Swing Dancing/Aerials

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An aerial (or air step) is a dance move where one's feet leave the floor. The term has come to mean a wide range of special and unusual dance moves, including dips, slides, and tricks. Here we attempt to describe the diversity of aerials. The aerials listed in this article are grouped somewhat arbitrarily into classic aerials; jumps and cannonballs; charleston jumps; lifts; something; flips; base aerials; dips; slides and spins; drags and slop; theatrics and gymnastics; and miscellaneous.

The leader (most frequently, though not exclusively, a man) is called the base, because they usually support the follower (usually a woman) who is called the flyer, because they usually fly through the air.

This article should not be used for teaching or learning aerials. We recommend coaching to learn aerials, and the use of trained spotters. Aerials that seem easy can be quite dangerous. Learning the timing and technique of aerial steps is a long process, and can be dangerous is conducted under unsafe conditions by untrained instructors or dancers.

Classic Aerials[edit]

These aerials stand the test of time. They were performed in the 1930s and are still performed in the 2000s. For convenience, 'he' refers to the base and 'she' to the flyer. It is important to note that though these gendered roles are the most common in aerials, they are by no means the only alternative. Executing aerials safely and cleanly is a matter of technical skill rather than brute strength.

Lindy Flip (Kip): This is the classic Lindy Hop aerial, somewhat like a swing out in the air. The flyer jumps at the base's right side, she pushes off the base's shoulder with her right hand, she swings around his head, and she lands where she started. When the flyer moves slowly, her motion is lower and more horizontal and the move may be called a helicopter. When the flyer moves quickly, her motion is higher and more vertical and the move is a true Lindy flip. Technically, this is not a flip.

Back to Back Flip (aka over-the-back flip): The base and flyer stand back to back, they lock arms. When the base bends over, the flyer rolls over his back and lands on her feet in front of him. This was the very first Lindy aerial.

Waterfall: From boxcars, a candlestick, a handstand flip, or leg up layout throw, the flyer goes up over the base's head, slides down the base's back head first, tucks up through the base's legs, and stands up in front of him, in one fluid motion. The base pulls the flyer up through his legs the final way. In the traditional version, the flyer's feet simply fall to the floor. In the modern version, the flyer's knees are caught mid back and she swings through and stands up in one fluid motion.

Frankie Snatch: The flyer jumps over the base's shoulder and down his back. He stops her by grabbing her bent knee with his right hand, at his shoulder. He then throws her back out with his whole body. The flyer lands where she started. Named for Frankie Manning.

Around the World: The flyer jumps into the base's arms, horizontally. The base lets go with his left hand, her feet (she) swings around his body and grabs her knees with his left hand. She now lies across his back. Then he lets go with his right hand and swing her torso around and catches her in front, where she started. This can be low (her belly at his waist) or high (his nose in her belly button). The couple can do one, or do several in a row. Also called pendulum.

Jumps and Cannonballs[edit]

These simple jumps start from closed position.

Straight: In closed position, the flyer jumps straight up. The base pushes straight up with his right hand on her back and his left hand on her right hand, to give her more height. The flyer pushes with her left hand on his shoulder and her right hand on his left hand. Rock on count 1, step on count 2, down on count 3, jump on count 4, land and sync on counts 5 and 6. Also known as a Jersey Bounce.

Frog: Like straight, but flyer pulls her legs up giving the illusion of more height. Base may kick between her legs while she is in the air. The flyer may arc over the base's shoulder or go straight up.

Hyper Frog: Like a frog, but flyer kicks her legs while in the air.

Cannonball: This can go either left (throw out) or right (swing out from closed). The flyer jumps straight up. The base adds height and directs her motion. When the flyer pulls her legs up in a frog position, the move looks higher. Rock on count 1, step on count 2, down on count 3, jump on count 4, land and sync on counts 5 and 6. This is like a straight or frog, but the follow moves into open position.

Shin Buster: Like a cannonball. Rock on count 1, step on count 2, down on count 3, jump up on count 4, down (land on thigh) on count 5, jump up on count 6, land and sync on counts 7 and 8. The extra thigh move adds height to the move. When the flyer pulls her legs up in a frog position on counts 6 and 7, the move looks higher.

