Since 1998, the Notre Dame Swing Club has taught students across the tri-campus. Today club president Ryan Mantey alongside vice presidents Anna Schmidt and Megan Sherry teach an hour-long lesson three days a week on the jazz-inspired social dance and some of its derivatives: East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop and Charleston.
Less formalized than Old World ballroom dancing, swing dance developed out of the Harlem Renaissance, Schmidt said. The accompanying music can totally vary.
“It’s actually a deeply African American dance and it has spread across the country,” she said. “Social dancing is really big in Europe so ballroom dancing there is popular, [but] swing is a little bit more loose.”
The easiest swing style to learn is east coast, the club executives agreed. If “you’ve ever seen old people” swing dancing, Schmidt said, it’s likely west coast. This year, the club is focusing on Lindy Hop, the original style of swing dancing.
“Lindy Hop requires a lot of energy,” Schmidt said. “It’s the historical young people’s dance. If you’ve seen swing dancing aerials, where people are getting thrown around, that’s a Lindy Hop.”
The club meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. in the Smith Center and at 6 p.m. Thursdays in “The Rock.” After an hour of instruction, there’s a second hour for open dance.
“Much of the actual learning happens when we have our open dance,” Schmidt said. “We play music, and you dance with people — like that’s pretty much all that happens — and you get really comfortable with it.”
It can be intimidating to pick up social dance without prior exposure, Schmidt added. The typical club meeting, about a handful of couples, provides a relaxed environment for twisting and turning.
“I first learned [how to social dance] here at swing club a year ago and now I’m teaching,” she said. “You get close with everyone that you’re working with, you learn everyone’s dance style and everyone feels really comfortable asking us questions. It’s not like you’re in a huge group.”
In social dances like swing, there is a lead and a follow. Basic moves incorporated specific footwork routines and maybe a spin thrown in the middle, but Schmidt said it’s important not to get too caught up on these details.
“[Experts] talk of swing dancing as a sort of language, where the lead is speaking, and the follow is listening. Your dancing is quite literally a form of communication,” Schmidt said. “The footwork is sort of secondary to the communication you have going on. You’re usually connected at each of your hands.”
Mantey underscored this fondness for communication between dance partners through tension and pressure, and through the ways each partner maintains his or her frame and follows through on momentum.
“Even slight shifts [in pressure] tell my follow, ‘I want to go forward, or I want to go back.’ I raise my hand and that’s an invitation to a turn of some kind,” Mantey said. “The structures and the footwork patterns get to be swept away […] you really do focus on just rocking, communicating with your partner.”
The swing dancing club puts together a signature dance every semester. Last weekend, the club held their fall dance in the LaFortune Student Center ballroom.
“Though we don’t have a competition, that’s kind of like our big event that we do so people can come and get to do everything they’ve learned,” Schmidt said.
Because of a variety of converging factors, according to Schmidt, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for clubs to reserve space on campus through the Student Activities Office (SAO) for dances, even with a priority request.
“We don’t have a location for a spring dance. [SAO] told us they couldn’t do it for us,” Schmidt said. “We have to go find an outside venue now and we don’t know how we’re going to do that. Dorm dances have a proud history. That one’s fine, but there are some things where I’m like ‘we’re a social dance club, please get this priority!’”
Contact Peter Breen at firstname.lastname@example.org.