Coming into my first term at York, I was so excited to join new societies and meet new people. But it was hard to know where to start, as York has over 200 societies. I left Freshers’ Fair with a handful of leaflets thinking, ‘how am I going to narrow these down?’ Swing Dance is the society that I ended up sticking with in the end, and I can’t recommend it enough.
What is Swing Dance?
The style of dance originated in Harlem in the 1920’s, when big bands were dominating pop culture. Swing dance is a broad term that covers a variety of partner dances, including Lindy Hop and Charleston. The term also includes some popular solo dances like the Shim Sham.
I’ve been a keen ballroom dancer for years but wanted to try something different. The Swing Dance Society had a free ‘Give It A Go’ session on, so I plucked up the courage to go. Hendrix Hall was completely packed with other Freshers’ ‘giving it a go’, which made for a pretty sweaty lesson. Because swing dance is a social dance, you get to dance with everyone in the room. This means you get to meet a bunch of new people straight off the bat.
What’s so great about it?
I went to a few other ‘Give it a Go’ sessions, but Swing Dance was the society that I stuck with all year. Both weekly sessions are on a Wednesday night, one after the other, with a social dance in the middle. The second class is a little trickier than the first, but it only builds on what you’ve already learned. I met loads of people who hadn’t danced before who loved going to both lessons. If you’re not too tired after that, everyone normally heads off to D-Bar afterwards to unwind.
The part that I found daunting for most of the year was the social dance. This is where you put your dancing skills to the real test! I’m used to routines being choreographed and practiced down to the last move, but with swing dance, the ‘leader’ is essentially choreographing the routine as you go. The ‘follower’ picks up on what the leader wants to do by following physical cues. I was so scared of messing up that I didn’t join in with this for quite a while! To get over my fear, I signed up for a Swing Dance Weekender.
What does a ‘Swing Dance Weekender’ involve?
These are basically entire weekends of swing classes taught by professionals from all over the world, coupled with social dances in the evening. Though it sounded intense, I thought it might help me to boost my dancing skills and make new friends. Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Hop is one of York’s own weekenders, and it happens around mid-February every year. Swing dancers from other universities come from across the country, from Leeds to Bristol.
The weekend kicked off with a social dance at York Central Methodist Church. This was the scariest bit of the weekend, as I still hadn’t done any social dancing at this point. But everyone who I danced with was very understanding, and I ended up having a lot of fun.
Come Saturday morning, a full day of lessons was ahead of me. Our teachers were so enthusiastic and helpful, and the lesson content was perfectly suited to all of us as newbies. Towards the end of the day, my legs were a little achy, but that didn’t deter me from going to the social dance that evening.
By the end of the weekend, I was thoroughly exhausted after around ten hours of lessons plus social dancing! But my confidence had improved massively, and I’d met loads of lovely new people.
No experience necessary
Even if a swing weekender sounds a bit intense, I can’t recommend Swing Dance Society enough if you’re looking to make friends as a Fresher! You don’t need any previous dancing experience; even with two left feet, you’ll have a great time.