Friday, April 18, 2014

Swing Dance at Mac

When Peter Strom, the winner of the American Lindy Hop Championships, came to Macalester to teach a class, we were more than a little surprised that the first thing he did was let his partner lead. Here was this 6-foot-5-inch man, nationally renowned in swing dance, being whirled around the Kagin Ballroom by a girl half his size. Then he said, “So as you can see, it doesn’t matter if the person leading is a guy or a girl, but someone has to lead. When you’re driving a car, does everyone get a steering wheel? No! That does not work.” The whole room laughed.

My friends and I before a 40s-themed swing dance in a World War II
airplane hangar, fall 2012.
That was my first lesson in the Lindy Hop, an energetic swing dance that has stuck around since the 1940s. I was hooked. That night, I swore I would find a way to get to his Wednesday night lessons in Uptown Minneapolis. I never did, because as a guitarist, songwriter, org leader, and a cappella singer, there were always music rehearsals to attend. But, Macalester being the flexible, friendly, and event-filled place that it is, I found other ways to explore this dance.

Every Monday night, the junior and senior leaders of the group went to Rhythm Junction, the most happening Lindy Hop venue in the Twin Cities. I started getting ahead on my homework each weekend so I could tag along. Having taken just enough Jump n Jive lessons to know the basic steps, I vowed to learn the rest on the Rhythm Junction dancefloor. It wasn’t the easiest way to learn, or the most graceful. Believe me, I stepped on more toes than I care to admit.

Whipping out some swing dance moves at Winter Ball
Maybe I was too bold for my own good. I knew I was going to botch more turns, swivels, and swingouts than anyone else in that room full of seasoned Lindy Hoppers. But I never let that stop me from asking guys to dance. “I’m still learning,” I would just say to my partners with a smile. “So sometimes I get confused.” One semi-pro, who had every right to critique my flailing footwork, just smiled right back and said, “I’ve never seen someone have so much fun being confused.”

So there you go. When you love something so much that you’ll willingly make a fool of yourself to get better at it, you probably shouldn’t stop. Without Mac Jump n Jive, and its leaders who took me under their wing, I’d probably still be plotting how to get to my second lesson.

Practicing in Wallace Lounge. Knowing how to
 lead can come in handy!
My friends caught the bug too. Our sophomore year, we would move all the furniture in the Wallace dorm lounge so we could practice new moves. I’m a senior now, and although Mac Jump n Jive doesn’t formally exist as a student org anymore, my friends and I carry on the mission of the group: to get people out dancing in the Twin Cities. Yes, we are “those people” who will dress to the nines in 40s fashion, pile into my car, and go to Saturday night sock hops. We’ve danced everywhere from Minneapolis dive bars to nearby Universities like St. Thomas, Hamline, and St. Kate’s. We’ve even been to a dance held in a World War Two airplane hangar, complete with a live Big Band. I took Peter Strom’s advice and learned to lead as well as follow, since I wanted to know what it was like to“steer the car.“

As it turns out, I will be staying in the Twin Cities after I graduate this May. I am so glad that I can continue to be a part of the vibrant swing dance community here. And I plan to finally take Peter Strom’s lessons in Uptown.

- Andrea Wilhelmi '14