How? I danced in my socks.
During the first dance, while I was wearing shoes, sharp pains in my right knee made me imagine having to retire from lindy hopping one day. But having read about runners correcting their foot and knee problems by running barefoot or in minimal shoes (see this and this), I tried an experiment: I took off my shoes. Since you have to be able to pivot without sticking to the floor, I kept my socks on.
My first impression was that I could feel the floor. Years ago, my dance teachers, Dan and Tiff, talked about the floor being the third partner in the dance. I finally understood what they meant. My heels, toes and especially the balls of my feet felt every step, slide and tap on the wood floor. But the pain in my knee didn't return.
One partner was concerned that I'd slip and slide in my socks, but it didn't happen in socks any more than in my dance shoes--a pair of sueded tennis shoes I bought for $5 from Tiff a few years ago. (They were a tad too small for her.) I did backward kicks a la Frankie Manning, and every other styling move I could think of, without a problem.
The other problem I solved tonight was finding dance shoes. Suitable dance shoes have to fit my wide feet, buckle or lace so they don't fly off, they have to be flexible enough to let my feet bend, they have to have a sole you can pivot on, or a sole that can be sueded, and I need to be able to wear them with either cotton socks or nothing so that I don't get blisters. Having shopped for such shoes, let me tell you: this is a tall order. It's time consuming, and decent shoes are expensive. It's probably why so many people in the swing scene wear sueded tennis shoes.
Drawbacks to dancing in socks? I'll have a little less protection when someone steps on my foot. Being stepped on by experienced dancers isn't so bad: they react too quickly to press very hard, and their flat shoes spread out the force. They don't step on people often since they keep their feet close to the floor. It's out-of-control newbies taking high, wide steps in stiletto and kitten heels that worry me. For the safety of everybody, I wish dance clubs would ban those shoes. One of my coworkers sustained a broken bone in her foot when someone stepped on her at a dance.
I suppose I'll look a bit odd, but so do a lot of people at the places where I dance. A few years ago, a friend and coworker was going to meet me at one of the clubs, but was put off by some people with purple hair. Besides, it's 2011, and the expectations of people who want current swing dancers to look like they fell out of an Andy Hardy movie are lost on 98% of us. If you really want to be period-accurate, though, some flapper or bobby soxer surely kicked off her t-straps or wedgies and kept on dancing at some point during the 30-year swing era. Smart woman.