WEST COAST SWING"Swing Kids" Take Over

by Michael A. Harvey

In San Francisco 250 "Swing Kids" now rule at the Metronome, pushing West Coast Swing dancers into the smaller Block Party room. On Sunday night in Atlanta 800 "20-Somethings" are packed into Masquerades, known for its alternative bands, mosh pits, tatoos, and body piercings. The Park Service in Washington, D.C. has imposed and enforced "capacity limits" of 1200 at the Glen Echo Ballroom. It’s happening all over the nation in Phoenix, Cleveland, Vancouver, Jacksonville, and Austin. In Dallas Swing Kids dance four nights per week at The Cavern Club, Sons of Herman Hall, The Jet Lounge, The Red Jacket, The Sand castle, and at The Velvet Hammer. Apparently in reaction to the Grunge movement, Swing Kids are cleaning up, dressing up, coloring up, and DANCING!

Guys dressed in white shirts, ties, and suspenders feel their masculinity as they are in control of the ride. Girls decked out in low cut, colorful dresses and fishnet stockings enjoy the physical attachment. Sweat is very much a part of it all. The guys are not working hard enough unless shirttails are danced right out of their pants. There is a certain romanticism involved in the whole process, a romanticism very much lacking in the "slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am" culture these kids were raised in.

The first thing to know about the Swing Kids is that Technique is never an issue. And actually dancing to the beat is only a minor issue. Teaching each other, taboo in West Coast Swing circles, is also a very big part of the whole craze. These kids do not want to stand in silence and obediently listen to a lecture. Sharing what they think they know, even if it’s probably wrong, is perfectly OK. Everyone is unbelievably comfortable within a framework of complete mayhem. And what a blast they are having!

It’s eerie that Swing Kids find refuge in a World War culture, a culture most of us have no knowledge of, embracing 30’s and 40’s music. But the music may be the fad’s Achilles Heel. Can the Big Band sound, so great, innovative, and essential to all the improvisational styles of music around today, truly sustain itself anew? Unlike West Coast Swing which finds accents, breaks, and texture to express in many contemporary sounds (r & b, soul, jazz, funk, etc.), the fast paced music Swing Kids rely on simply provides a rhythmic road to drive upon.

With chests pumped, full of testosterone, the guys are in charge. The girls don’t care where or how they are thrown about, they are just thrilled that a guy is dancing them and adore the effort no matter how inept. Crashing into each other is par for the course, reminding us Floorcrafters of something akin to slam dancing with partners. Critical is the act of "being connected at the hands" as it opposes the Freelance dancing of their parents and the solitary Hip-Hop dancing of their peers. But the "feel of connection," the pivot point of West Coast Swing, has absolutely no meaning. Nevertheless, touching is like totally awesome to the max, man!

Is this unsophisticated dancing? No doubt about it, it certainly is. But who amongst us would look down from an Ivory Tower and pooh-pooh something that’s creating so much joy. Watching these hordes of Swing Kids you have to know a certain percentage will continue their dancing education and eventually make it into West Coast Swing. And that’s really, really good. But the bottom line: Who cares? These kids are doin’ it their own way, without us adults!

It’s happening in your town too. And it’s worth the trip to watch. It’s incredibly refreshing to see people enjoying dancing while breaking almost every West Coast Swing rule in existence. It gives me great pause for reflection: maybe we are all taking this West Coast Swing thing a little too seriously!