You're probably thinking "Swing dance lessons? What is this, 1997?" Yes, it's been a few years since the swing craze swept the nation, but swing is alive and well every Tuesday night in DC. B learned to swing dance in LA at the height of swingmania and, at every wedding we go to, he tries to swing me around the floor while I cling on for dear life hoping the song will end quickly.
When it came time to write my 30 Before 30 list, I decided to add "take a beginner's swing dance lesson" so that I can keep up with my fancy footed husband. Some quick Googling led me to The Jam Cellar, an every Tuesday swing dancing event in a gorgeously restored 18th century mansion overlooking Meridian Hill Park.
The Jam Cellar offers a free lesson every Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. If you want to stay for the main event, a DJ-led dance at 9:00 p.m., it will only set you back $6. If you really want to get into the swing of things, you can sign up for a 4-week set of lessons for $50 (includes dance admission).
Of all the things on my 30 list, I was perhaps most nervous about this swing dance lesson. Sure, I fly through the air on the trapeze without fear, but I get really nervous about partner dancing.
The lesson was taught by Andy, who immediately put me at ease with his easy-to-follow explanations and carefree attitude. Right when I was feeling pretty good, Andy announced that we'd be partnering up. No problem, I thought. I can dance terribly with B and it won't be so bad. After a quick spin with B, Andy announced we would be switching partners. Wait, what!? Apparently this is standard partner dancing lesson protocol, but I'm glad I didn't know about it before the lesson. I probably never would have gone in. Luckily, the other partners were great sports (and about as new at this as I was), and we had fun fumbling our way through the steps until it resembled something like dancing. Each time I took a turn with Andy, I just grabbed on tightly and let him swing me around a lot. I think once or twice I even put my feet in the right place!
Our 30 minute lesson turned into an 60 minute lesson as Andy taught us variations on the basic steps. Not bad for a free class! By the end, I felt confident enough to head upstairs to the big kids' dance and fumble my way through a couple of songs.
Every time that I'm totally freaked out by something and force myself to try it, I end up glad that I did it. The same is true for dancing at The Jam Cellar. The atmosphere was welcoming and the price was right. I may never be ready for primetime, but you may find me on Tuesday nights at The Jam Cellar, stepping on B's toes in the corner of the room.
Second Thoughts from B
To be perfectly clear, J's tongue is firmly planted in her cheek when she referred to me as her "fancy footed husband." While I'm not completely oafish, I'm far from comfortable on a dance floor. Rhythm, much less impromptu movement that some would call dancing, doesn't come naturally to me. Perhaps that is why I like swing dancing. I know just enough to feel comfortable, and as long as I follow the script, I'm passable.
There was a window of time when swing dancing and the related culture was cool. The movies Swingers and Swing Kids coincided with popular music inspired by 1930's big band. Zoot suits, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra were regularly found at parties. And during all of this, any guy willing to learn a few basic steps would have no shortage of attractive girls asking him to go dancing every Friday night. I was in college at this time, and needless to say, I went to my fair share of bars, clubs, and rec halls that were cashing in on the swing dancing fad. However, by the time I met J, the national fascination in swing had faded, and my one advantage on the dance floor was lost.
Much to my surprise and delight, J added swing lessons on her 30 before 30 list. Immediately, I had visions of grandeur. Like Jon Favreau's Mikey, I'd shock everyone with my slick moves and sweep J (playing the part of a young Heather Graham with ease) off her feet. I was sadly mistaken.
Within the first minute of our lesson I knew I was in trouble as our instructor taught us a completely different version of swing as the one I knew in my previous life. Now I found myself stepping on toes, counting out loud to stay on beat (with minimal success), and apologizing to everyone who had the misfortune of being partnered with me.
But we muddled through with our supportive instructor and more than a few gracious dancing partners. At the end of the night, we left this beautiful dance space with our egos mostly intact and a new hobby to cultivate together. Not bad for a Tuesday night.