Bloomington resident Kira Gartell initially attended IU Swing Dance Club 10 years ago as a date-night activity with her husband.
Now, Gartell attends lessons at IU as often as she can, spends weekends helping beginner swing dancers and has had her wedding dance choreographed by her instructors.
The IU Swing Dance Club, established in 1998, attracts students and non-students to listen to jazz music, exercise in a fun way and participate in the community created within the club. About 100 beginners and experienced dancers attended the club’s callout meeting in the Indiana Memorial Union Alumni Hall on Monday night.
“Anybody with rhythm can learn how to swing dance,” said senior Tim Pratt, volunteer coordinator for Swing Dance Club.
Though participants are welcome to wear any style of comfortable clothing, Pratt wore vintage trousers and suspenders at Monday’s lesson.
“This is what you'd typically see in a 1930s-40s swing dance ballroom scene,” Pratt said. “And I like being authentic when it comes to my getup.”
The club offers three consecutive sessions every Monday in the IMU: intermediate, beginner and open dance. Instructors from Indianapolis, and occasionally other states, teach the regular lesson series with new teachers each semester.
Two instructors from the Indianapolis swing dance organization Naptown Stomp taught participants the basics of the Lindy Hop, the most common style of swing dancing, at Monday's free lesson.
Dancers must attend at least one full semester of beginner lessons before being eligible to enroll in the intermediate series. Pratt said the lessons within each level build upon each other throughout the semester.
“You've kind of got to be here from the beginning,” Pratt said.
Gartell and other advanced members have started offering Saturday office hours in various classrooms to help beginners catch up on moves.
The club has about 80 members who are distinguished with green name-tags at lessons. Participation in the lesson series costs $50 for IU students, $60 for non-students and $15 for open dance sessions each semester. Lessons are free for volunteers.
To accompany its dancing, the club often employs live musicians from either Bloomington High School South or traveling groups. When live music is not an option, board members create playlists of traditional jazz music reminiscent of the 1920s and 1930s.
Last semester, a vintage jazz band from Denver, Colorado, named Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles stopped at the IU Swing Dance Club during their album tour.
Pratt said live music creates more engagement, especially among the dancers next to the stage.
“It's like there's a conversation happening between the two groups,” Pratt said.
IU Swing Dance Club President Erfan Sadeqi Azer beamed and bobbed his head as jazz music began playing at the beginning of the Monday callout.
“This excitement that you hear in the music, you don't hear that in other dances,” Azer said.
Though most swing dances are performed in pairs, the club does not require that participants come with a partner. Instead, the instructors encourage attendees to dance with as many partners as possible.
Greenwood resident Amanda Debusk attended Monday’s callout by herself after seeing the event on Facebook. Like many other beginners Monday, Debusk started the night standing alone with her eyes glued to her cell phone.
The apprehension on the dancers' faces wore away as the instructors called cues to rotate partners, prompting collective laughter and high-fives among strangers united through the social dance.
IU Swing Dance Club Secretary Marly Sow said after feeling welcomed by the swing community at IU, and in her hometown of Indianapolis, she is excited to look for a swing dance community when she travels to Spain this summer.
“Wherever you go, if you find a swing community, it will engulf you and make you feel like family,” Sow said.
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