Double Bounce: This is a cannon ball with an extra bounce for both the base and the flyer. Start in closed position. The lead jumps out on count 3, the follow makes a small cannonball jump on count 4, she lands on count 5, the lead makes a small cannonball jump on count 6 and lands on count 7, the follow makes a big cannonball jump on count 8, and lands and recovers on counts 9 and 10. So, the base turns 2 times and the flyer turns 1+1/2 times. When the flyer pulls her legs up in a frog position on counts 8 and 9, the move looks higher.

Charleston Jumps[edit]

These jumps start from tandem Charleston.

Russian: In tandem Charleston, rock on count 1, step on count 2, down on count 3, up on count 4, and land and sync on count 5 and 6. The flyer often does the splits, but they should not kick back to avoid kicking the base. The lead may kick between the flyers's legs. The lead may grip the flyer's hip bones, while she grabs his wrists, which is a ballet Russian. Or the lead may use the charleston grip, while the flyer simply keeps her arms straight, which is the charleston Russian.

Shoulder Sit: Like a Russian, but keep lifting and sits the flyer on his shoulder. Dismount by giving base's left hand to follow's right hand, and she slides down his chest.

Oh Floor: This begins like a Russian, but while the flyer is in the air, the lead moves forward and places his chest under the flyer, and he grabs around her waist. She wraps her legs around his torso. As the flyer falls, the base carefully lowers her body (like a lever) to slap the ground then pulls her body back up and lets go, she flies up and lands. Then she does a Butt drop and spin exit.

Lifts (Retitle)[edit]

Lift Up: The base puts his right hand under her butt, she leans back onto his shoulder, and he lifts her up in a fetal position over his shoulder. Then set back down. The lead can also hold both sides of her hips.

Lift Flip: The base puts his right hand under her butt, she leans back onto his shoulder, and he lifts her up, throws her over shoulder. She lands behind the base. The lead can also hold both sides of her hips.

Flips[edit]

In these aerials, the flyer starts right-side up, flips upside-down, and lands right side up.

Supported Back Flip: The lead places his right forearm across the flyer's upper back, she jumps up, the base lifts the flyer's lower back with his left forearm, which sends her over. Depending on the height and tightness of the tuck, this can go fast or slow. Staying in a pike position slows the move.

Unsupported Back Flip: The lead holds the flyer's right hand with his left hand. She does her own rock step, down up. As she goes up, the lead uses his right forearm to lift her lower back and help her over. This is also called the crepe.

Basket Flip: The lead brings his partner into a cuddle. He then reaches across her stomach with the arm that is closest to her and places his hand on her opposite hip. The lead will then have to bend his knees and reach his other arm behind the flyer's legs and just above her knees. She then jumps and he rotates his arms, causing her to do a backflip. The advantage of this move is that it is very secure, because the base has a good grip on her body. The difficulty is that the base's arm is diagonal across the flyer, so her body tends to twist during the flip.

Handstand Flip: The flyer stands facing the lead. She does a handstand, placing her hands right in front of the base's feet. When her legs come up in the air, the base grabs each with one hand and guides them so that each one is resting on one of his shoulders (his head will be between her legs). The flyer (with her knees bent so that she has a grip on the base) will hoist herself up like she's doing a sit-up. When she's all the way up, she puts her hands behind the base's neck and releases her legs, sliding down to end up standing in front of the base.

Handstand Shoulder Throw: This starts like a handstand flip, but the flyer is thrown over the base's shoulder to stand next to him. (ALHC 2001, K+C)

Rainbow Flip: As the flyer moves toward the base, both turn to the side to face the same way. The base bends side ways and picks her side up on his shoulders. He straightens up and pushes her up and over. She lands like a gymnastics roundoff.

Front Flip: The flyer stands in front of the lead, in tandem. She bends over, puts her arms between her legs. The base grabs her hands, pulls up, she flips and lands on her feet. (ALHC 2001 Open American)

Tomahawk: They start facing each other, but touching right sides. The lead's right arm goes across her chest, below her neck, which is the rotation point. The base steps behind her with his right foot, placing it between her feet. He then does a body roll, lifting her up and over.

