feelings and aesthetic in your solo dance. You feel bad at improvising? Then start again, go through solo jazz vocabulary. Play some games to make the process more enjoyable (check out Ksenia’s Method “practice games”) Look at yourself in the mirror and try to improve what you don’t like. A step a day, and it will get better
8. Develop your sense of confidence
Quite often in partner dance we are dependent on the other person to dance with us. Hence if we have great timing and they don’t you can try to help them, even though it can feel uncomfortable. Equally if you have bad timing and your partner is amazing, they can guide you, and so you become dependent on their timing. You then switch to another dancer, who doesn’t have such good timing and now you are both lost.
Before we go blaming the other dancer, thinking it must be their fault. To dance well with dancers x,y,z, it is important we know our own timing is solid, balance is good and footwork is clean. Yet again solo jazz dance will show you this, in an instant! There is no one to blame, no one else to look at but yourself .
Try to increase your confidence starting from learning how to solo dance, you will see how much better you feel while dancing in a couple.
In this post, I am going to share a few valuable tips to improve in your solo jazz dancing. I took it from my own experience of studying dance since I was 6 years old as well as diving into Jazz culture for the last 8 years.
I highly encourage you to learn, practice, soak everything you can from teachers, other dancers. Take whatever you are learning and then see if you can run them through these ideas below. Here are 7 essential tips for learning & growing, finding your voice and style in an improvisation - based solo jazz dance styles.
1. Search for your own style in solo jazz dance
To have a style, your own recognisable style, is to be on top of the jazz game. Unlocking the secrets of your movement, your body and bringing out your own style can be a long process. But it's a journey for a treasure worth taking.
We all have different bodies hence moves will, of course, look different on each one of us. We all have our own character and image: funky, classy, elegant, “powerhouse”, playful, serious. Maybe you are dancing on heels, in sneakers, in a skirt, in baggy pants, etc. Depending on many of these factors the movement will look different. Search for yours. For your energy, your look, your mojo. Each of those great dancers had their own definitive signature style. Just to show a few:
2. Try every solo jazz movement from the other leg
We all inevitably develop preferences of specific side or leg. It's important to be balanced in your body, movement and dance. You don't want to be a person who is only turning on the right leg and only kicking high with your left. We should work on being a balanced "two legged dancer".
This will really open many doors and help not to limit yourself in a dance. Not having a strong preference of a side or a leg for a turn or certain step will noticeably help you learn other people's choreographies. My advice is to always try movement and combos from the other leg and to the other side. It might be uncomfortable in the beginning, but, believe me, it will pay off.
3. Find one more variation for a solo jazz step
Creating variations is the first step towards improvisation. Variation is a slightly different version of an original or basic step. There are many tools on how you can play with a given solo jazz dance step to create a variation. To name a few: tool of direction, rhythm, rotation, volume and others. How are you going to tweak a step?
You have a universe in your body and yourself, - the universe of ideas. Play with them with those ideas. Learn from me, from others, but give yourself a precious present: "give birth" to your and only your variation of a step or a move.
"What if" I do it this way?
I have a whole course on variations in 4 volumes that is called "Variation Lab". Each volume is dedicated to 1 step: cross step, fall off the log, box step and charleston step. I propose about 14 variations of each step in a course as well as tool on how to play with it.
4. Be a musician
We all hear music a little bit differently. What do you hear? Your teachers way is not the only way, it's just a way. What is your take? Take a move and play with accents or timing.
5. Play, play, play!
Playing is a fundamental element of "being in jazz" and being in a jazz state. Jazz is about creation, exploration and not only replication. Replication can be helpful in the process of learning. Try not to take copying as the final result.
How do we learn to play in solo jazz dancing? For instance, you learn my choreography at the end of Acquaintance with Kicks chapter. Practice it. And then change some parts, change the moves and components places. Compose your own little piece using this material: same music, same moves. Take it apart and recompose.
