Mostly, what springs to mind when someone mentions swing dancing is a vision of days gone by, a jazzy era during the second quarter of the 20th century when dance moves loosened up a bit, along with the fashions. Women let their curls down, the skirt hems came up, and social dancers went all out.
Except for a brief comeback in the mid-'90s when bands like Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones and several other dynamic musicians caught attention of some young hipsters looking for something completely different from the Grunge music of the day, swing pops up occasionally due mostly to its ability to deliver a good time.
This weekend, for instance, Tulsans will have the opportunity to experience an exceptional treat. Tulsa Swing Style, a club celebrating its 25th anniversary, play host to the 2006 Oklahoma/Kansas State Swing Dance Championships.
It's a big event for the group, especially since more than 110 entered dancers make up the largest roster the Championship has yet seen.
The dance contest will feature dancers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Texas and is a preliminary contest for the Southwest Regionals event that will also be hosted by Swing Tulsa Style over Memorial Day weekend in 2007.
Spectators will be able to watch seasoned dancers as well as novices glide and twirl across the dance floor in many levels and varieties of contests and exhibitions.
The distinguishing factor of this event is that it's West Coast Swing Dancing, which is, in fact, a unique dance form that combines a high-energy dance with both elegance and sophistication.
"Our kind of dance is highly interpretational through both music and partners," says Jeanne DeGeyter, President of Swing Tulsa Style. The musicality is very important because West Coast Swing incorporates a variety of styles. It keeps things interesting."
Apparently it also keeps people interested, as Tulsa has always had one of the largest groups of West Coast Swing Dancers outside of California.
Styles of Swing
While to most casual observers "swing is swing," it seems that's not entirely true. People tend to pair the term West Coast Swing with other swing dances of its time like the Lindy, Shag or Balboa, matching the dance with the music, and placing both in decades that have long since come and gone.
Different regions, however, tend to produce styles that vary slightly in appearance and flexibility. West Coast Swing got its start, it seems, in Hollywood during the 1930s when a dynamic dancer named Dean Collins hit the scene, bringing with him a style of swing with which locals weren't familiar.
Then, as now, Californians loved their new trends, and Collins' style of Swing caught on quickly and was soon being danced on-screen and off, becoming so popular California eventually adopted it as the official state dance.
The primary difference between West Coast Swing and say, East Coast Swing or Jitterbug, is that the dancers seem to glide across the floor, rather than moving in a bouncing or hopping motion.
Also, West Coast Swing can be danced to any 4/4 time music available, which is perhaps part of the reason it has had such staying power. What this flexibility in West Coast Swing means is that you're just as likely to see a dancer accompanied by a Country or Hip-Hop song as you are a Jazz or Big Band piece of music.
DeGeyter says this adaptability is one of things that makes West Coast Swing so appealing to dancers. She asserts.
While many groups across the states have only recently developed clubs of their own, as Swing of all forms has begun to surge in popularity, Swing Tulsa Style has enjoyed a dedicated group of dancers since its beginnings, with many members dancing competitively, going on to win U.S. Open Swing Dance Championsships.
Since there is such a variety in the music and interpretations, DeGeyter maintains, "Everyone can find their own identity in West Coast Swing. They can decide what, exactly, it means to them to dance this way."
Candy is Dandy, but
DeGeyter claims that the primary draw to West Coast Swing is the social aspect. Regardless of age, it's a wonderful way to spend time meeting people or to be with your partner. Dancing is also an excellent aerobic activity. For example, a person of average weight can burn over 300 calories per hour Swing dancing, all the while having a ball. Additionally, it's a great chance for people with a competitive edge to get their fill if they choose to participate in contests.
Having said that, DeGeyter assures me that the spirit of these contests is friendly, as the dancers get to meet individuals from all over who share their passion for West Coast Swing, and they all want to make the events successful and fun.
The 2006 Oklahoma/Kansas State Swing Dance Championship kicks off Fri., Nov. 10, with a workshop for dancers in the early evening and the Jack and Jills contest at 9pm.
Jack and Jills is a social dance, in which the contestants draw their partners and their music and simply use their technical knowledge and skill to lead them across the dance floor.
Saturday, the festivities start early for the dancers, but spectators may watch both routine and social contests from 1:30pm until 11:30pm. The contests span all ages and skill levels and offer the best that the area's dancers have.
Both nights feature late night dancing for contestants and spectators from 12-2am. The event will be emceed by Barry Jones, who is a native Tulsan and US Open winner. Another special attribute to the Championship will be the honoring of The Kings and Queens of Swing, dancers who are either US Open Swing Dance winners (places 1-5) or World Swing Dance Council Hall of Fame Inductees.
The Swing Dance Championship is taking place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 100 E. 2nd Street, in downtown Tulsa. Spectator tickets are only $5 per day and $10 for Saturday night and are available at the door. For more information about the event, please visit www.OKStateSwing.com. To learn more about West Coast Swing, hit www.SwingTulsaStyle.com.
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