Viva Las Vegas: Like a tomahawk, except that the flyer then throws the lead. This can keep going, many turns. Also this can be done with many (2, 3, 4, or more) people side-by-side.

Head Flip: Like a Lindy flip, but the follow pushes off the base's head with her right hand. This adds about 1 foot more height over the Lindy flip. Technically, this is not quite a flip.

Kip to the Side: Like a Lindy flip, the follow spins around the base's right arm, and is caught by his side. They may end by standing. The flyer may do a 1+1/2 spin, and end with a show cherry drop. Technically, this is not quite a flip. This can be extended so the flyer spins multiple times.

Base Aerials[edit]

In these aerials, the base flies and the flyer supports him.

Capoeira: The base kicks forward so his body is horizontal and a few feet above the ground. Then the base spins horizontally 360 degrees and lands with feet down, his torso supported by the flyer.

Guy Upside-Down: The base holds onto the flyer's shoulder and kicks to be upside down. The flyer stands up straight and holds him in balance.

Guy Back Bend: Base bend back. He may go to ground. He is actually holding himself up with her hand. Play up drama. She may mime pushing or throwing him down, then he slowly rises.

Jump Over Shoulder: The base stands behind the flyer, he leans over her shoulder, she puts her arm behind his neck and gives a small pull, he jumps and goes over her body and lands like a guy back bend.

Back Flip: The base does a back flip, with flyer assisting.

Miscellaneous[edit]

Boxcars: The flyer hangs from the base's neck and treats her body like a pendulum. She ought to grab one of her wrists behind his neck in order to support herself with her forearms. She jumps and the base pushes her back, she swings forward and sits on his right thigh, he pushes her back, she swings forward and sits on his left thigh, he pushes her back, she swings forward and does a split toward the lead and sits on (straddles) both thighs. They may repeat these three moves in any order, any number of times. The flyer should extend her legs straight when she sits on the base's body. The flyer may kick back, which shows well, but is hard to control, or she may tuck which is easy to control.

CandleStick: The flyer is pushed directly over the lead's head, feet up. Usually approached from Boxcars.

Sergei's Baby: The flyer tucks into a fetal position on the ground and the base pulls her up into a standing position. This is an old circus trick. Circus grip.

Leg Lift: The flyer lays on her back, with her legs straight up in the air. The base grabs her ankles, pushes straight up, lets go, and she flips up and stands straight. This is an old circus trick.

Around the World: Discuss fancy version. (ALHC 2001, K+C)

Airplane: Start side-by-side. The base bends down, picks up the flyer and stands up straight (ala Basket Flip). The flyer tucks and then lays out like an airplane on his shoulder. The center of her mass (near the hip bones) should be on the top of his shoulder (the seam of his shirt). If she is in balance on the base's shoulder, they can let go of hands. Otherwise, the base should keep his hand on her back for control. This move can also be approached by the flyer jumping into the leads arms (with her hands behind his neck and grabbing one wrist), the lead swinging her legs behind his back and catching them, spinning in place in the direction of her feet, letting go of her legs so that her body swings around his, and helping push her body up onto his shoulder. He should grab her at the armpits. To dismount, either reverse the move, or the flyer can slide down the base's back.

Belly Cherry: This is like an airplane, except that the flyer's hips lay across the base's leg. This can be set up by pulling her and laying her down on the leg.

Elevator: The lead pushes the follow up, over his head and she lands behind him. Flyer may begin face-to-face the base, or in tandem away from him.

Butt Drop: The girl sits in front of the lead with arms straight out to her sides. She goes down on 1 leg, with the other out straight. Exits are stand up, spin, and reverse rag doll. This can be approached from standing in front or tandem, to pull in from open position.

Foot Glide: Move on heel-ball. The other foot may circle near the floor to distract attention.

On Back: The flyer jumps on the base's back. He can push her feet back, so she pops up.

Slide Push: The follow leans into the base. The follow slides, while the base pushes her.

Sassy Kicks: The flyer bends back and kicks twice, then she spins in place and kicks twice again.

Step Over Hands: The flyer squats, the base steps over their hands, and then pulls her through and up.

