Steal Dancing :.

I know that steal dances started to get unpopular in some scenes because of bad techniques and bad etiquette so hopefully the ideas, techniques, and etiquettes below will help to keep this great form of dancing alive forever.


1: What is Steal Dancing?

Veit Hailperin from Freiburg has written a very well researched article about steal dancing. From it's earliest forms back at the Savoy Ballroom to the more recent trends spreading across the world today, Veit covers all aspects of Steal dancing. Read his article here:

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2: How Steal Dances Can Have a Positive Influence on Your Scene
  • It gets people dancing with people they might not dance with otherwise. This helps build a community.
  • It is a great way to mix things up and create a dynamic dance night.
  • It forces you to do more than one thing at a time, i.e. Lead 2 people at once; Lead and follow at the same time; Follow 2 people at once, etc. If you can do this, then regular dancing just gets that much easier.
  • Makes you more aware of your surroundings and where other dancers are.
  • It is FUN!!!
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3: Stealing Techniques
  • Avoid big movements that could injure the people attempting to steal in. Be aware of the people around you.
  • Avoid fast spins that make you or your partner get out of control.
  • When you are first learning, practice to slower music.
  • Use the momentum of the move that the dancing couple is doing to create your steal. (Don't pull your partner in an opposite direction then the lead is currently leading)
  • When you are being stolen from, watch out for opposing leads and if you feel you need to let go to avoid someone getting hurt, then let go!
  • Understand the dynamics of leading. Stealing is leading someone away from their current partner, so you must lead (at least for a moment) no matter whether you want to be the lead or the follow in the new dance partnership.
  • When someone comes to steal from you, don't just give it away, let them steal it. (but also recognize their level and don't make it too difficult for them)
  • Don't play keep away! Especially if you can't do it with out continuing to dance smoothly with your partner.
  • Dance the whole time, regardless of whether or not you have a partner! There is always music being played.
  • Please use good stealing etiquette and don't steal when it is not appropriate! More tips on this in the "etiquette" section.
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4: Tips for DJs and Organizers to Create Successful Steal Dances

Do a brief demo before you have a steal dance. You want it to be an inclusive thing that even the newbies feel they can join in on (not an elitist thing that only the good dancers can do) and you don't want people to get hurt so during the demo make sure you:
  • Always mention at least the first two stealing techniques above about being in control of your body and aware of the people around you.
  • Show them the simplest example of a good steal as a lead and as a follow to show the newbies how easy it can be and to encourage them to join in. What is the best example? Try just taking the hand of the person you want to dance with away from the person they are dancing with already while in open position (best to do it as they are moving away from each other or not moving at all, but I don't think you need to mention this).
  • Explain that it is ok to leave your partner if you dance with your partner for awhile and no one steals in. A steal dance is supposed to allow you to dance with many people.
  • Keep your demo short (1 minute or less), people want to dance not hear a lecture!
  • Play a slower song (below 140bpm or 35). You might be able to increase the speed as your scene gets better but start out nice and easy.
  • Do your best to pass on the etiquette at the appropriate times! i.e. During classes. In your demo you can introduce one new piece of etiquette (along with the above standards) before each steal dance. Not on the social dance floor!
  • Don't be an etiquette Nazi! Try to be understanding to someone who doesn't obey the etiquettes. Not everyone knows the etiquettes and they are just excited and want to dance too. Plus, there are always exceptions to the rules.
  • Warning: Use other things besides steal dances to create dynamic dance nights too. There is such thing as going overboard on one thing. Line dances, Restriction dances and other games are fun too. (look for the game section coming soon on my website)
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5: Steal Dance Etiquette

Times when it is ok to do a steal:
  • During a birthday jam, BUT remember the purpose of a birthday jam is to show off the person with the birthday, not to impress everyone with your new steal move. So if you steal in this situation, make sure it is something that will make her/him look good and keep them dancing.
  • When the DJ calls out a steal dance, BUT watch out for the following... A Steal dance is called out. Everyone says cool and grabs a partner to dance with. No one is left to steal in and now everyone has to trade partners or steal a partner while dancing with another partner. Although this is possible at higher levels, it is not very easy so... if a steal dance is called, say cool, come out on the dance floor, but don't immediately grab a partner. Watch to see how many people have partners and then decide if it would be best to grab a partner or be a stealer. I like to have at least half of the crowd without partners or less than this. Often steal dances tend to snowball because sometimes 2 people steal in at the same time and then you have 2 couples dancing instead of 1.
  • During a steal Jam, which is similar to a steal dance but it starts with only 1 couple dancing and everyone else stealing in. This can snowball into many couples dancing or stay with just 1 couple dancing. Let it happen naturally.
Times when it is NOT ok to do a steal:
  • When your best friend is dancing with Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, etc...
  • When anyone is dancing a dance with anyone else and you have not received permission to steal in from both of the other participants. Even if it is your 2 best friends dancing together and they always dance together, you should still check with them before stealing in. Maybe they are having their best dance ever together. You never know and you don't want to go in and change that kind of amazing energy. If you see a couple and you really want to steal with them, I think it is best to wait until the end of that song and then ask them for a steal dance together, this way you don't bother them or pressure them during the middle of their dance.
  • Do not steal from 2 guys (or girls) dancing together just because they are dancing together! This is a pet peeve of mine because I love to follow and I rarely get to do it. I will finally get up the guts to ask a lead to dance and once in awhile he will say yes (many leads say no) and then if someone steals in it really bums me out!
  • Try to be understanding to someone who doesn't obey the etiquettes. Not everyone knows the etiquettes and they are just excited and want to dance too.
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6: A Letter From Chad Kubo, One of the Revivers of Steal Dancing

