“Swing dancing?” a parent said. “Who goes swing dancing anymore?”
The answer is a lot of sophomores!
Swing dancing began in the 1920s during the rise of the big bands. It remained popular until the ‘60s, when it died off due to new dance crazes, and was revived in the ‘90s.
Now there are a number of new swing dancing venues in Sacramento.
And for sophomore Monique Lonergan and her friends, swing dancing is a favorite activity.
On Friday nights, they make their way down to Midtown Stomp in the industrial district of West Sacramento (2532 Industrial Blvd., Street. 150).
The studio teaches everything from East Coast Swing to Lindy Hop to the Charleston.
Midtown Stomp offers both private and group lessons in addition to dance nights, when people can come to free dance.
The cost for the lesson and the free dance afterwards is $10 on most Fridays.
But it’s $12-15 on a few Fridays of the month because instead of a DJ, there’s a live band.
Lonergan prefers to free dance with a DJ.
“There are no awkward pauses between songs, and you don’t have to clap after every song,” she said.
Lonergan, who has taken dance lessons since she was 3, first heard about Midtown Stomp over the summer.
“A few of my friends from choir and dance class had gone before,” Lonergan said.
So she tried it out in August and has been going most Fridays since the school year began.
There are beginner and advanced swing dancing classes offered every Friday night at 8 p.m.
But because Lonergan takes different friends each time, she always attends the beginner class.
The lessons before the free dances are taught by two expert swing dancers, a man and a woman, who rotate every Friday.
The instructors like to make jokes about each other, and sometimes even push each other around.
This creates a relaxing and welcoming environment, as there is an awkward atmosphere at the beginning of the class.
Every lesson begins with a warmup.
“Let’s bounce!” an instructor shouts to the group, and a chorus of laughter erupts afterwards.
After the bouncing, the dancers shuffle and grapevine around the dance floor in a large circle.
Then the instructors begin demonstrating the footwork.
Instead of using a traditional dance count, such as “One, two, three,” they count beats in steps: “Step, step, rock step. Step, step, rock step.”
Then everyone gets into two inward-facing lines to practice their footwork.
The lines are organized into the “leads” and “followers,” traditionally men and women, respectively, though nowadays the roles can be reversed.
Once everyone has their footwork down, the dancers find partners. Most gravitate to people they came with for their first partners, although not everyone comes in couples.
There are groups of girlfriends, guys and girls, and even some singles just standing about.
Because Lonergan usually attends in groups, she’s never had the awkwardness of finding a first partner.
One of the instructors breaks the ice by saying, “Come on, men! The ladies don’t bite!”
Once everyone finds a partner, the instructors put the footwork together with arm positions to create a basic swing-dancing move.
Most people have never swing danced before, so there is a lot of stumbling about at first. Apologies and croaks of pain fill the dance floor as leads and followers try not to step on each other’s feet.
After the dancers have practiced, the instructors tell either the followers or the leads to rotate.
This means that all the followers or leads rotate from one person to the next, introducing themselves in the process.
“At first I was nervous dancing with people I didn’t know,” Lonergan said.
“But now it just feels almost natural, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of the same people there.”
Lonergan has met people of all ages whom she consistently sees when she attends on Friday nights.
Two people who stand out are Bobby and Zach, she said.
Bobby is an older, outgoing gentleman with a less erratic style of swing dancing than younger people. He’s always prowling the sides of the room, looking for a partner.
Zach is a young, energetic male who flies across the dance floor like a hummingbird, twirling and dipping his partner, and never missing a beat until the song is over.
Every time a new move that looks hard is demonstrated, a large sigh can be heard from the crowd.
One woman shouts, “I can’t do that!”
But everyone attempts the move with their new partner, then rotates again.
By 8:40 p.m., people are no longer smiling or laughing as much, and instead just look tired.
Their brains have been completely fried from the influx of new information.
Nevertheless, the process continues for the rest of the hour: rotate, learn a new move, practice it, rotate again.
Toward the end of the hour, the instructors ask dancers to start putting all of their individual moves together.
Instead of showing the dancers a specific combination of moves, the instructors now allow the leads to form their own combinations.
At first, there can be a moment of uncertainty as a new lead tries to determine what move to attempt in the middle of the dance.
But that moment of uncertainty soon goes away with practice, and the dances become noticeably smoother.
As they teach the lesson, the instructors choose the music.
During one lesson, a female instructor controlled the music with her Apple watch, allowing her to stop and start the music with ease.
Songs like “Hooked on Swing” by Larry Elgart and his Manhattan Swing Orchestra and “Sing, Sing, Sing” by BBC Big Band are popular.
Music is picked based on its danceability, not its popularity.
No one sings or hums the song like at a modern-day dance. The point is to dance to the beat of the song, not to know it.
After the class, people free dance until they get tired or until the studio closes at midnight.Lonergan and her friends usually stay one to two hours after the class finishes around 9 p.m.
“After about an hour after the class, it starts to get really tiring to keep dancing,” Lonergan said. “It can get especially tiring if you dance with some of the more advanced swing dancers who go really fast.”
Once free dance begins, some head toward the middle of the room to dance, while others stand on the outside to watch or wait until someone asks them to dance.
“You can always spot the regulars,” Lonergan said.
“They just look advanced and are always asking people to dance.”
The regulars are mainly guys, who range in ages from 30 to 75.
The younger dancers follow a more traditional ‘20s style of swing dancing, using the moves that the instructors demonstrated in the lesson.
On the other hand, the older gentlemen go for a more ‘50s style of swing dancing, the style that one would see in older movies.
But the regulars aren’t the only outgoing and enthusiastic ones.
On Oct. 28, Lonergan led a group of sophomores to Midtown Stomp for Halloween-themed night.
Everyone was dressed in costumes, and the dance floor was decorated with spiderwebs.
Sophomore Luca Procida, dressed as Superman, spotted the perfect match across the room – Supergirl, who happened to be around Procida’s age.
“I just had to dance with her,” Procida said.
“While we danced, we talked about school, and once the dance was over, I said thank you, and we both walked away.
“That was it.”
Sophomore Bianca Hansen also came along, even though she had some fears at first.
“I thought a lot of people would be advanced, and we would just look stupid out there,” Hansen said.
“I eventually caught on, and I didn’t turn out to be as bad as I thought!”
Sophomore Chloé Collinwood agreed.
“People don’t judge you out there,” Collinwood said.
“They are just there to help you and have fun.”
—By Jack Christian