Okay, so here’s the thing: dancing is a physical activity, and you want to be comfortable when doing physical activities. You want clothes that will breathe, that won’t restrict you or rub in the wrong places and that will support you in the right places. But here’s the other thing: swing dancing is a social activity. Not only that, but it comes from a time when people got dressed up to do social activities. So we can’t get so carried away with comfort that style looses out!
Obviously you’ll need to strike a balance between the comfort factor and the style factor. Gone are the days when I wear floor length gowns I can barely breathe in to a ball. If I’m going to a dance I want to be able to actually dance without tripping on my dress or passing out from lack of oxygen. No lead wants to have to worry about splitting their pants and almost every lead has done it at some point. This means you’ll have to perform some tests on your chosen outfit when you are about to go dancing (and every time you buy new clothes for the rest of your life). The Squat test (lunges and high kicks too, if that’s your style). The Spin test for skirts or dresses – and not just the spin test but the stopping spinning test because the continued momentum of the skirt usually has worse consequences. And my favourite: the Arm Lift Test, because if my sleeves are too restrictive I’m going to have trouble with turns and pass-bys.
The nature of the event will dictate just where you should land on the comfort to style scale. Many weekend events will have a ball night with a dress code where you want to be up the style end of the spectrum, but most people change into something more comfortable before the late night parties. Workshops are on the other end of the spectrum – if you’re spending a big day or a weekend dancing make sure you are comfortable and have lots of changes of shirts for when you sweat through them. This is when you’re allowed to get out your yoga pants or basket ball shorts. You don’t need to dress up for regular classes or socials (unless you want to) but remember that you are attending a social activity where you are not only meeting new people but you are asking them to touch you: it’s nice to be clean and presentable.
Speaking of people touching you, you should also consider the comfort of those you are going to dance with. We all sweat –and it doesn’t take long for newer dancers to notice that the more experienced guys bring multiple shirts and small sweat towels EVERYWHERE: classes, socials, workshops. Wearing an undershirt under your dress shirt also helps to soak up some extra liquids. Lots of bare sweaty skin isn’t so nice either – it becomes slippery with nothing to soak it up. I don’t particularly like putting my hand on a sweaty bicep if my lead has chosen to wear a singlet, and I wouldn’t wear anything backless for the same reason. When it comes to dresses – I find that anything strapless will end up facing the wrong way. I also find full skirts or petticoats too fussy and just get in the way (they are also not era accurate for swing- petticoats are really a 50s thing, but I digress).
Swing dancers are a pretty non-judgemental group of people on the whole: we still embrace the guy who shows up to every ball in board shorts and when we do costumes, we go all out. It’s easy to feel comfortable enough to leave your pants at home (but don’t)! Just remember that a little effort goes a long way, so embrace the idea of “going out” to a dance.