Lancaster University Swing Dance Society’s Swingtoberfest!

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Weekend festivals, or ‘weekenders’, are a massive part of the swing dance social scene. They are fantastic opportunities to polish your skills with two days of classes led by internationally renowned teachers, plus social dancing evenings where you can put all the new steps you have learnt into practice. Swingtoberfest is Lancaster’s first swing dance festival, which was held on 20th-22nd September 2019 at Lancaster University. The event was organised by the Lancaster University Swing Dance Society and Lancaster Lindy Circle, which make up Lancaster’s swing dance hub.

Swing dance is an improvised partner dance that emerged during the jazz age in 1920s-1940s America. Dances within the swing style include Lindy Hop, Charleston, Collegiate Shag, and Balboa. Swing originated in African American communities when people of colour were denied access to ballrooms. It is now a popular dance style all over the world, appealing to lovers of vintage culture and dance enthusiasts alike.

I have been dancing for a year, and Swingtoberfest was my first swing dance weekender. I wanted to improve my dance skills, experience more social dancing, and learn more about the UK swing dance scene. A weekender right on my doorstep was the perfect occasion! Swing dance has a vast international following, with several communities in major UK cities and small towns. The event attracted dancers from all over the country, with groups travelling from nearby scenes such as Cumbria, York, and Birmingham.

We were fortunate enough to be taught by three impressive teaching couples who travelled from Lithuania, Sweden, and Leeds. Edas and Edita run their own dance studio in Lithuania called All That Swing. Isabella and Pontus have taught all over the world and danced in international competitions. Rob and Tina teach weekly classes in Leeds and have been performing together for nearly ten years.

The weekend kicked off on Friday with an evening of social dancing in the Great Hall. The night featured a live jazz band called Louis, Louis, Louis, a four-piece group based in Leeds whose sound includes rhythm and blues, doo-wop, and ska. This was the perfect way to meet fellow attendees and warm up before the big weekend. We were also treated to a teachers’ showcase, where the three teaching couples were introduced and wowed us with a performance.

On Saturday morning, three taster sessions covered aerials (lifts), connectivity (connecting with your partner), and the jazz circle (a jazzy dance-off). In the afternoon, I attended Rob and Tina’s class, where we worked on steps, including kick downs and hand-to-hand Charleston. Saturday was rounded off with an evening of social dancing in the Great Hall accompanied by New Orleans swing era jazz band Alligator Gumbo and some mini competitions including musical statues with a Lindy Hop twist.

Sunday was the last day of classes. My class with Edas and Edita’s focused on adding flair to your dance through improved jazz moves, while Isabella and Pontus taught us a small routine based around a step called the flip flop. Sunday concluded in proper vintage style with a tea dance in the Great Hall, which was our last opportunity to have a boogie and grab a much-needed slice of cake before the end of the weekend.

Swing dance is so much fun and one of the most welcoming dance scenes you’ll find. After the success of this year’s festival, a date has been set for Swingtoberfest 2020. I would recommend weekenders like Swingtoberfest for anyone interested in this dance style, whether you’ve been dancing for a couple of months or a couple of years.

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