by Anna Bratulic
After almost an hour of dancing, Sylwia Bielec needs a break. She sits down to catch her breath and smoothes back strands of hair sticking to her forehead while other couples whirl around.
"I've had this hunger for dance in my life," said the graduate student in Educational Technology, explaining how she felt after quitting Polish folk dancing, a hobby for 10 years. But then she saw an ad posted up in the Henry F. Hall Building inviting students to learn about a dance form popular when their grandparents were young and now experiencing quite a revival -- swing!
Since last December, Bielec has been attending the Friday night dance sessions put on by the Concordia Swing Society, a club started by the husband-and-wife team of Ryan and Belinda Roth, both students at the university.
Belinda's interest in swing began six years ago when she saw the 1993 movie Swing Kids, which was about a group of German youths who took up listening and dancing to swing music as a form of rebellion against the Nazis during World War II. "I used to watch it in slow motion in my basement and try to imitate the moves," she said.
Ryan's interest followed shortly after meeting his future wife. "She started to teach me, and I wasn't very good, but I really enjoyed it and it was something we could do together."
Since September, the Roths have been sharing their passion for swing with anyone who was willing to learn. The Friday night dance sessions, which took place in the cafeteria from 8 to 11 p.m., began with a lesson on some of the basic moves. For example, the "feet-to-the-beat" twirls can be broken down as follows: Step to the right, turn around, rock step. Repeat. Step to the right, turn around, rock step. Repeat, etc.
Swing may seem daunting to the novice at first, but Bielec insists that "it's a very non-threatening environment, which is rare." The trick, according to Ryan, is to just let go and dance fast even if you don't know what you are doing.
"People have a tendency to look at their feet when they dance slowly," he explained. That hinders them from developing natural, flowing movements. "You try to get people to feel the signals, so that the movements become second nature."
The signals are light pushes and pressures applied to your dance partner that indicate what move they should do next. Being receptive to these signals contributes to the spontaneity that makes swing exciting to dance and watch.
Swing can be traced back to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in 1926 and to the Lindy Hop, the original swing dance. Saturday night competitions at the Savoy allowed budding dancers to perfect and create new moves on a nightly basis.
Herbert "Whitey" White, a former boxer who became a bouncer at the Savoy, assembled a group of dancers known as the Lindy Hoppers and entered them into the Harvest Moon Ball competition, where dancers like Willa Mae Ricker and Frankie "Musclehead" Manning dazzled onlookers with their quick pace and "air steps," dance moves in which partners are literally flung into the air.
By 1935, the Lindy Hop, better known as the jitterbug, had become extremely popular worldwide, evolving into West Coast Swing, rock and roll, and boogie-woogie.
The lack of publicity for the Concordia Swing Society might be why many students don't know about the club. "We don't have a budget, so it's been very hard," said Ryan, adding that most people heard about them through word of mouth.
However, the club will be applying for money from the Concordia Student Union next year, and they recently received $300 for a new CD player with which to belt out the big band sounds of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, musical staples of the swing scene.
The dance sessions are over for this year, but they will resume next September. For more information, e-mail Ryan Roth at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.