Roll Over Back Flip: The base squats down and presents his back as a table. The flyer does a somersault across his back.

Back-to-Back Bump: Get back to back with a spin or barrel roll. The base bumps the flyer so she goes flying.

Theatrics, Gymnastics, and Kids[edit]

These moves are theatrical or gymnastic.

Horse: Requires 2 flyers and 1 base. One of the flyers jumps onto the base's back as if she/he is getting a piggy-back ride. The other flyer stands in front of the base, facing across him, and, using one hand to support herself on the base's shoulder, jumps up in the air. Once in the air, she quickly extends her legs into splits position, and the flyer on the base's back sticks out his/her legs, catching and holding the legs of the person in splits position. The base then walks around while the suspended flyers make a lasso motion.

Worm (2 person): The lead sits on the floor, with hands back on the floor holding him up. The follow lays face down with her torso on the base's legs, with her legs around his torso. The base then scoots forward. When his knees go up, the flyer raises her head and hands. When his knees go down, the flyer lowers her head and hands. Also called The Ship, in which the flyer should pretend to be a ship rocking to and fro on the high seas. Her arms mimic the water splashing from off her "prow".

Worm (1 person): Lay on stomach and wriggle forward.

Swimming and Paddling: The base lays stomach down on floor, and pantomimes doing the breast stroke. The flyers sits on his back and pantomimes paddling a canoe.

2-Person Somersault: Each grabs the ankles of the other and they go.

Walk Through Legs: Flyer scrunches down and walks through base's legs or the base scrunches down and walks through flyer's legs. (Forwards or backwards) (Base or flyer)

Assisted Cartwheel: The flyer does a cartwheel, while the base assists her.

Neck Rolls: (Y+N)

Side Airplane: The lead grabs on arm and one leg and spins the flyer out. (P+M)

Wheelbarrow: This is the classic kids move.

Leap Frog: The base bends down and flyer jumps over him.

Reverse Double Somersault:

Jump Rope: (3 person) Two people hold hands, and use their arms like a jump rope. The third person jumps rope.

Ring Around the Rosie:

Juggling Bodies: (3 person)

Slides and Spins[edit]

Split Slide (Open Position): The base walks backward (4 counts) helping the flyer down into a split. Then the base walks backward (4 counts) helping the flyer stand up. The base needs to keep his legs apart.

Split Slide (Closed Position): The base walks forward beside the flyer (4 counts) as she goes down into a split. Then he continues walking beside her (4 counts) as he pulls her up.

Slide through the Legs: The base pulls the follow toward him, while his legs are wide apart. The flyer does a split slide. The change hands as she passes. To finish, she may point away, or turn. The flyer can also walk through the legs.

Slide and Back: The flyer may slide through legs and come back.

Kyle and Sara: Flyer hooks onto the base's arm and kicks out with her feet. She slides half way around the base as he turns.

Arm Pit Swing Out: (find better name)

One-Legged Spin and Reverse: Do an underarm side pass, but rather than straightening out on counts 5 and 6, the lead should do a free spin, sticking his leg out horizontally. When the lead comes around after the 360 degree spin, the follow should grab the leg and push it back where he came from. (K+C)

Swing Out with Slide: This is a swing out, but flyer jumps out on 3 and 4, base lifts her on 5, and they keep going on 6.

Spin and Lift: This is a lindy circle, while the flyer slides. She can simply slide, or pick her feet up. (K+C)

Spin and Sneak Away: While the base spins, the flyer sneaks away. (K+C)

Drags and Slop[edit]

Drags are stylizations, not aerials.

Rag Doll: Follow faces lead, leaning on his body. As he walks backwards, she walks forwards with extreme body movement. It can be done high or low (expand).

Drag: The follow is dragged off, in a sitting position. The lead twists her left and right as he steps back. She swivels her knees as she is dragged. Or she can cross her feet (expand).

Slop: The base suddenly falls and catches himself on flyer's shoulder and then slowly stands using his arm for support. Or the flyer suddenly falls and catches herself on base's shoulder and then slowly stands, using her arm for support.

Dips[edit]

Cherry Drop: The lead bends his knees, so that his thigh is fairly horizontal. The flyer's back rests on his thigh while her feet are up in the air. If the flyer is in balance, both can let go with their hands.