Dancing is playing!
Improvisation and playing are sister categories. Improvisation is the essence of jazz. And improvisation is being in a state of a play: researching, risking, making a move, deciding.
In a few words, how do we approach improvisation? Learn the new material (a step, rhythm, movement), it's technique and then let it go in a flow of your dance. Put on a song and start dancing, occasionally inserting the new material you learned in your improvisation. Through improvising you will unlock your style and your vision of the dance.
You can explore this topic deeper in my blog How to practice improvisation in solo jazz
7. Enjoy and don't judge yourself too hard
Feeling of joy is so important when creating and dancing. I am not talking you have to be all "happy-clappy", just in case. I am talking about the Joy of dancing, exploration of your movement, the joy and inner longing for connection with music, the joy of discovery. You got to enjoy it, otherwise, how would you ever encourage your self to practice, to create?
If you don't enjoy it, you simply won't do it
Few words about judgement. Be nice to yourself, my dear reader, give yourself some time for growing, searching and developing. The big changes don't happen overnight and don't expect that after one heroic attempt to go practice you'll skyrocket to the moon. What will happen for sure, is that you will be better than you were before that practice and that is undeniable! Practice makes you better. Regular practice will make you Top! Hence film yourself while working on something. Watch, reflect, make notes in your head and try again. Always with love and curiosity.
I hope these 7 tips will help you learning and growing in your jazz dancing. Do you have your own tricks that help you improve your dancing, practice?
Hope you will find those tips inspiring and motivating to get up and go polish the diamond of your solo jazz dance! If you are learning from my online courses, you can share your experiments and practice with me at Jam Circle Forum and get my feedback. In case you are still not a member and would like to learn and grow in solo jazz dance, join Secrets of Solo dance school today and don't leave your dreams for tomorrow. You can check out subscription plans here.
World renowned 20s Charleston and solo jazz dancer Ksenia Parkhatskaya presents her special online dance course "Secrets of Charleston 20s". With over 40 lessons and 2 hours of content you will discover how to do the 20s Charleston in the convenience of your home.
What is 20's Charleston?
Read the full article on History of the Charleston dance.
The Charleston dance had possibly the greatest influence on the American culture. Enslaved Africans brought it from Kongo to Charleston, South Carolina, as the Juba dance, which then slowly evolved into what is now known as Charleston. / ../ In African, however, the dance is called Juba or the Djouba. The name Charleston was given to the Juba dance by European Americans
- (Africanisms in American Culture, p.52)
Many scholars attribute the creation and the spread of the Charleston dance to Gullah / Geechee culture and the boys from the Jenkins Orphanage Band.
It is considered that The Charleston dance was "officially" shown in public in the all Black Africa - American Broadway musical "Runnin' Wild". Elida Webb Dawson, African- American dancer, was the choreographer for the show. Her set of movements was accompanied by “The Charleston” tune by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack. The tune had a very characteristic Charleston beat, which James P. Johnson said he first caught from southern musicians and dancers from Charleston city.
The Charleston became the international craze, when African American performer Josephine Baker introduced the Charleston dance in Europe during her Parisian tour “Le revue negre”.
Where to learn how to dance 20's Charleston?
You can find a local swing dance or solo jazz dance school where you can ask for 20s Charleston solo classes. Another way, which can be more convenient in some ways is to learn how to dance with online classes. Ksenia's Secrets of the Charleston 20’s is an online course on how to learn the famous 20s Charleston in 8 chapters, 40 videos and almost 2 hours of high quality online content.
The course is taught by a sensational dancer, who made her name in dance though her Charleston performances, Ksenia Parkhatskaya. Dancing since 6 years of age, Ksenia came to fame through her signature Charleston choreography on “So You Think You Can Dance” in Ukraine (invited to the show as a participant from Russia). She soon rose to be one of the most viewed dancers on the internet with over 200 million views.
