Swinging with my two left feet

The swingin' neophytes take their first steps.

I recently made the unsavory discovery that I can’t dance. Despite my many attempts to pop-lock-and-drop-it, I have never been quite able to conquer the movement. But, as swing dancing is an entirely different form of physical self-expression from the kind usually displayed at Wednesday night Toad’s, I figured maybe, just maybe, I would finally succeed in mastering an activity of the rhythmic variety. I thought wrong. I would now like to take the opportunity to issue my sincerest apologies to the poor souls who had the misfortune to dance with me.

Despite my utter failure, I had an incredible time learning the basics at the first session of Yale Swing and Blues’ Intro to Swing dance classes this past Thursday. As a complete novice to swing dancing, I was thrown into the deep end with what one of my classmates called the “hardest move EVER,” a fundamentally important and deceivingly difficult six-step routine.

At the beginning of class our instructors, chemistry student Anne Carroll GRD ’18 and Dan Rathbone ’14, assembled us into a big circle. They had us pretend to swallow a bowling ball, in order to lower our center of gravity and to assume a good dancer’s posture. We then began to learn the steps — the perfect one, “twooo,” triple step and “throw the Frisbee,” one by one. Along the way, Carroll and Rathbone would explain the science behind a particular step, something I found incredibly helpful. I particularly loved Carroll’s explanation of dancer physics: “A follow in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an outside lead.”

“Dancer Physics” became especially important when it came down to learning both the following and leading parts of the dance. I was thrown off guard by the continual changes of lead and discovered that I have immense difficulty telling my left from my right. My confused feet were set straight, however, by one of my fellow dancers who kindly reminded me that, when following, one always starts with the right foot.

While I was an utter failure as a ballroom dancer, some of my classmates were quite talented. Following a strong lead was immense fun, and when I wasn’t leading, we actually looked like we knew what we were doing. Apparently, I am a better follower than I am a leader. I hope that this skill will come in handy one day, when my knight in shining armor comes and sweeps me off my feet with his impeccable ballroom dancing skills.

A good swing dancer is, lamentably, a rather unusual thing to find, so I was curious how my instructors came to be involved. Carroll was first exposed to the dance with Emory University’s Swing and Blues dancing club, but said she “really learned out in the bigger [swing] community.” Rathbone also credits this communal interest for his love of dance.

“I came for the dancing and stayed for the people,” he quipped.

Every Sunday, Yale Swing and Blues hosts a practicum at the Slifka Center, where people in the community come together and swing. According to both Carroll and Rathbone, this is “really where you learn to dance.” Although my skills are limited and I may have two left feet, I know where I will be this Sunday night. I hope to see you there.

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