Dec 082010
 
Authors: Anna Baldwin

Maybe you’ve seen them Jitterbugging in the Transit Center, near Cam’s Lobby Shop in the Lory Student Center.

Perhaps you observed the steps of the Charleston in the street during the annual CSU Homecoming Parade.

Senior psychology major Kelsey Keener likes the Lindy Hop and Shim Sham.
Sometimes she’ll throw in a Shorty George or Chainsaw while moving to the tunes of Duke Ellington or Frank Sinatra.

But as the president of the CSU Swing Society, her favorite song to dance to is something more recent: Smash Mouth’s adaptation of “I Wanna Be Like You” from “The Jungle Book.”

“People are always surprised to learn that there is still a club that is completely devoted to this,” said Danielle Hildreth, the society vice president. “I always get people that say to me, ‘Wait, people still do that?’”

The Swing Dance Society is at least a decade old and has one of the highest membership numbers of any group on campus, Hildreth said.

According to Keener and Hildreth, swing dancing is popular both nationally and internationally, and there’s even options for social swing dancing every night of the week in Denver or Fort Collins.

“The popularity of swing dancing isn’t just a CSU thing, but it’s still kind of on an underground level because people don’t really know that it’s happening,” Keener said. “But this only makes it so the ones that do know about it make an international and national group of friends. It’s really almost like a couch surfer group for dancers.”

This group truly keeps the ‘20s-, ‘30s- and ‘40s-era dance alive every week during lessons and a social dance, as well as through frequently working with the CSU competitive swing dance club, BLAM!, and attending various other swing events nationwide.

A swinging start

Swing dancing is best described as a series of different forms of swing dance moves or styles, done consecutively to conform a collective dance.

It began in the 1920s when African-American dancers took ballroom dancing and brought it down to a looser level. It then began picking up momentum in all races in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Very similar to blues dancing, it was at the time a fun, hip dance that average people enjoyed, as opposed to the high society dance of ballroom settings.

It was also seen as very risque due to the faster pace and more frequent moments of two bodies making contact with each other.

“Because of the traditional dance that swing was taken from, it was not seen as very respectful when it was started, which is funny because of how it’s viewed today,” Keener said. “It was also completely making fun of ballroom dancing.”

Today, swing dancing is one of the most respectful types of movement.

The Swing Society tries to keep the traditional music and respect –– an element that is sometimes absent in other dancing.

“But at the same time, we do keep it fun,” said Hildreth, who added that one way they keep it interesting is by occasionally dancing to more modern music like Lady Gaga and Avril Lavigne or nights where the group encourages vintage clothing instead of everyday attire.

Social Swing

“The big reason people participate in the club is because it’s a social event first,” Keener said. “And it’s not an exclusive, one partner type of thing either. You will meet new people because you never just always dance with the same person, or even the people you came with.”

It’s also really laid back and a great stress reliever, Hildreth added.

The average number of people that show up to groove at the weekly lessons and social dance is more than 25 and as high as 45 participants.

In addition to the weekly event, the Swing Society helps sponsor two annual formal balls at CSU, the Wild Goose Masquerade Ball every October and the Wild Asparagus Ball the weekend before Spring Semester finals.

To connect with swing dancers from other schools and in other states, many members of the Swing Society often participate in Lindy Exchanges.

Named after the eight-count Lindy Hop dance, these exchanges are weekend-long events hosted by a group of people in their city, who then extend an invitation to all swing dancers from around the nation. These weekends often include classes, live music or a DJ and, of course, a full weekend of jiving.

A group of dancers from the society recently traveled to Austin, Texas, for an exchange. They also take a trip to an Albuquerque, N.M., exchange every year.

“You can find a Lindy exchange somewhere pretty much every weekend of the year,” Keener said. “There’s three major ones just in Denver every year.”

There are also many Swing Society members that belong to BLAM! A separate group than the society, the two collaborate during weekly lessons, and many people are a member of both.

BLAM! competes with other collegiate competitive teams in the Inter-Collegiate Swing Battle hosted annually in the first weekend of April at one of the nine participating schools from several states.

More than 90 dancers participate in the competition yearly, and BLAM! has taken first place the last three years. In fact, in the seven years of the event, the group has taken first place five times and second place the remaining two years.

With experienced dancers, like the BLAM! members, as well as dancers from a variety of majors and people from all stages of the college career present at the society’s weekly event, the Swing Society is a diverse group that welcomes everyone.

“It’s great because advanced dancers are always willing to take the time to show someone a new move,” Hildreth said. “At the same time, it’s cool to be around good dancers, too.”

“You don’t have to have any experience. You just have to show up, and you don’t have to be good,” Keener said. “It’s a matter of people putting themselves out there. We’re very much into making this a friend group that’s open to everyone.”

The CSU Swing Society is hosting a fundraiser today for their group with the help of Panda Express on campus. Present a group flyer and 20 percent of your order helps fund future events for the society.

Staff writer Anna Baldwin can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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