An eight-count for the underage kids

Deborah Hirsch

Clad in saddle shoes and vintage shirts, dancers pack the floor of the darkened club. The bouncer asks for IDs at the door – student IDs, to make sure everyone gets the student discount for swing night.

With more than 10 clubs hosting regular weekly or monthly open dance nights, Chicago is the place to be to satisfy serious underage swing addicts. But this is not your ordinary Gap commercial six-count swing. Now the related Lindy Hop and West Coast swing have emerged as new favorites for swing fanatics.

“I would definitely say Lindy is the dance of choice,” said Anthony Matlis, a fourth-year McCormick graduate student who has been teaching and organizing events for the NU Social Dance Club for the past three years. “Six-count swing was really popular, and then it just faded away.”

First developed in the 1920s, six-count East Coast swing was reintroduced to the dance world about 10 years ago. Most beginners start out with six-count because the basic steps are easier, but the fast tempo of the music restricts some advanced moves. Lindy Hop allows for more complicated improvisations thanks to an eight-count pattern that goes well with slower music.

West Coast swing is quickly becoming a new ballroom hit, with a difficult basic step that alternates between six and eight counts. The movements are all linear, as opposed to the circular travel of the Lindy Hop.

The popularity of Lindy Hop has encouraged many bars to offer swing nights for younger crowds. Some dance instructors have even created their own swing nights in private spaces to accommodate students, Matlis said.

“Before, there weren’t any all-ages places,” he said. “For NU kids that’s key. We have as many as 200 people taking our classes, but there was nowhere for them to dance.”

McCormick sophomore Angela Chew started taking dance lessons at NU last year and recently began exploring open swing dance options, even driving up to Milwaukee one weekend for the Knight of Columbus live band swing night the first Friday of every month.

Speech junior Natalie Hirt recommended Java Jive at the University of Chicago for beginners seeking an informal place to dance.

“You can dance every song no matter what level you are,” Hirt said. “Chicago has a bunch of people on all different levels. It just makes you want to dance more, and it’s so much fun.”

Hirt heads to a monthly swing event with live bands at Logan Square Auditorium in Chicago for a more sophisticated night of dancing. The crowd is a mix of beginners and accomplished dancers, and she said almost everyone dresses up to fit in with the classy atmosphere.

Matlis and Hirt agreed that Willowbrook Sunday night swing events are worth an hour-long drive to Joliet, if even just to see the huge dance floor – one of six authentic 1920s ballrooms in the country.

For those who would rather dance closer to campus, the NU Social Dance Club offers free open ballroom dancing, including swing, every other Friday at Kendall College. Having a place to swing dance closer to home might also encourage people taking lessons to get out and try what they learned, Matlis added.

“It’s a great way to meet people who also love jazz and love to express their love of the music through dance,” he said. nyou