Students take up swing

Queen’s swing dancers practice their craft in unexpected places, including nightclubs

According to the president of the Queen’s Swing Club, you can swing dance to Lady Gaga.
According to the president of the Queen’s Swing Club, you can swing dance to Lady Gaga.
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Chien-Shun Chen, Sci ‘12, dances with Swing Club president Jennifer Weiner to Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman” on Monday.
Chien-Shun Chen, Sci ‘12, dances with Swing Club president Jennifer Weiner to Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman” on Monday.
Photo: 

There are no mistakes in swing dancing, only new moves.

At least that’s how Jennifer Weiner, president of Queen’s Swing Club (QSC), sees it.

“That made me feel like you could dance and not feel insecure about it,” Weiner, ConEd ’12, said, adding that people are intrigued when they find out she’s a swing dancer.

“It’s funny, if you put it on resumes, people interviewing you will definitely ask you about it and it makes you memorable.”

Swing music is synonymous with the big band era of the 1930s and 40s, but Weiner said it’s easy to incorporate modern day music.

“It’s stuff like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong. But you totally can swing dance to a Lady Gaga song.”

Despite adapting to contemporary music, people often assume swing dance is outdated, Weiner said.

“People think that because the music is from the 20s or 30s or 40s that it’s not something they could relate to, but new moves are being created all the time,” she said, adding one of the reasons she enjoys swing dancing so much is because of the creativity involved.

Swing dancing requires two roles — a leader and a follower.

“When people are at the lesson, they choose whether they want to be a lead or a follow, then periodically we’ll rotate partners so people will get a chance to deal with a lot of different people,” she said.

Gender doesn’t matter in swing dancing partnerships, Weiner said.

“If girls want to lead and guys want to follow, that’s fine,” she said. “What’s cool about swing is that there are girls dancing with girls and guys dancing with guys — it’s a non-boundary setting dance.”

For Weiner, the QSC has offered a stress release over the last four years. She got involved in swing dancing because her older sister encouraged her to join the club.

“She was trying to ease my transition to university and she encouraged me to try swing dancing, which I would be more likely to do if I knew someone,” she said. “It was a great way to meet new people and it was a great community.”

Swing dance is easy to learn and the Swing Club offers

beginner lessons.

“It’s drop-in friendly. You could come to our lesson because we always start the meetings with the same basic steps,” Weiner said. “If you miss a week you’re not going to be at a disadvantage … I promise you anyone can learn how to swing dance.”

Swing dance has been present on Queen’s campus for more than a decade.

Other schools with swing dancing clubs include the University of Toronto, McMaster, Waterloo and McGill.

The Swing Club will be celebrating its 13th anniversary from March 16 to 18, Weiner said.

“We’re going to have lessons during the day of March 17 and a beginner lesson right before the main event, which is the 15-piece live jazz band,” she said.

The theme of this year’s anniversary weekend is masquerade.

“What’s exciting about the anniversary weekend is that alumni often like to come back to Kingston for that event.”

But the anniversary weekend isn’t the only opportunity for club members to dance in public.

Ryan Armstrong, the club’s head dance instructor, said members have engaged in Lindy bombing on campus — it refers to swing dancing in a place where it’s unexpected. The name Lindy bombing comes from the Lindy Hop, a dance that features footwork from the Charleston and tap dance.

“One of our big advertisements was Lindy bombing all around campus, that was how we got a lot of first years — we would go to residences and when they asked what we were doing, we gave them handouts,” Armstrong, ArtSci ’13, said.

Members also break out in dance in venues off-campus, Armstrong said.

“We do like to go out occasionally and swing dance where it’s not supposed to happen,” he said, adding that he’s even done so at Stages nightclub.

Armstrong said he likes to swing dance because it differs from the kinds of dancing that happens in night clubs.

“Swing dancing is one of those dances where you can have fun and not have anything sexual,” he said.

Armstrong himself wasn’t always a swing dancer though.

He used to participate in ballroom dancing, but found swing dancing more enjoyable.

“I love the energy of it because compared to ballroom it’s not as picturesque. It’s very energy-oriented,” he said.

Armstong’s favourite move in swing dance is the cross-hand Charleston, a dance that was popularized by flappers in the 20s, he said.

“It’s fun to do flashy moves now and then,” he said.

In addition to flashy moves, Armstrong said he enjoys pulling off aerial tricks, including the frog jump — when one person jumps over the other person’s head.

But aerial tricks aren’t the sole component of swing dance.

“People think it’s all aerials, especially when they see swing dancing in the movies. While I love aerials, you can’t do them forever,” he said.

“People don’t understand the actual dance part of it when you’re just on the ground with your partner doing the moves.”

Armstrong said he heard about the QSC in first year.

“A friend of mine convinced a bunch of us to go so we all went and checked out the beginner lesson,” he said. “I thought it was cool so I went back.”

This year, there are 10 members on the club executive and 50 to 60 club members in total.

The large number of participants is a plus as all dancers can improve from partner rotations, Armstrong said.

“When you dance with a specific partner all the time, you pick up all their bad habits,” he said.

“But when you switch it up, you adapt to your new partner and the things you were doing wrong before, you can fix, and your dancing becomes better.”

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