Wednesday night, 7:30 p.m. For many Grove City students, Wednesday evenings mean two things:
- It’s the middle of the week.
- Chef Rudy will be serving her delicious fruit-filled crepes in MAP cafeteria for breakfast tomorrow.
But, for a diverse group of students in all class years and majors, from senior biochemistry to freshman English, Wednesday means something even better, something that brings as many as 50 people to the Crawford Auditorium stage from 7:30-10 p.m. And that is swing dancing.
East Coast style swing, to be precise. Your grandmother might remember it as the Jitterbug, and it’s not too far in style from the Charleston that Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed famously did into a swimming pool in It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s an uncomplicated form of partner dance, with the basic step only requiring three movements: a weight shift to the left foot, weight shift to the right foot and ‘rock step’ back onto the left (this is for leaders, the pattern is right-left-right for followers). The real fun begins when the club’s beloved leaders, Bradley Smith, a junior accounting major from Tyler, TX and Maria Dunsworth, a junior communications and biblical and religious studies major from Erie, PA, begin teaching moves to embellish the basic dance. From simple spins to exhilarating moves like the “Pretzel,” “Washing Machine,” “Tabletop,” “Tornado” and a few scarier sounding but perfectly harmless ones like the “Breakup,” “Shin Splints” and the frighteningly named (but wholly harmless) “Armbreaker Dip,” a semester of Swing Club can transform anyone into the life of every party and wedding reception for the rest of their lives.
For many, swing becomes more than a chance to learn how to social dance. It becomes one of their favorite groups of people on campus. Partner dancing becomes both a close knit fraternity of shared experiences and inside jokes about certain moves and songs and a welcoming group that never forgets where they came from. Most members begin with no prior partner dance experience, including the majority of the club’s officers. The first weeks of the new academic year are a time of excitement for upperclassmen, as they meet the new freshmen attendees and actively encourage them to continue. Experienced members often stop in the middle of dances to explain how to do a certain move or simply to offer a high five.
By the end of the semester, when the annual Christmas Ball rolls around, the freshmen can hold their own on the floor as well as the seasoned dancers. As dancers gain more skill, they may begin doing choreographed dance performances or might just spend time listening to swing music and trying to imagine the perfect way to blend moves together into a seamless performance for an audience of two. Swing is one of those hobbies that can be enjoyed for life, and many alumni make finding a new dance community a priority after graduation. One popular feature of swing are the weekly ‘birthday dances’ where any member who celebrated a birthday that week becomes the only one on the floor for a song while partners cut in and out.
I’ve been dancing for 2.5 years, and I can say that it has been one of the most rewarding parts of my GCC experience. I’ve made many friends I never would have even met otherwise, been able to develop a skill I never knew I had and been able to share the joy of dance with other students. It can be challenging at first, but, as you gain experience, the challenge is what makes it interesting. Of course, it’s also a great stress reliever, and excellent aerobic exercise, but in the end, it’s the incredible people that make the Swing Club my favorite place to be on Wednesday night, just like it’s the people that make all of GCC my favorite place to be from August through May.
I asked some fellow members to offer their own thoughts on dancing. Junior Amanda Clagett said that besides making friends, she loves that “Swing is a chance to express each song. It lets you take on the emotions and stories of different people in their songs and express them through dance!” She also advises beginning dancers to remember that everyone was once a beginner, and instead of being overwhelmed by people you consider to be really good and feel afraid you’ll never be good enough to dance with them, understand that a truly good dancer will dance (and wants to dance) with anyone and everyone, no matter their level.
Vice President Maria Dunsworth echoes the importance of the close knit community and recommends that beginning dancers try to dance as much as possible and should not be shy. Sophomore Olivia Ebert offered a musical assessment of the club, saying (singing?) that: “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, getting to relax after a long day of classes, time with great people, to dance and to sing, these are just a few of the great things about swing.”
One piece of advice I’d give to any beginner dancer came from a friend who graduated at the end of my freshman year: “Cherish every dance.” In other words, every time you step out on the floor, even if it’s to a song that’s played every week and you’re with a partner that you dance with frequently, the dance you’re about to do is unique and special. If you make it a competition about how many wild moves you can do, you lose the joy of enjoying the moment. So relax, have fun and I hope to see you on the Crawford stage.