A dance artist, choreographer and performer Ksenia has created many short dance films and clips inspired by flapper character and 20s Charleston dance style.
Trained in competitive ballroom dance in Russia and competing on a regular basis for 9 years, Ksenia is more interested in performance and creation. Though in a spirit of solo jazz and Charleston battles and races, she occasionaly participated in swing dance international competitions, placing first.
Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance classes are a chocolate box of dance steps, movement tricks and technique tips. You will for sure enrich your pockets with good basic vocabulary as well as dizzy flash steps that will insure your greatness on the dance floor. You will discover some of my step variations and get inspired by the immense world of creativity that jazz in general brings. And all of it will settle the best way in your body with a seasoning of some useful technique secrets.
The Secrets of 20s Charleston series cover a wide range of levels: from beginners to advanced dancers. Beginners can learn basic steps and techniques, improvers can enrich their vocabulary and learn some flash steps and advanced dancers can get new ideas, steps variations and refine their style.
I picked the best of what I know and love about 20's Charleston and combined it with my dance experience and general dance approach. Above all I value the individual voice in any art form. That is why I am sharing my way: my personal twist on original steps plus steps I created myself as well as ideas I have developed over the years
What is inside Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance course?
Secrets of Charleston 20’s online dance course is build around moves and famous footwork. There are 7 chapters, inside which you will have several dance classes with progressive variations of this specific step.
For example let’s take a look at Chapter V: Basic Step Variations. In the first video I will break down the absolute basics of the charleston step and start with the variation #1. Then you will have 3 more videos with 3 different variations. And then the last video of the chapter will be a demo - me demonstrating how to dance those steps to the music and mixing them.
How to use Secrets of Charleston 20s?
Once you have picked the chapter, please go chronologically - the way I placed the videos for you. I thought it through. I have built my explanations and the material within a chapter in a progressive way. "Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves" is an exception. There you get a collection of independent videos, where I teach you flash moves, flaps, slaps and so on.
Where to start in Secrets of Charleston 20s online dance course?
I recommend to start with Chapter I: Twist Recipe for everyone to get your 20's Charleston technique in place, understand how the body works. 20's Charleston is all about twists. Once you get it in your body, success will be guaranteed.
After you practiced Twist Recipe you can go ahead and jump to any of the chapters between Chapter II & V or just follow the order I prepared for you. This will enrich your vocabulary of 20s Charleston moves. Always go back to review Twist Recipe chapter because it is the fundamental building block of the dance and style. Remember, once in the chapter, follow chronology of the videos.
The last 3 chapters are about so called flash steps. For instance, the "Chapter VI: Black Bottom Cow Tail & Chapter VII: Slides Filling" are technically quite challenging. Make sure to first establish your basics before going into technically challenging movements.
"Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves" is a candy box of spicy, eccentric dance moves. You can randomly pick a move from the collection for your practice and include in your dance as a flash step. The dance cannot consist of just flash moves glued together, so make sure to have your ways around first (check Chapters I to V).
Secrets of Charleston 20's Table of Content
Chapter I: Twist Recipe
In this chapter you'll get to know and experience the fundamental building block of 20s Charleston - twists and the Charleston body. You will discover what is a body state, feel, style and posture in when dancing the 20s specifically. And discover the technique and different patterns of the main component of the style, which is twist. Forget that you were ever walking parallel, every step is a twist in 20s Charleston. In a step-by-step manner we will ensure that your twists are fluid and fast.
For me, 20’s Charleston is about sparkling sharpness in the middle of mindless chaos of dance madness. Twist is the way to walk, live and think in 20s Charleston
- Twists & Charleston Body + demo
- Moving around with Twist + demo
- Butterfly Twist + demo
- Side Skippin’ + demo
- Twists & tips
- Twists on Fire
Chapter II: Fall off the log Tricks
In this chapter you will uncover on one of the great 20s Charleston and solo jazz steps – Fall(ing) off The Log. Falling-off-a-log is as well described as a step similar to Buffalo tap dance step but with a leaning pause added). It is a so- called travel step. The main rhythmic idea of the step is accentuating the backbeat on the kick. In that moment the whole body gravitates to the ground. The art of mimicry and imitation is strongly developed in black dances.
