“Would you like to dance?” a man in a checked-print shirt and jeans asks me, holding out his hand. I say yes; to our left, the King of Hearts spins the Mad Hatter, and to our right, a Gryffindor student leads Gamora across the floor. This is the annual Halloween costume party at Swing Kat Entertainment, and it’s the first time the members of E.T.H.E.L.S. get to practice their swing dancing outside of Gough Great Room.
Every Thursday night, the members of the swing dancing club get together to learn new techniques and to practice. We start at 8:30, switching partners as we run through different moves. No matter who you dance with, you learn something new; some of us have been dancing for years, and for others, this is their first time.
“The improvisation element of swing dance appeals to me,” a new member of the club, Julian, says. “It’s a new form of communication: you can go up to people you’ve never met before and connect to them through the dance’s unspoken language.”
The language of swing dancing has its own alphabet, an alphabet of steps and spins and dips. Newcomers are often surprised to find how out how easy the basic step is— step back, step to one side, step to the other side. You simply partner up and begin to dance. The more techniques you learn, the more variety you can add, so it’s accessible to completely different skill levels.
What should you expect if you decided to show up one Thursday night? Well, when the music starts, we’ll warm up to songs like “Rockin Robin” and “Fly Me to the Moon”, stepping to the rhythm of each piece. The beat forms the base of all swing dancing since you step in time to the counts. Once we’ve warmed up, we’ll separate into the leads and the follows, and the leaders of the club, Tom Sims and Ali Pagoada, will teach a new technique. Then you’ll partner up and practice that move a few times before switching partners and trying it again with a new person. After you’ve had a chance to do this a few times with a handful of different moves for that week, the session opens up for free dancing. The music will start, and you’re welcome to partner with whomever you’d like and try any moves you know.
Every so often, the members of the swing dance club pile into an Eastern van and drive to Swing Kat Entertainment, where people of all ages and skill levels dance. There’s a live band, and we dance for hours. It’s rare that you come away from one of those nights without having learned another new skill, no matter how long you’ve been dancing.
There’s something incredibly human about dance. God created us as embodied souls, and I feel like swing dancing gives us a unique connection to both body and soul. That connection with others and the joy of the music nourishes your soul, and the awareness of your movement that comes with dancing puts you in tune with your body. And that’s an amazing experience.