Dance society gives swing dance a kicking chance
Dancing may be a form of expression, but swing dancing is an attitude. It’s one of few dances where individuality and creativity is not only expressed but applauded. Set to smooth jazz tunes from the late ’20s to the early ’60s, swing is something everyone can try.
While dancing these days leans toward more modern moves, the Houston Swing Dance Society, a non-profit organization, aims to keep Lindy Hop, a variation of swing, alive.
"It’s the true American Dance," HSDS board member Mariah Baker said.
Baker said Lindy Hop developed in the 1930s in Harlem, New York as a variation of dances like the breakaway, the Charleston, and other social dances. It was revived in 1998 with a Gap Clothing commercial that featured models swing dancing.
Swing dance instuctor Rowena Young and her husband Buddy Steves founded HSDS ten years ago.
"We had the wonderful opportunity to learn from one of the original Lindy Hoppers, Frankie Manning," Young said. "It all started with the Frankie Manning workshop."
Young said that they wanted the chance to bring Manning to Texas to teach people how to swing dance. Ever since then, Manning has come to teach swing every year, she said.
HSDS holds classes for beginner Lindy Hoppers and advanced dancers to learn the art of swing at 6:30 p.m. Sundays at The Melody Club, 3027 Crossview Dr. After classes are over, everyone gets together to hold a big dance that usually lasts from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Each month, a new elective is offered that usually doesn’t require Lindy Hop experience. Past electives have ranged from Hula dancing to Balboa and to tap, Baker said.
HSDS also has it’s own performance group called the Hepcats, Baker said.
Since 1998, the Hepcats have won numerous competitions and showcased their dancing at events they are invited to such as the American Heart Association’s American Heart Ball.
The new line up of Hepcats will perform for the first time on Saturday at the Harvest Moon Ball at the Rice University Grand Ballroom.
"Our mission is to expose this dance to as many people as possible," HSDS Board President Larry Castro said.
HSDS thrives on volunteer instructors and dancers who love to swing. Yearly membership costs range from $15 for students and $25 for adults.
One of the greatest things about Lindy Hop is that it’s universal, Baker said. HSDS has members that range from twelve year olds to college students to older adults. HSDS has around 400 active members, Baker said.
UH political science sophomore Paul Sullivan said he’s been swing dancing on-and-off for about five years.
"It’s a form of dance that gives structure and freedom and creativity all in one. It’s all about connection. You can do anything as long as you do it on purpose. It’s about connection with your partner and it’s very enjoyable. It’s a mix between the two sides of your brain – the creativity side and the technical side," Sullivan said.
Young said in Lindy Hop the woman has more creative expression when it comes to footwork variations and working in her own style.
"Lindy Hop has more soul than a lot of the stiffer, more stylized dances. It’s relaxed and it gives the woman a tremendous amount of self-expression," Young said.
Castro said swing dancing is a great way to meet people.
"It’s fun. It’s social, and it’s a chance to connect with someone. It’s good exercise and it’s a nice social setting," Castro said.
Every three months or so HSDS hosts a workshop where guest instructors teach swing classes for a weekend. The last workshop, Baker said, brought in national competitors Dan Newsom and Tiff Wine. But the biggest workshop is Lindyfest.
Each March the HSDS hosts Lindyfest, a 50-hour workshop where people from all over the world get together to socialize, learn new moves and dance.
"The dancing starts on Thursday night and doesn’t stop until Monday morning," Baker said.
HSDS member Grace Cowan said she’s been swing dancing for five years.
"It’s a great way to meet people in a non-threatening and wholesome environment. It’s a great way to put yourself out of your comfort zone, and its great exercise," Cowan said.
Samantha Smith said she got into swing dancing because her friends liked it.
"I’m pretty hip to the jive, so swing dancing is something that makes up me being the bees knees and the cat’s meow," Smith said.
So, instead of watching shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars, go try the Lindy Hop. It’s fun. It’s cool. It’s hip. It’s swing.