What is it and how to bring it to life? Add simple changes like: twisting the step and playing with the type of kick so that the step can travel through era’s – from ragtime to swing.
- Black Bottom Twist
- Double Kick
- Kick Ball Change
Chapter III: Suzy Q
In this chapter you will be introduced to Susie Q, Suzie Q or Suzy-Q and it's variations. It is a vernacular dance step, with a shuffling and sliding step (as well performed in tap) that was introduced at the Cotton Club in 1936. The origin of the name “Suzie Q” is uncertain. There is a the reference to the name in the 1936 song Doin’ the Suzie-Q by Lil Hardin Armstrong.
- How to?
- Swing the 8th
- Break with Shuffle
- Chapter IV: Cross Behind & Triple
- Crabbin’ & Triple Step
- Swing the Triple
Chapter V: Basic Charleston Step Variations
In this chapter you will learn the fabulous 20s Charleston basic step and eccentric variations created by Ksenia Parkhatskaya. Charleston name refers to a few elements: a song, a city, a style of the dance, a dance itself and a step. Nowadays, when we say Charleston basic or basic step when dancing solo in swing dance community, we refer to Charleston step. Charleston step has it’s eras and it changed with time and place. It started as a step with twists in jazz age, then transformed into a crazy wild kicking move in swing era.
Take the Charleston step, for example. We think it came up from South Carolina with its name intact and was introduced in a Broadway show, Running’ Wild.
Cholly Atkins from “Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins”
- Zig Zag Kick
Chapter VI: Black Bottom Cow Tail
The black bottom was a dance that hit America after The Charleston became famous in 1920's. It's a very feminine style with loads of animalistic movements. Cow tail is an animal inspired move, when the cows were stuck in the mud and had to wave their tail to get rid of flies around.
- Cow Tail
- Walking with Cow Tail
You probably have seen one of crazy Charleston video of Ksenia Parkhatskaya where she twirls her leg as a fan in her famous smoking flapper character. That move is a charmer! You can learn it now here with a step by step instructions from Ksenia herself.
- the importance of isolation of upper and lower body
- where is the engine of cow tail
- how to have an infinite cow tail movement without loosing your balance
- how to create perfect 360 circle of a cow tail
- how the knee placement change the world of the cow tail move
- what is a “cow tail cheating”
Chapter VII: Slides Filling
Arguably, the most technically challenging chapter of the course, where you will unlock the beauty and potential of slides and 20s Charleston moves. Make sure to always warm up before and do the slide movement step by step, not rushing into it in order to be safe. Wear shoes that are not too sticky in order not to damage your knees by having too much friction with the floor. Equally, shoes that are too slippery might make it hard to coordinate. Remember, keep you knee in your vision space and you will be fine!
- Twist’n’ Slide
- High Kick Slide
- Back Slide
Chapter VIII: Dizzy Moves
This chapter is a collection of individual flapper inspired, fluid and fast flash step as well as concepts of 20s Charleston style such a Silent Movie and exaggerated movement.
- Raindrops + demo
- Black Bottom slap + demo
- Happy Feet + demo
- J.Baker flavour + demo
- Silent Movie concept + demo
Are you ready to push your 20s Charleston dance to the next level?
In this extensive videos series I will be breaking down techniques and steps from the legendary 20s Charleston dance. Each chapter tackles one 20s Charleston topic, and will be showing different patterns, variations and styling within that topic.
Here's an example from one of the Secrets of Charleston 20s chapter "Cow Tail"
Are you interested? Become a member of Ksenia's Secrets of Solo Online Dance Classes!
You can check out all our account pricing options on this page. You can choose one of the three membership options. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us here.