“So what kind of dancing do you do?” my grandmother asked me when I visited her for lunch one day this past summer. “Swing,” I tell her again and then try to explain a little better. “Like Lindy Hop, or the Charleston.”
“Oh,” she said. “I used to do those.” She’s surprised, of course, because a year ago if she’d talked to me about swing dancing, I would have said, “No way doll, you’re not getting me to flash my feet on the dance floor.” You know those kids in high school who just stand against the wall at prom, arms crossed, glaring at all their friends making fools of themselves with their crazy rave moves? Yeah, I was one of those kids. Wouldn’t even sway to music for a free iPod.
I tried to break out of that once I got to Grinnell. They had this club called the Grinnell Swing Society. Okay, cool. Went to one meeting, tried it out, felt like an idiot, and never went back.
Until the next year, when I promised myself I wouldn’t quit. I needed to challenge myself, and getting over my fear of public embarrassment seemed as big a mountain as any to start on. I went to every single class and still felt like a fool, but I had a whole lot of fun feeling like one.
Then it happened. I got addicted.
And gosh darn, it’s all Grinnell’s fault.
But let’s shim-sham this story back a bit. The leaders of the Swing Society were always urging members to attend swing exchanges. It’s a chance to visit someplace fun and dance with new people, they said. Each place has its own sense of dancing. Yeah right, I thought. Swing is swing is swing, and there’s only so many moves you can learn.
But then, with this new addiction running through my veins, I went to my first exchange. And boy, was I a million times wrong. It wasn’t completely different, of course, but the boys threw in quite a few moves I didn’t know. “Dude, show me that again,” I’d say, and they would, and I’d show my Grinnell friends, and we’d come back to campus with a sweet new move.
And that’s how you learn to swing dance. You visit places. You pick up their new moves.
The best part: you make a bazillion new friends.
I went home to Madison over the summer desperate to keep dancing. Now Madison’s not very far from Grinnell, but I still encountered some new moves I’d never seen before. By the end of the summer, my style had melded into a mixture of Grinnell and Madison. Grinadison Swing. And then, come August, I moved to London for the semester.
When you visit various countries, the differences invariably stick in your head, be it foods, clothing styles, or even television commercials (British commercials make no sense!). When I flew into the old Swing Capital of the World, what I noticed, it seems, was their difference of dance. Behind the back? I’ve never done that before. And what’s with all these aerials? But hey, these are kinda fun. I guess I can figure them out.
Grinnell Swing Girl Becomes Grinnell-Madison-London Swing Girl … Grinadon Swing Girl.
While swing dancing started in the United States, over the century it has spread to the entire world. In each place I visit, I learn a new move and meet new friends. What I learned in a small town in Iowa opened up a whole new Aladdin-and-his-magic-carpet world for me, a whole new bit of culture I can search out and find wherever I go. Sweet.
Molly Rideout '10 is an English major and Gender and Women's studies concentrator from Madison, Wisconsin.