The new world of swing dancing - interviews with students from Surf Coast Swing

Just over a year ago, 1929 Studios started a new scene of swing dancing on the Surf Coast in Torquay. Since then, many new students have joined Surf Coast Swing (SCS) and become passionate about swing dancing!

We asked several students to reflect on their experiences, adventures and challenges in the new world of swing dancing:

Alice (ecologist, international PhD candidate and surfer); Eliza (biologist, craftswoman and university student); Christine (semi-retired English teacher and mountain biker); and Corey (physicist, surfer and father)

Surf Coast Swing 1st birthday party (photo: Gyula Kraft)

Surf Coast Swing 1st birthday party (photo: Gyula Kraft)

1. What was your very first swing dance experience and how did you feel about it? 

Alice: I first heard about swing dancing from a friend who invited me to a swing dance Christmas party in Geelong. This was my very first swing dancing event, and it was super fun. Even though we didn’t really know what we were doing we still rocked the dance floor and made it up as we went along – which is what swing dancing was all about anyway! The music was also brilliant, and another reason why I decided to stick with swing!

Eliza: The promise of cheap drinks at the same Christmas swing dance party and good music of course got me into swing dancing. That party was awesome! I was a little nervous because I haven’t had the greatest experiences with other styles of dancing, and in general I have terrible timing and not the best coordination. The free beginner taster was enough to put me mostly at ease, and everyone was just so friendly, that it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I couldn’t wait to start dancing for real. 

Christine: I went to a swing dance wedding and loved the music and watching the dancing. They did a lesson for all the guests which was fun. After that I thought it would be a good thing to get into. I felt nervous about going to the first lesson at SCS but it was such a fun and supportive atmosphere I soon relaxed and had a great time.

Corey: I came to a lesson at SCS having already met a few of the people. I was a little nervous about being terrible, though everyone was so fun and chilled out that it really made it fun. A week later I went along to a blues event (not strictly swing) and was thrown in at the deep end. Everyone was amazing and so willing to share what they knew. I had such a memorable experience. Thank heavens it was dark because I had a lot to learn...

2. Did the last one year of swing dancing change your life in any way? 

Alice:  For sure. I’ve met loads of great people through swing dancing and feel part of a community. I have a pretty all-consuming job and it feels good to forget about it and just dance sometimes! Surf Coast Swing (SCS) is super inclusive and friendly, and the ethos of the group is to make everyone feel good about themselves and have fun no matter what level dancer they are.

Eliza: Yes, definitely. It’s such a great group of people, and I’m definitely more social because of it. I love our after-dancing-pub tradition at SCS. We also have some epic parties! Who wouldn’t want to swing dance until 5am? It’s also great exercise without feeling like exercise. 

Christine: Swing dancing has provided good social events mixing with fun and friendly people. I love being part of the swing community, having a feeling of belonging and something in common with other like-minded people. I think overall it has certainly enriched my new life style living on the coast.

Corey: It opened up a whole new world of fun and people to me, locally in Torquay and in Melbourne. I never imagined going to parties at people’s houses where they would clear the lounge room, put on amazing music and everyone would join in and dance. It felt like I had walked in on a movie set the first time. Now going along to social dance events is totally inspiring and I feel like I could be dancing for years and still just be scratching the surface.

First Students and their teachers* at Surf coast swing (From Left: Kylie, Christine, Eliza, Alice, Skye, LExi*, Michael*, Rochelle, Ondi and Marti (PHOto: Gyula KrafT)

First Students and their teachers* at Surf coast swing (From Left: Kylie, Christine, Eliza, Alice, Skye, LExi*, Michael*, Rochelle, Ondi and Marti (PHOto: Gyula KrafT)

3. How do you feel when you swing dance? 

Alice: Dancing is a great way to just forget the stressful things going on in your life and let go, and swing dancing in particular allows you to do that to great music and with great people.

Eliza: It’s just really fun. Probably the most fun activity I’ve tried. It also makes me laugh all the time, which is also extremely fun. The spinning and twirling can be pretty exhilarating, and it’s super rewarding when you and your partner pull off a complicated move.  

