Imagine the famous La La Land hit ‘A lovely night’ but with hectic improvisations and a whole room rhythmically clapping at a jazz solo dancer. These and other fantastic scenes I have witnessed since I joined the Durham University Swing Society (or DUSS), and I am now madly, and desperately, in love with it. So here for you Garance Zinzen, founder of the society, to find out why you should absolutely get involved.
Why do you think people should choose swing over other forms of dancing?
There are scientific reasons (e.g. improvised partner dancing helps with physical and brain health), but those are a bit boring and can easily be found on Google so I’ll talk about the non-scientific reasons instead.
Swing is an African-American vernacular jazz dance which emerged in the 1920s in Harlem, New York. As such, it is based on traditions of African dances which focus on rhythm and community dancing. Community is therefore built into the core of the dance and since swing is a social dance, its improvisational nature means that you don’t have to stress about doing the right step. Being involved in the swing community also helps you to become a better person – the more you learn about the dance and its roots, the more you learn about race, gender, and politics. Particularly, at DUSS, we try to emphasise things like the importance of the history of the dance and cultural awareness.
The swing community is unlike any other dance community in the world. If you’re looking for an incredibly social society to join, then a swing dance society is the way to go! There’s a story of a girl who spent a year travelling the world and never had to pay for accommodation: she would stand at the airport she had arrived in holding up a sign which read ‘lindy hop?’ and another dancer would always come up and offer to help her out!
Why do you think this is the moment to join the society?
Oh my gosh, we have so many plans! We’ve already run a beginner-friendly weekend festival and we have plans for two more (Wear Shagging All Weekend in February and Summer Swing in June). Every December, we have our annual Weekend Away, where we hire out a whole hostel in the middle of nowhere and do activities together – beyond just dancing! On a more regular basis though, we have weekly Sunday classes and fortnightly Tuesday classes, and we have our regular Tuesday social, Library Stomp! We also regularly travel to other festivals and events around the UK.
What kind of environment do you strive to create for members?
An environment in which everyone feels welcome and able to express themselves through dancing. One of our mantras is ‘there is no such thing as a mistake, it’s all a variation’, and I feel that sums up nicely what our classes are like. We do a lot of work on safe spaces and ensuring that everyone feels comfortable the whole time they are at DUSS.
Do new members need dancing experience to join?
Absolutely not! Most of our members had never done any kind of dance before joining. We’ve had so many people claim they have two left feet, then they come along to a class and they’re able to social dance by the end.
What is your advice for people wanting to try it out?
Don’t be scared to come along! All of our beginners classes are run as drop-ins so if you are worried you’ve missed content – don’t be! We also pride ourselves on being a super welcoming society and run fortnightly socials, so if you’re not sure about whether you want to join, come to The Library Bar on Tuesdays every fortnight.
By Claudia Sterbini