The student voice of St. George's Independent School.

Two left feet

The time I tried to learn to swing dance

  • Allie Buckmaster ‘15 and Grant Webb ‘16 complete a swing at the end of their lesson. The lesson lasted 45 minutes and was taught by Johnathan, an instructor at Blue Suede Ballroom. (Photo: Annie Vento)
  • Connor Funck ’16 and Annie Vento ’17 prepare to swing dance at Blue Suede Ballroom. At the practice, the instructor, Jonathan, taught the “neutral stance,” how to turn and how to swing your partner or be swung. (Photo: Grant Webb)
  • Allie Buckmaster ’15, Annie Vento ‘17, Grant Webb ‘16 and Sam Hyde ‘16 pose in the photo booth at prom. This year’s prom was held in downtown Memphis. (Photo: Hot Shots Booth Gallery)

Annie Vento, Sports Editor/Copy Editor

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As I picture myself walking into St. George’s prom, I am immediately greeted with couples dancing elegantly to music that my great-grandparents most likely listened to at their proms. The twirling and swinging is enough to enchant anyone. Although I never pictured myself being able to pick up a type of dance quickly, seeing everyone swing dancing with ease motivates me to seek it out and learn more so that I can have as great of a time as them.

Swing dancing is a style of dance that is quickly taking St. George’s by storm. Following prom in 2013 at the Fire Museum, students and the Prom Committee rallied together to steer the type of dancing into a different direction.

“A large group of students enjoyed swing dancing at cotillion and wanted to replicate it at school dances,” Mr. Timothy Gibson said. “From my recollection, this was all student-initiated. We were clear that the dirty dancing was inappropriate, and they took it from there.”

Aside from the trademark swings and dips, swing dancing consists of four basic steps in the “neutral stance,” which are a slow step to the left, slow step to the right, fast step forwards with your left foot and another fast step backwards with your right foot. This rhythm emerged from the beat of jazz music, since the two arose along- side each other, including songs by well-known artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. If you like music by these performers, you probably also like swing music.

However, no matter how much you may enjoy listening to swing music, dancing to it is a different story. Many are struck with anxiety over getting to the dance floor and, in “Footloose” terms, being the Willard while all of your fellow classmates are Ren McCormacks. Without being a naturally-skilled dancer, swing dancing for three-and-a-half hours while attempting to have the prom night you’ve always dreamed of can be incredibly daunting.

This was what went through my mind when planning for prom, and it immediately gave me a feeling of anxiety and panic, as it is no secret to my friends and family that I have no dancing talent whatsoever. To me, the most logical, and hopefully most effective, solution was to take dance classes beforehand. While this would not transform me into a stellar dancer no matter how many lessons I took, it would enable me to dance, or at least let me fake it until I make it.

After doing some research on dance studios in Memphis, I recruited Allie Buckmaster, Connor Funck and Grant Webb [a member of the Gryphon Gazette staff] to take swing dance lessons with me at Blue Suede Ballroom in Memphis, Tenn. I called beforehand to book a private lesson for the four of us, which was about 16 dollars per person, and then we worked one-on-one with our instructor, Jonathan.

At first, the lesson felt awkward because the four of us had no idea of how to swing dance and being taught by a professional resurfaced that knowledge and made me feel insecure about my dancing. However, after getting the rhythm down and learning a few steps, the lesson became less difficult and more amusing. Jonathan even told us at one point that we were “very good,” which was a great self-esteem boost.

Whether or not you are a “very good” swing dancer, swing dancing is one of the most exciting ways to spend your night because trying to swing and listening to music that is from a completely different generation gives prom a unique and memorable feel.

“I think that people enjoy swing dancing because it’s a great way to interact with your date,” Ashley McDuffie, president of the Prom Committee, said. “There are always new swing dance moves that you can try, which keeps dancing exciting.”

I can now say with confidence that I know how to swing dance in place, swing dance while moving and be swung. Although it may appear that we did not learn a significant amount to someone who knows how to swing dance well, I walked away from the class feeling that I had learned enough to where I could attend prom and not be awkward.

That being said, the class did leave me wanting to learn more because of how entertaining and fulfilling it was. After attending, I told my friends that are going to prom about the class and recommended Blue Suede Ballroom to them, whether they want to learn swing dancing for prom like I did or learn something different for fun.

If you are feeling the same anxiety that I was about swing dancing at school dances or other functions, I would highly recommend a quick 45-minute class with your date or friends. You may not become Ren McCormack overnight, but you will be able to avoid being the Willard and have a blissful night.

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The student voice of St. George's Independent School.
Two left feet