Christine: I love to dance as you can’t help but feel happy. It’s an active and healthy thing to be doing which is focused so that’s all you think about. I unintentionally retired from rock climbing which I was missing a lot. For me swing had provided a balance to my life and helped fill a gap.

Corey: I feel with swing dancing that you can just relax and be yourself and let that show, however dorky or odd it may be. Everyone seems to have their own style. I love the feeling of dancing with someone new, when a bit of anxiety fades into fun when you realise that people just enjoy dancing with you no matter what level you are at.

4. Do you remember your first big social dancing event as a beginner? What was it like?

Alice: I went to one of the Surf Coast Swing’s live music nights in Torquay, and remember being very nervous.  It’s pretty scary being up on the dance floor when you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing, and it took a few glasses of wine for me to relax!

Christine: First social dance at SCS was great as there were lots of people and it was a great atmosphere. It was great to watch people dance but I felt nervous about asking people to dance and didn’t get to practise enough which was my own fault!

Corey: My first real social swing dance was at Rugcutters. It was terrifying. I felt like I had accidentally walked in on a room full of international superstars. It was really great to go to the classes beforehand, and when I finally got the courage to ask someone to dance who was not from SCS I think they were more scared than I was! Going up and talking to experienced dancers and having them reassure me that everyone starts somewhere was really special.

5. Have you ever had an embarrassing moment while swing dancing?

Eliza: I do this all the time. Stepping on toes, slapping and elbowing people left and right! Not that often anymore (what a shame), but it happens. Luckily, no one cares, and it’s pretty funny! 

Christine: No embarrassing moments, so far, except trying to lead when I should be following.

Corey: The time I ran into some of sharpest dancers in the room, like five times in row... I guess you could call that embarrassing. Then deciding that I could probably dance an entire song of Shag if I tried, soon to realise that I only knew a single Shag move... Ow, and every time they film the class recaps and I'm dancing like a total dork in the background.

6. 1929 Studios organises many other classes in Melbourne (e.g. North Side Swing, Solo Jam, Speedy Sundays) and swing parties (e.g. Community Night at North Side Swing, Rugcutters). Are you going to any of these? Which one is your favourite and why?

Alice: I usually go to Community Nights at North Side Swing because these have a very relaxed and chilled atmosphere, where everyone is welcome from beginners to seasoned dancers. 

Christine: I went to Rugcutters for the first time this month and I had lots of fun! 

Corey: Rugcutters is my favourite, very helpful classes before social dancing, amazing location, dancers and style! I struggle most with the solo classes. I feel like Fred Astaire for about 60 percent of the routine and Hodor for the rest.

Jack and jill competition at surf coast swing (The 2nd place goes to Bonnie And Corey; PHoto: Gyula Kraft)

Jack and jill competition at surf coast swing (The 2nd place goes to Bonnie And Corey; PHoto: Gyula Kraft)

7. What are some of your goals for swing dancing?

Alice:  Just to keep on having fun with great people.

Eliza: To continue improving. I’m also learning how to lead now, so I really do need improvement in that area! I also need to work on my Shim Sham! 

Christine: My goals are to ‘get over myself’ and not feel uncomfortable or worried about asking people to social dance, otherwise I don’t get to practise which I need to do more. Also I have just started going to the intermediate class and my goal is to challenge myself more and not slip back and just do the beginners. I would like to get to more social dance events too.

Corey: I'd love to get more comfortable with Charleston, and to just feel like I could completely let go and not worry about what I did and didn't know. I think I have a little list of people I need to work up the courage to dance with too. Ow, and to get through an entire shag dance...

8. What inspires you to keep on dancing? 

Alice: The feeling of freedom when swing dancing is priceless, and you don’t quite get that with anything else! I always recommend SCS to my friends, and I’ve managed to get quite a few along!  

Eliza: New moves and styles that surprise and challenge me keep it interesting. I’m always trying to get people along to swing dancing. I just think everyone should be having as much fun as we are!

Christine: I keep dancing because it’s so enjoyable and active. I love the music, the social and supportive aspect of it. I do hope to inspire others especially older people in my age bracket.

Corey: The great social scene, and seeing just how amazing swing can look and feel. Every time I feel like I nail a move, even if it’s just once for the entire night it makes me smile and want to keep coming back.