Every weekend hundreds of college students in the Bay area are finding their way into dance halls to participate in the latest dance craze, swing dancing.
That’s good news for University of South Florida dance teacher, Debra Loran, who said it’s a trend that’s growing on college campuses and keeping her classes filled to capacity. Loran teaches a two-credit swing course at USF every Monday and Wednesday.
According to Loran, swing dancing, which originated in the 1940s, has never actually gone away. “It just reinvents itself every time a new generation gets a hold of it. The last big resurgence of the dance was in the 1990s which lasted a few years,” said Loran.
One of the longest, continuous running swing dances is just three blocks away from the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry campus. EverySunday from 8 p.m. to midnight, The Swing Gang of Tampa Bay hosts a swing dance at the Zendah Grotto Dance Hall, located at 4402 W. Ohio Ave.
The dance, which only costs $6 for students, has been held there every Sunday for the past 13 years. However, according to the class instructor, Fran Johns, the rise in attendance lately points to a larger resurgence than the last time. “We averaged less than a hundred students a week after it faded late 1990s,” said Johns. “Now we’re seeing a steady stream of students every Sunday, sometimes over three hundred. The biggest difference this time is they are coming everywhere, not just USF or HCC. Some are coming over from St. Petersburg and Clearwater; that wasn’t the case the last time.”
Beginners have figured out the best way to get past the jitter-bug-jitters is to show up early for the free dance lesson. Johns teaches the class, which includes the basic steps, every Sunday at 7 p.m.. “Towards the end of the class, we throw in some intermediate fun steps for the people that catch on quickly,” said Johns. “It’s also a bonus for those that come every week and want something extra.”
The recent resurrection of swing comes with fringe benefits. Meeting other students is one. Meeting a future dance partner is another. As an example Joseph Manarite, 22, and Elizabeth Smoak, 19, met each other at the Zenda Grotto a couple of years ago. “I’ve only missed like four dances since,” said Manarite. An experienced dancer, Manarite believes the most important thing is for new people not to be intimidated by the longtime dancers. “A lot of times if you ask the more experienced dancers for help, they’re more than willing to walk you through the steps,” said Manarite. His partner, however, said swing dancing has become her addiction. Smoak, a former volleyball athlete turned dancer, also said she enjoys the nostalgia that comes with it. “When you go out there and dance, it’s like your re-living the history of swing, which is very rich in American originality. Since I started, I’ve always been afraid this might fizzle out, but seeing the popularity of it now, well, I hope it doesn’t.”
Smoak may get her wish. According to Peter Waterson, a Double-Fellow of The Imperial Society of Dancing and a world-class adjudicator, swing dancing is on the rise again. Peter and his wife, Margaret, own and operate Come Dancing, a dance studio in South Tampa. According to Peter, college students now account for more than half of the attendance in their swing classes. “That’s an increase of over 50 percent from the previous year,” said Peter. “I see them practicing so often I often wonder when they have time to study. Oh, well, I’m not complaining.”
For those that want to catch the latest version of swing-fever before it goes away, stop on by the any of the local dance halls and try a beginner’s class. Who knows, you may become one of the hundreds of students in the Bay area that have learned what their mothers have known all along, but their dads will never admit: A way to a woman’s heart is through her feet. And in Tampa Bay, the way to a lot of women’s feet is by way of swing dancing!