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Imperial Swing Simplified for All Dancers -- hundreds of swing moves reduced to only three!

Skip Culver

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In 1952, George Edick purchased Imperial Hall and renamed it the Club Imperial. During the past five decades, thousands of St. Louis dancers have enjoyed learning how to swing dance. Since the founding of the St. Louis Imperial Dance Club in 1973, generations of new swing dancers have chartered eight clubs around the St. Louis area and ‘the Imperial’ has become recognized nationwide as St. Louis’ own unique style of swing. This short history lesson is important because, over the years, talented dancers have innovated hundreds of fun moves that are based upon the original East Coast style of swing that was once danced at the trendy Club Imperial. The bad news is that dancers are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of these moves and become easily confused while they are trying to learn different patterns. The good news is that even though our dance has evolved into a vibrant medium with lots of new swing moves, it is totally unnecessary to remember a large number of them. I am going to share with you the valuable secret of how you can reduce these hundreds of individual moves down to a total of only three by being a more versatile dancer!

Marie Jamison, a dance instructor for the St. Louis Imperial Dance Club, has a wonderful quote which establishes a simple, overall framework for learning ‘the Imperial’: “open and close, open and close, how you get in and out is what swing’s all about. ” Within this framework, there are hundreds of specific moves that may be reduced to only three generic combinations: the “She Goes/He Goes” where the female dancer (or Follower) goes first; the “He Goes/She Goes” where the male dancer (or Leader) goes first; and finally the “They Go” where both dancers move simultaneously instead of sequentially. Consider, for example, a specific “She Goes/He Goes" move called a “Twist and Turn. ” When the male dancer executes this move, he uses a two-hand lead in the open position to rotate his partner counterclockwise into an overhead, in-place (or crossover) turn. As she completes her rotation, he executes a clockwise overhead turn and they both end up facing each other again in the slot with their original two-hand lead. Alternatively, if the male dancer leads their turns simultaneously; i. e. , as a “They Go” move, then this “Twist and Turn” becomes a “Barrel Roll. ” In general, all moves that dancers execute at the same time like mirror turns as in a “Barrel Roll, ” or even the “Basic Step” in the closed position, are “They Go” moves! Now that we have identified the three generic Leader/Follower combinations that define all moves, let’s consider how these moves are structured.

All swing dance moves are divided into three parts: the beginning (or entry), the middle (or body) and the ending (or exit). Within each of these divisions, the male dancer’s lead communicates a tactile dialogue with his partner that orchestrates all of her movements. The Leader has only eight leads available to him: four one-hand leads, three two-hand leads and a body lead. It is very important for the male dancer to learn these eight leads because all swing moves are differentiated by nothing more than the particular lead that he chooses to use to execute each of the three parts of every move! When the male dancer leads his partner into a turn, it doesn’t matter whether he rotates her clockwise or counterclockwise; whether he leads her into a turn with a redirection as in the “Tuck and Turn” or into a turn without a redirection as in the “Push-Around Turn”; or, whether he rotates her around with his left hand to set-up a rump-bump (body lead) as he performs a move called a “Quick Spin with a Bump, ” it is the male dancer’s lead that communicates how he wants his partner to respond. Even if he only moves her straight down the slot without a turn, his lead still determines on which side of him that he wants her to travel. To become a more versatile dancer, the Leader needs to diversify his leads; and to develop this ability, he should begin by leading his Follower into his favorite moves either by rotating her in the opposite direction or by leading her onto his opposite side. To read more about this useful learning tip, read my article: “Lead ‘ContraSwing’ Versions of Your Favorite Moves. ”

The male dancer may create hundreds of different move variations by simply changing the hand-lead(s) that he uses with his partner within any part of a given move. To best accomplish this, he must understand that dancing is a function of movement, not an exercise in logic! There is nothing illogical about rotating your partner counterclockwise only to immediately rotate her back clockwise into her original position! If the Leader concludes that executing turns like these are redundant then he would probably never perform a “Banana Split, ” for example, because he would think that leading his partner into these important set-up turns is a waste of time! Experienced dancers understand that ‘ContraSwing’ (or opposite) turns like these are not only visually interesting but they also contribute immeasurably to a dancer’s versatility.

The swing dance clubs in the St. Louis area teach a large number of swing moves every month, and yearly this number is staggering. Without some useful mental associations to help us, we Leaders could never hope to remember even a small fraction of these moves. So far, we have learned that all swing moves fall into only one of three Leader/Follower combinations: a “She Goes/He Goes, ” a “He Goes/She Goes, ” and a “They Go. ” We have learned that these generic moves are divided into three parts: the beginning (or entry), the middle (or body) and the ending (or exit). And, we have learned that the male dancer has only seven hand-leads plus a body-lead which he may use to move his partner. It is very important for him to learn these eight leads because the only thing that differentiates the various swing moves in his arsenal are the particular lead(s) that he uses with his partner during each of the three parts of every move! Finally, to put all of this information together into the ‘big enchilada’…the very moment that a Leader discovers that he may vary his leads within each part of any move, and that he may also substitute the entry, the body and the exit of one move for the corresponding parts of any other move then he has spontaneously learned hundreds of moves and become a much more versatile dancer. Remember, you can make learning swing moves as easy or challenging as you want; however, the easier that you make them, the harder they will be for you to forget!


Copyright © 2010 by Skip Culver. Member of the West County Swing Dance Club and author of the manual: Imperial Swing Dancing (visit: )


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