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Swinging with Rhythm

Courtesy of Jason Chuang

Swingtime puts a spin on traditional Lindy Hop, focusing on performance

Swingtime dancers make their way into Studio 52 on a Tuesday night, perhaps after a typically busy day, leaving behind papers and problem sets. They greet each other with a kind of unguarded openness that only comes from countless hours spent rehearsing and dancing together. Before rehearsal officially starts, a couple or two practice swing variations effortlessly, while others lace up their two-toned swing shoes and slip into skirts that woosh when they spin.

Then the music starts, and it’s showtime, even during rehearsal. With every step, swivel and swish, the energy and excitement in the room seems to go up a notch, as if everyone had a healthy dosage of caffeine before rehearsal.

There is no audience, and yet every single dancer is grinning from ear to ear, hamming it up and having a blast. And it’s not just for show.

“It’s impossible to do swing and not be happy,” said member Rachel Liaw ’11.

Swingtime is Stanford’s premier Lindy Hop dance group and focuses on performance.

Courtesy of Jason Chuang

“We dance a different sort of Lindy Hop from social dance Lindy Hop,” Liaw said. “It’s more about the performance–we look at the audience and not our partner.”

Swingtime came out of the Vintage Dance Ensemble led by social dance instructor Richard Powers. When the Vintage Dance Ensemble broke up in 2000, some of its alumni decided to put together a classic Lindy Hop dance group with Powers as the advisor. This year, Swingtime is coming up on its 10th anniversary.

Monchette Gonda ‘12, this year’s artistic director, explained that the group’s overall style is largely determined by the director’s vision.

“Last year, there was a diverse collection of styles,” Gonda said. The group has a wide-ranging repertoire of pieces, including popular routines from past years and newer, more experimental choreography that fuses elements of hip-hop with swing.

Last year, the group choreographed a piece to “American Idiot” by Green Day that featured updated swing moves and even incorporated the Macarena.

“This year, we’re aiming for clean, sleek choreography. We also don’t have a piece that doesn’t have high energy and excitement,” Gonda said.

A lot of practice goes into achieving that clean, sleek look. In Swingtime, couples are not set or predetermined, which means that dancers have to be ready to switch partners for any given performance. The dancers feel that they benefit from this challenge.

“In social dance classes, they have you rotate. If you only dance with one person, you can never dance with anyone else,” Liaw said.

It is during more complicated variations like aerials that partners have to be especially aware of each other.

“When you switch partners, you have to adjust your style. Each person prefers different tension and lands differently,” explained Paul Csonka, a sixth year graduate student in mechanical engineering.

In order to deliver a seamless performance, dancers devote four hours a week to rehearsing. Every performance requires careful planning.

“For each performance, we have to figure out who’s performing, who’s dancing with who, and we have to figure out where everyone is going to be,” Gonda said. “But it’s fun. It’s like playing matchmaker.”

Though dancers are under pressure to perform, rehearsals are kept carefree and fun. Members view the four hours as a much-needed stress relief.

“As a group, we love dancing, and rehearsal, as a result, is pretty lighthearted,” Liaw said. “We like to goof off, and it never feels like a chore.”

“It’s a study break–a time to de-stress and learn some awesome choreography,” Gonda added.

The group’s cohesion on the stage is a reflection of its dancers’ camaraderie.

“There’s a strong sense that we have a strong connection on a personal level, because we’re all really happy and it shows,” said Han Hye-Jung ’11.

Recently, Swingtime was invited to audition for a new talent competition series called Live to Dance–produced by Paula Abdul and scheduled to air on CBS–though the group chose not to attend due to schedule conflicts. The dancers are, however, planning to expand to different venues outside Stanford this year, including the Bay Area and southern California.

Swingtime performs year-round at both on- and off-campus events. Its next performance is on Friday night at the Fall Ball.

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