As far as I can remember Ken and I started stealing partners when we first started dancing 11 or 12 years ago (1994/95). It was born out of necessity, because there were very few follows in the beginning that would come out dancing late night. If Lavey, Indigo Swing, Steve Lucky were playing a long song the only time you would get enough dancing in is if stole someone's partner. It really comes from my Aikido training of blending with your opponent. I naturally and almost unconsciously started to move in when the other leader lost his focus on his follow. Ken eventually perfected some of his own unique moves and Lindy hoppers in SF started playing the stealing game. It did start to get rough because some leads turned it into a competition which became a feeding frenzy and the follow got hurt. It was especially bad during birthday jams where the focus is suppose to be on the birthday dancer.

That's when I created some basic rules: A steal has to be earned not given because you can't time your blend if someone gives you the lead. If someone (lead or follow) moves in you must relinquish the lead or follow so no one gets hurt. Steal only from people you know (I heard rumors of fights breaking out on the east coast when dancers stole from strangers). If the followers gets into a feeding frenzy situation they have the right to walk off the floor, which leaves an embarrassing situation for the stealers. A good steal is invisible to the leader or follower, they should have no sensation that they just got stolen.

Paul Overton, Sharon, Virginie and I were messing around at Blondie's Bar no Grill (Paul was DJing) on Mission St. in the Mission. We were making up some stealing and switching moves which we later turned into a routine at Catalina dance camp in 1998. We were called the Hop Dogs.

One of the funniest situations I remember was when one of the top dancers at the time was dancing at the Hiball on Broadway. He stole my partner away from me on the dance floor and would not give her back. He was playing keep away and making a big scene, so I stole him to save the follow. Back in the Hiball days not many leads danced with each other so the audience was very amused. He was playing it up being the follow and getting lots of attention, that's when I did the Mini Dip. When he went up to pose on one foot I bumped him and he fell to the floor on his butt. Everyone in the place was in hysterics with laughter, of course he wasn't hurt...

We started to get more creative and play more to the audience. Ken was wising up to my steals so one night I dropped a dollar bill in front of Ken on the dance floor and when he went to pick it up I stole his partner. He would in retaliation take a can of soda to me or my cell phone and when I went to grab it he would steal. Another time we were at Lindy U camp in Chicago and I was dancing late night with a follow and we were all tired. I told her if you close your eyes you can really feel the music when she did I signaled to Ken come over and steal her. He did and I walked away and went outside on the adjacent balcony. Suddenly I hear a big scream and come back to the dance floor that's when follow starts to laugh. She said she didn't even notice the steal until she opened her eyes.

Each dancer takes from others and creates their own moves and can take credit for it, but I really think it started here in San Francisco. My stealing technique is more in the moment because it is Aikido in movement and philosophy. I can't take full credit for it because I stole it from my martial arts training but I think I am the first to use it in Lindy Hop.

Followers wanted to play the same stealing game in reverse. It was very awkward, so me and some of my friends developed some stealing moves for them. It works the same way because in Aikido the roles of attacker and defender can be (one) and reversed in an instant.

It wasn't done in the old days of Lindy Hop but the principles of martial arts pre-dates Lindy by hundreds of years. I also heard that some Lindy aerials borrowed from Jujitsu because a lot of dancers were training in the military for World War II. Jujitsu was the fighting technique use to teach American soldiers self defense. I also practiced Judo (come from Jujitsu) and can see some direct parallels of Judo move with the Lindy moves. (side note from Andrew: Frankie Manning has mentioned that they did do some form of steal dancing back in the old days, but they didn't call it "stealing".)

Rueda is not Stealing, it is completely different, they are routines that are called like square dancing. Swing Rueda borrowed from the Latin Rueda. Stealing is more organic (like flowing water) and is based on being in the moment because the steal you thought you were going to do might not be the one you end up doing if the situation changes. The stealer has to be totally aware of their surroundings at any given moment.

Switching was an outgrowth of Stealing.

Hope that answers your questions,


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