POSTED ON APRIL 22, 2009:
Pep in Your Step
Tulsa is finally ripe for a swingin' good time
It's the weekend and, as usual, you just want to dance, right? Maybe you're in the mood for some country two-stepping. You could find yourself at the Caravan or Wild Horse, two of Tulsa's country-dance clubs with the biggest dance floors.
But not everyone at these clubs is two-stepping. On any given night there may be a couple or two showing off their swing moves on the dance floor. And they look good doing it, too, as an envious crowd forms a circle around the pair.
Maybe they learned those moves from Dancing with the Stars, or in all likeliness, the Internet. Maybe they've taken lessons or learned in college. Some colleges, such as the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, have dance clubs and even dance classes. At UCO, the Swing Dance Club, in which UCO Senior graphic design student Ricardo Herrera participated during his freshman year, allows students to make marked progress, all while having a good time.
"Every class we advanced on what we learned the previous week. By the end of the semester we knew quite a bit of dance moves." Herrera said about his experience freshman year of college. Born in Mexico, Herrera already knew how to salsa but was hoping to learn something new and improve his skills with a partner.
"Salsa you can look good dancing alone, but with swing you need another person to look good," he said.
Unlike major cities like Boston or Chicago, the Tulsa swing scene is not very big. And before February, some popular styles were almost non-existent, such as the Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing. However, it has been possible to find West Coast Swing in Tulsa with the Swing Tulsa Style Dance Club (swingtulsastyle.com) and the Tulsa Swing Dance Club (tulsaswingdanceclub.com), which has been around since 1977.
Swing is a descendent of the Lindy hop, the Fox Trot, the Charleston and even the Waltz and the Tango. The Waltz and the Tango moved into America during the early 1900s. Both were, in their time, considered scandalous because they allowed, and even required, partners to touch each other. However, once the style gained popularity in Paris and was showcased by younger talent, the public was immediately hooked. Close dancing became the norm.
In the 1920s and 30s, a dance named the Lindy hop began to emerge in the Savoy nightclub in Harlem. This dance was one of the few in the world to evolve almost completely within one contained space. The Lindy hop developed and grew through a series of competitions where partners would make up new steps to defeat each other. Within a short amount of time, though, the Lindy hop was an incredibly energetic, improvisational dance incorporating Big Band sound, jazz harmonies and jumping steps. The Lindy hop, named for pilot Charles Lindbergh's fist solo flight, was the first dance to include swinging the partner into the air, as well as jumping in sequence.
After careful consideration, many American experts now believe that this dance is the true "grandfather" of swing. Once swing was established, it evolved into many forms. Two of the most notable are East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing, named after respective regional flavors.
Other dances that sprang from swing were the Jitterbug, Push, Whip, Shag and Imperial styles. There are some characteristic steps that distinguish the original swing style from its many variations.
True West Coast Swing uses a six-beat pattern and can be danced to almost any kind of music. The partners generally stay in one area of the room, as opposed to moving around an entire room.
East Coast Swing is really another version of the Lindy hop. It also works in a pattern of six beats, and basically consists of stepping from side to side, with a back step on every third beat. Because of its similarity to the Lindy hop, this form of swing is not executed in a contained area. Dancers can move from one side of the room to the other in a single move.
For those looking for swing that has fewer rules and is more open to freestyle, East Coast Swing and especially the Lindy Hop are the way to go.
Want to get in on this action? The Swing Lab is a four-week course held at Jane Witte's Dance Studio, 7030 S. Lewis Ave. Drag a partner along to participate in "Swinging Sundays" for just $5 per pop.
Classes are at 6pm every Sunday starting with beginning swing from 6-7pm. Participants learn the fundamentals of East Coast Swing and the Lindy hop. Since the classes are part of a series, attendees must attend the first week, especially if you are new to swing, in order to keep up with the class. The intermediate class from 7-8pm is for those who have already completed four weeks of the beginning class and want to improve style and musicality. Beginners are free to stay and watch because after the intermediate class, from 8-9pm, is free dance where dancers can practice what they've learned.
Mike and Joey Minick with support from Greg and Rita Robbins call themselves the "Nutty Professors" and instruct the class. Both couples have been dancing for about 10 years and teaching for four with the exception of Mike, who has been teaching for six years.
Greg and Rita first became involved in swing when they took a class to help improve their martial arts skills. Dancing helps with maintaining a steady rhythm and working together. They liked it so much that they decided to switch from martial arts to take on swing as a new hobby.
"It didn't hurt as much," said Rita.
Since then she has been in love with swing.
"It's fun to play with the music... Pick out an instrument in the music and dance to that instrument."
East Coast Swing used to be more popular in Tulsa; but since the closing of Cotillion (an old ballroom dance venue according to Rita) five years ago, there has been no place for young people to go. A good, clean place with consistency is what the Robbins were looking for when putting together The Swing Lab, which started in February of this year. The location, Jane Witte's Dance Studio, is where Rita takes tap lessons and Witte lets them rent the studio on Sundays.
For those interested in more practice, Rita also teaches an hour-long class at The Elks every second Friday of the month from 8-9pm with a free dance afterward until 11pm. You can either bring a partner or come alone.
For more information visit the Swing Lab's Web site at theswinglab.com or call Rita at 645-0691. You can also sign up to be on e-mail distribution lists from t_townswing@yahoogroups and ok-swing@yahoogroups.
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