Show Cherry Drop: This is like a cherry drop, but the flyer's legs hook on the base's back.

Flying Cherry Drop: The flyer stands behind the base. He picks her up with a butt lift, and grabs her around the back and waist. He then leans forward just enough to tip her off balance, so she swings around to his other side, naturally. They finish with a cherry drop on the base's left.

Trip Out: Start like a flying cherry, have flyer land with her butt between base's knees. The base then stands up, and the flyer lands on her feet in front. The base needs to turn during the flying part to catch the flyer. (Move)

Twisty Dip: The lead grabs the flyer's right hand with his own, shaking hands. He then lifts up his arm and the flyer spins under, counterclockwise. Once around, the flyer keeps spinning but, instead of the lead's hand up above their heads during the second spin, he lowers it to waist-level so that, when the flyer spins, her forearm goes behind her back. The hand grip will then change so that the hands can hold each other in the original shaking position. The flyer must do 1 & 1/4 of a spin on the second time so that she ends up facing across the lead's body toward his right side. He dips her and spins her out.

Spinny dip: Start in basic postion and do an arm slide ending in both holding each others right hand. Girl spins under and spins into guy ending up with her arm behind her back and guy dips her. Then While spinning her out he changes hands behind his back.

Moves to Sort[edit]

Reverse Waterfall: Flyer slides down the base's front, through his legs, and stands up behind him. (ALHC 2001)

Mop the Floor: Flyer lays down on floor, and the lead spins her, she puts her foot down and pops up. This works because she converts her spin motion into vertical motion.

Spin with Flyer Kicking: The flyer holds on around the base's neck, torso, stomach, or waist. He spins, counterbalancing her and her feet fly out. (From Hellzapoppin)

Flying Overhead Throw: They start just like a flying cherry drop, except that the flyer is thrown back over the base's head and she lands on her feet, behind the base.

Window Blinds: The lead rolls flyer horizontally down his front and catches her.

Foot Sweep Catch: From Charleston to holding the flyer in a cradle.

Two-Leg Pendulum: The base holds the torso of the flyer and moves her feet in a circle. When her body needs to go under one of his legs, he lifts his foot. Flyer Swing: The base holds the flyers torso and swings her feet. As needed, he steps over her body so she can swing around. (D+S)

One-Leg Pendulum: Like a two leg pendulum, but with one leg, and solo.

Neck Straddle: Start like Lindy flip, but flyer ends straddling the bases neck, backwards. He can set her down, or she can slide into a waterfall.

Body Clamp: The base can clamp the flyer's torso to his torso, so she can flail her legs and arms. She can also be upside down.

Upside Down: The base can hold the flyer upside down. Egyptian pose.

Airplane Bench Press: The base can lay on his back, and hold the flyer's hips in his hands and bench press her.

Stealing Partners: (3 person)

Lift: The lead holds his arms out straight. The follow straddles his arms. This is a Charleston jump variation. The reverse waterfall can exit, or tuck under arm and down.

Roll Over Flip: The base bends over. The flyer bends over his back and tucks underneath his chest. The base pulls her around and then stands up.

Step Over Body: The flyer holds her body rigid and leans over. The base swings her down below his body and back up on the other side. As she passes under, he steps over.

Back Roll Side Pass: The lead starts a left side pass. As the follow walks past, he does a backwards somersault and then turns to face the flyer.

Jam Notes[edit]

Entrances and Exits. The goal is to enter or exit the jam circle with style.

  • Run on, run off.
  • Cannonball
  • Double bounce
  • Travelling Charlestons, facing each other. Double kicks onto the floor.
  • Girl pulls guy onto floor, using his tie as a leash.
  • Boogie forwards
  • Shorty George chase. Gradual or slight delay for the person following so that it looks staggered. Or make it extreme.
  • Rag doll exit, or butt drop
  • Sassy kicks (usually used in Balboa)
  • Walk through slide to pass the follow to another lead for another aerial, or just separate
  • Airplane and walk off

Safety[edit]

Aerials are fun. Since flyers go upside down, aerials are potentially dangerous and should be practiced safely. As long as everyone remains safe, aerials will remain fun.

