The Extras: Swingin’ Away

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Photo booth shenanigans with some of Brown’s Swing Club members!

Hello, Brunonian family! I’m Jacklyne Vargas, nice to meet you all *insert imaginary handshakes here*! I’m here to be your compass (well, that sounds heavy, doesn’t it?) in everything extracurricular here at Brown. If you’re reading this,  you are a magnetic force of your own and I’m simply helping you figure out what attracts you. In all The Extras, in all the magnetic forces here at Brown, you can easily be pulled in countless directions, but I’m here to help! If anything, we’ll go crazy together…

Now that we’re in the very middle of November, all you prospectives must be going through the college application struggle #thestruggleisreal.

While you’re deciding what university you’re going to apply to, you definitely want to factor in extracurricular activities offered. If they take up much of your time and effort during your high school years, you want to make sure you at least like the options available at the school you’ll spend the next four years of your life at!

Extracurriculars are an amazing opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, try something new, hone your talents, de-stress, meet interesting individuals and even make new friends!

This week, the interesting extra featured below is…

…Brown’s Swing Club!

Here to tell you all about Swing Club and her experiences there is Kara Hartig ’18!

1. How did you become involved in the club? What drove you to remain in the Swing Club after the initial encounter/first time?

I actually started Swing dancing years ago in my hometown of Boulder, CO. My mother is an excellent dancer and did a lot of social ballroom-style dance out of college and, after retiring about 10 years ago, decided to get back into it. I went with her to a beginner’s lesson in 6-count swing at a local ballroom and was hooked almost from the get-go. I loved the idea of an improvised dance, which lets you dance with people who may have learned a totally different set of steps by becoming attuned to non-verbal cues like shifts in body position and weight distribution. Fast-forwarding a bit, I came to campus for ADOCH in April and saw the Swing club jamming out on the Main Green, which helped me pluck up the courage to talk to them at their Activities Fair booth. The first lesson was impressively crowded (we had well over 100 people, I believe), but now that the numbers have settled a bit I’m really getting to know my fellow Swing-ers, the long-time members and new dancers alike, and I love their energy and enthusiasm and all-inclusive approach to dancing.

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Swing Club’s first beginner lesson of the 2014-2015 school year

2. What sort of individuals are drawn to the club? (Or if there are a spectrum of people in the club, elaborate on that). And what type of environment do the members create in the club itself?

Swing Club is a very casual, friendly group of people. Since not everyone can make every lesson, the social group around Swing is very fluid, absorbing new people as they crop up. The club itself also makes an impressive effort to make everyone who attends the lessons feel included in the social circle. Since we don’t always have a dancing venue on Thursdays, the Swing Board plans events like Milkshakes at Johnny Rocket’s, Halloween Trick-or-Treating, and movie nights in addition to Saturday dance events every couple of months. We’re all new both to dancing and to each other at beginner lessons, so people are really good about being encouraging and friendly. We make an effort to remember everyone’s names (most of us forget within about 10 seconds of hearing them, but Swing people are really chill about that, too). Every Monday, we do a “Birthday Circle”, where everyone who’s had a birthday gets into the middle of a circle, they put on some awesome Swing music, and people from the circle move in to dance with the birthday people in turns while everyone else claps along.

3. Can you describe the Swing Club dance lessons themselves?

I always love to talk about the dancin’ :D. Lessons are an hour long Monday and Thursday nights followed by another hour of open, social dance. Since we’re expecting newbies to show up at every lesson, there are always a set of instructors who take anyone who’s never done Swing before or even just needs a refresher out to a separate room to go over the basics in what is basically a totally free private lesson, which is awesome. For the rest of the group, we do a warm-up for the first five minutes or so (especially now that we’ve started 8-count Lindy Hop, which has a slightly more complicated basic step than the 6-count Swing) in which the group is split between leaders (traditionally, although certainly not always — we’re at Brown, remember — males) and followers and we follow instructors as they go through a few repetitions of the basic step and its variations. The next 10 minutes are for review of the basic steps or simple moves, sometimes the material from the previous lesson, with a partner. Throughout the partnered part of the lesson, we rotate partners every couple of minutes, which helps everyone get to know each other and is generally a really great learning experience, particularly for beginners. After the review, the instructors start teaching new steps one at a time, which generally involves them dancing an example, then walking through each move step-by-step both verbally and physically. We try the new move a few times and the instructors have us stop after each repetition to give suggestions and help trouble-shoot. Generally, a single lesson will be cumulative, building up a move in the beginning and then teaching a few variations and extensions which sometimes go on into the next lesson. Thankfully, this means that it’s no biggie if you miss a lesson, because as long as you’ve learned the basic step you’ll probably be starting a totally new move each lesson!

4. What exactly is Swing Club’s presence in the Brown community? Any details about the events/parties Swing Club holds throughout the year?

Since Swing is a social dance, which means that, in addition to being awesome in its own right, Swing is both totally improvised and danced in a social setting where you get the chance to meet and dance with a lot of different people all of whom have a distinct style, we don’t really choreograph performances, per se. We do, however, hold community dances in addition to lessons on Saturdays every month or two. These events are totally free and generally feature live Big Band or Jazz music.  If you’re interested in checking out our events or just generally keeping up-to-date with Brown Swing Club news, you can email our illustrious president Luke Perez (luke_perez@brown.edu) or like our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/brownswingclub).

5. Does Swing Club participate in any dance events outside of the Brown community? If so, can you elaborate on these and what they entail?

We have a lovely club member, the Off-Campus Events Chair, who is very in-touch with the wider Providence dance community and takes a group of students out to Providence Swings, a local swing scene that holds a weekly “Bread and Butter Dance”, on Thursdays that we go to whenever we can!  With a student ID it costs $2. Our biggest off-campus event of the year, however, is the Boston Tea Party, a nationwide Swing conference and weekend of workshops taught by some of the best instructors with dancing to live music and amazing swing DJs. The event is March 19-22nd, the first weekend of Spring Break.

6. What makes Swing Club special/stand out among other groups or dance groups on Brown’s campus?

What makes Swing really special is the social dance aspect. You can come to as few or as many lessons as you like and still feel capable of dancing with new people at every Swing event. Improvised dance provides a unique opportunity to be creative and inventive with dance, where you can make up your own moves and variations or learn new ones from everyone that you dance with. It’s a very flexible, lively form of dance that leaves a lot of room for spontaneity if you want it but has enough structure to accommodate the less confident dancer as well.

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Two of Brown Swing Club’s swanky swingers

7. Though this can be widely interpreted/responded to: why should students become involved in Swing Club? (You can share your personal experience, if you want)

Aside from being a great way to meet loads of awesome, quirky new people, Swing Club is good exercise, features music from some of the most lively and inspired musical traditions in America and abroad, and improves your posture. I’m not understating that last one, social dancing is probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my spine. It’s also a really supportive environment for building physical confidence. EVERYONE screws up, leaders and followers alike, in Swing dancing (anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, I guarantee you), so the community is incredibly supportive in helping people to improve and build up confidence in their abilities.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences, Kara!

Brunonian bear hugs,

Jackie

Don’t hesitate to leave any questions, comments, frustrations, tirades, rants, chocolates, inquiries or suggestions (I’d love your input) either below or in my email,  jacklyne_vargas@brown.edu! I’m seriously excited to interact with you all… Seriously. Have a delightful day!

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