Swing! Swing! Swing!
Students ring the walls of Loose Lounge while a jazzy song resonates through the sweltering room. A pair of students, Alex Exarhos and Huiting Liu (both '10), stands with joined hands in a small area cleared of their peers. Suddenly they begin, mirroring each other through a few basic steps that transition into more complicated moves. Exarhos leads Liu effortlessly through twirls as she slides expertly around him, all the while explaining the moves to a rapt audience. Then the crowd pairs off, and students triple-step with either awkward laughs or easy grace.
This Monday night marks the first meeting of the year for the Grinnell College Swing Society. Over the year, Huiting and Alex will teach styles of swing ranging from the Jitterbug and East Coast Swing to the Lindy Hop. The Swing Society has been around for years, and is one of the largest student organizations on campus--the night I attend, upwards of 60 students crowd the dance floor, but it is a number that Huiting judges to be, "quite manageable."
With a mailing list of more than 500, student interest is unquestionable. Within the last few years, the popularity of swing and ballroom dancing in general has exploded across the nation, partly in response to TV shows such as Dancing With the Stars, as well as movies like Take the Lead and Mad Hot Ballroom.
So what, exactly, gets students out onto the dance floor every Monday night? The reasons I hear range from stress-relief to a pure love of the moves.
"At first, for me," Exarhos explains, "swing was a substitute physical activity for soccer, because I was injured and couldn't play." Within the swing society, he found a strong sense of community, and he decided to stick around. A good thing, too--after dancing for less than a year, he has already earned the instructor title.
His co-instructor, Liu, has been on the scene a little longer. "Swing was the first club I joined here, and I've been dancing for two years." She spent one year as a regular member, and another with the organizing and advertising portions of the club. Liu worked as part of the Grinnell College Swing Exchange, which enables students to attend swing festivals sponsored by other clubs, such as the Hawkeye Swing Festival in Iowa City. At these festivals, students learn from certified instructors as opposed to other students. In addition, the Swing Exchange brings instructors to campus and hosts workshops open to all students.
"It's good clean fun," quips Matthew Scharr '08, a new alumnus who dropped in to the open dance while visiting campus. A former instructor himself, Scharr attributes Swing Society's popularity to both its substance-free quality and the spontaneous, non-choreographed nature of swing. "I don't think other forms of ballroom can compare. It's really heartwarming to know that it's still going strong."
Reed Nightingale '11 and Michelle Fournier '09 swing to live music in Harris -- Grant Dissette '12