Swinging into Red Deer

The nostalgic era of circle skirts and bow ties was revived last weekend when swing kids of all ages came to Red Deer to jitterbug and Lindy hop to live band music.

The nostalgic era of circle skirts and bow ties was revived last weekend when swing kids of all ages came to Red Deer to jitterbug and Lindy hop to live band music.

Up to 70 dancers from across Alberta showed off their agility and athleticism at a swing-dance celebration on Friday and Saturday. It was presented by non-profit community dance groups Let’s Swing Red Deer and Edmonton’s Alberta Inspiration Weekend at leased space at Dance Traxx Studio (4716-60th St.)

Swing dancers of all skill levels, and those who’d like to try it, donned vintage duds and came on down.

A note to the uninitiated: Those elaborate swing-your-partner-‘round-your-shoulders, between-your-legs, or across-your-torso moves are not to be attempted lightly …

In fact, Karen Carle, a co-founder of Let’s Swing Red Deer said these showboaty moves are actually too dangerous for the dance floor, since the haphazard swinging of partners could injure fellow dancers.

“This is not for beginners or the social dance floor. These are mesmerizing moves, but they are for performances,” she said.

Exuberant swing dancing has been embraced by a college-aged generation turned on to its fun athleticism and social benefits by movies such as Swing Kids (1993). The Internet is full of jaw-dropping videos of competitive young couples flipping each other all over gymnasiums in their quest to bring a trophy home.

But Carle stressed the pressure is definitely not on in Red Deer. “The key to it is just relaxing and being in a good mood …”

This kind of dancing is more about feeling than technique. It’s about internalizing the pulse and the beat of swing music — those upbeat, horn-heavy tunes popularized by Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. “It’s all in the beat. It’s about bouncing and having fun,” said Carle, who noted more seasoned dancers will improvise their own moves.

The most popular of swing dances is the Lindy hop (reputed to be named for Charles Lindberg). It came out of the 1920s jazz culture of Harlem, N.Y. This high-energy fusion of many dances, including tap, breakaway and the Charleston, was at its height in the late 1930s, early 1940s.

Combining improvisational elements of African-American dances along with the formal eight-count structure of European partner dances, the main Lindy step is the swingout. Dancers go from being close together in a waltz position to being far apart, connected by just one hand in the open position.

“The Lindy hop is really an amazing dance. It was the precursor to the jitterbug,” said Carle. Anyone who’s seen boogie-woogie 1940s dancers, or 1950s youths jiving to early rock ‘n’ roll will get the jitterbug’s care-free, anything-goes vibe.

Let’s Swing Red Deer was started last September by Carle, with help from two Edmonton-area dancers, including former Red Deerian Darryl Glen. Carle said she loves big band music and “the joy of dancing.” Having recently moved to Red Deer from Calgary, she was looking for a fun activity she could do with others.

Starting a swing dance club was a natural choice. You don’t need to come with a partner, she said — singles are paired up, and dancers rotate partners throughout the evening.

“They told me, ‘If you build it they will come,’” recalled Carle, and they are. She estimates about 150 people have attended Let’s Swing Red Deer events. There are about 30 core dancers, including some teachers who enjoy training newbies.

“Everybody can dance,” proclaimed Carle. “With some people, it takes a little longer, but if you stick with it … (you) can become a beautiful dancer.”

For more information, please call 1-403-835-1284, or check out the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/letsswingreddeer.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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