  • Agree Out Loud: Mistakes occur when each dancer thinks they are doing a different move or a different part of the same move. Miscommunication is big source of mistakes.
  • Use Spotters: Spotters should protect the flyer's head. The flyer's legs will find the floor by themselves. Spotters should be trained.
  • Wear Smooth Clothes: Clothes should be simple and smooth. When they rub against skin, they should not hurt. They should not be too loose to get caught.
  • Remove Jewelry and Empty Pockets: Remove all jewelry, including watches, necklaces, and earrings. Empty pockets of keys and coins. Remove everything that could poke or scratch one's partner or get caught in hair.
  • Use Mats: Mats help in normal landings. Mats really help in accidental landings.
  • Warm Up: Aerials are physical work. Warm up to avoid physical injury.
  • Flyer Landing: Flyers should always land toe, ball, heel, knees, to minimize chance of injury to feet and knees.
  • Base Lifting: Bases should bend at the hips and lift with the legs. Avoid bending with the back, to minimize chance of back injury.
  • Not Socially: Don't do aerials (except simple dips and slides) on the social dance floor. Other dancers (without realizing what is going on) can easily move into the space where the flyer needs to land and the flyer might get hurt. Jam circles and performances are great places for aerials.
  • Use Common Sense: Take time. Don't hurry. Pay attention.

Connection[edit]

Connection in aerials is vital. Everything about aerials is proper use of momentum. Both partners use proper connection to create the momentum. Then the lead/base directs the follow/flyer through the air using proper connection. If the tricks on this page don't discuss the connection points, then be sure to work those out before attempting the trick.

Timing. Timing is extremely important for each and every trick. In time with the music is a performative component only. Both partners must be in tune to what is happening such that both have the confidence to give the trick the controlled energy it requires. Since most tricks only work well with proper timing, it is a good, simple, easy way to know that something is going wrong with the trick. If it doesn't feel right or the timing is off, stop the trick. Better to be wrong today, than broken tomorrow.

The base starts the move, but the flyer completes it. In practice it is best for the follow to count off the start of the trick. Generally the follow is the one flying, so let them set the practice pace.

The base must be there for the flyer at all times.

Spotters: Know where to connect with the flyer/follow if you are "hands on spotting" and stay alert and ready when "hands off spotting" knowing where, when, and how to intervene if needed.

Grips[edit]

Standard: This is the standard Lindy grip, fingers together. Base's hands horizontal, flyer's hands hooked over top.

Palm: This is palm to palm, with fingers and thumb curled around the partner's hand. This grip is used for lifting.

Circus: Each dancer grabs the forearm of the partner. This grip is very secure, but very rigid.

Choreography Notes[edit]

Flow: An aerial looks best when it flows from the previous move and into the next move naturally.

Surprise: When a move is totally predictable, it is boring. Avoid long set ups for aerials. Often set ups are merged into the previous move. Dancers shouldn't stop the performance for a few counts while the base and flyer get in position.

Contrast: Many aerials are fast. The airplane and cherry drop should be held for a few counts, to get the best effect.

Getting out of some aerials is awkward. This makes them natural for finishing a routine, when there is only one pair of dancers. When there are other dancers, they can cover for the pair.

Only A Few: Only do a few aerials in a dance. They are like spices in food: a little goes a long way.

Moves like leg lifts need set up. The flyer needs to lie on her back with her feet in the air. So, she needs a good reason to get there. At the 2001 ALHC, Peter and Maggie performed a combination where Peter spun in a circle with one leg extended horizontally, while Maggie jumped up and down. When Peter's leg went over her, she crouched down. When Peter spun the other way, she bounced up. So, she was close to the floor and nearly in position for a leg lift. She moved into position for the leg lift while Peter finished his spin. The leg lift became a natural way to resume dancing.

Finessing: In performance, moves may need to be tweaked to fit the music. Different performers do these moves in different ways. For example, many aerials (especially jumps and flips) can start with either a rock-step-down-up (1, 2, 3, 4) or rock-step-jump (1, 2, 3). The preference depends on the move, the musical context, and the preferences of the dancers. They may start on any count to hit the music.