I wanted to explore my dance roots, from the fifties and sixties, where everyone said hello and civility happened naturally. A dance that is reasonable in cost, little or no drinking, good dance music to dance all night if so disposed, and yet make it home at a decent time to allow for more tomorrow. I went on the hunt to find it, who goes there and why. My first pick of the night was Royal city Swing. Now this is truely a way to address body fat. $10 and $7(students & seniors) admission gives you four hours of fun, exercise and friendly people.
RCS morphed out of the original Jungle City Swing Group on Vancouver's Commercial Dr. and reinvented by Alfonso Silveira in a move to the Sapperton Pensioners Hall at 318 Keary Street in New Westminster. It's handy location is a safe two blocks from Royal Columbia Hospital on the Expo line. I watched as a steady stream of people (as I did) used this path on their way to the dance hall. No need to drive here.
It was here that I first started looking for a real dance - with real people and real community. I found open doors and a pleasant welcome from hostesses at the front entrance desk. There definately is a contrast here; with no hulking doormen, no dark entrance, or elbow to elbow mob to battle inside. No blaring base, only the sounds of contemporary and big band swing and blues tunes.
Dance in British Columbia communities generally operate in a shrouded vacum hidden on the surface by clubs and bars filled by young people bouncing "Zumba like" (if there is a dance floor) to amplified systems over beer and shot's. Heret there is a subcutaneous layer that is a less visable social network where people dance more formally - think jive, tango, latin, salsa and blues. RCS is one where people are immersed generally in the genre of "Swing Dance". Where social rules and etiquette is defined, expected and respected by all.
"Swing dance" is a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s-1940s, with the origins of each dance predating the popular "swing era". During the swing era, there were hundreds of styles of swing dancing, but those that have survived beyond that era include: Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Lindy Charleston. It is broadly covered today by ECS, WCS or even Swango which is more common in the Seattle area. For many of us we can get away with the descriptive "Jive"; just dont mention it to the puritan's.
The first people I meet are an upbeat group of twenty somethings who would not be out of place in any nightclub, if it weren’t for the retro frocks, saddle shoes, dapper waistcoats and hats. The genuine smiles and affable greetings travelled in front of the defining - Swing is pure joy. It is all about the dancers, atmosphere and energy. There is no time for cell phones here!
The dancers and Sappeton Hall are two big pluses, but don’t I need to know the steps? “It’s not really important,” says Ann blithely, though they did agree that a few basic moves will get you a long way. Like many social dance nights, RCS runs a beginner session for newcomers at the beginning of the evening (which doubles up as a great icebreaker). “We learned two moves in the beginning,” says Greg, another of the group, “and then the instructor said, ‘OK, you’re ready for a night of dancing.’” No rest for the curious, I found my match.
These dancers don't fool around. No time for band's and attitudes - with two Dj's, Dave and Allan, spinning tunes for continuous non-stop dancing. RCS has also not fogtten "Shakespearean" social psycology in keeping dancers oriented to the music at stage front.
With only a moment for introductions I found my gear stashed, my scarf and coat hung on the chair, and I was included in the beginners line by an enthustastic young lady. They are here to dance and the only requirement is to start is to be able to walk in the door with a gracious and willing attitude.
The evenings guest instructors were Brian and Monica and they made it comfortably clear that at RCS no man or woman is left behind - and eveyone gets to dance.
The swing dance resurgence has been around for awhile, but in swing dance you will be were amazed by the impressive and entertaining nature of the dance. It is not just about the dancing. Swing dancing is also about the social network that brings people together with similar interests.
Swing Fever, ''We get dressed up when we go to our socials,'' Gerry said. ''I wear a zoot suit and ladies wear that style of clothing, we wear the hats and some get dressed up to the nines".'
Jessica of "Rug Cutter's" had her rack of vintage clothing and accessories displayed to catch the eye of passing dancers. It was a pleasure to watch her both dance and tend her racks, as I found her dancing skill was as unique and polished as her taste in period clothing.
They do love it – the place, the music, the buzz. “You could go to a pub for your birthday,” says Anna’s friend Carl, “and have some drinks and be shouting in the corner of a bar. Or you can come to something like this, where you make new friends and get to do something, Soitsfun.” Which I really like to hear.
"It's easy to feel nervous at first," says Carl, "but as soon as you're dancing that really fades pretty fast as you slowly get connected to your feet. Out on the dancefloor, some dancers are clearly experts and others just as clearly newbies, but there’s an upbeat, open ambience that makes room for them all.
That includes Carol and Gerry, a couple in their 50s who have come from Bellingham to spend the weekend with their daughter. But she was off out with her boyfriend on Friday night, says Pam, “we heard of RCS which is close, so we thought we’d go out dancing ourselves”. They’ve been learning lindy hop in Bellingham since Pam retired last year, and it’s completely changed the pattern of their lives: classes, evenings out dancing – and it has provided a new social network all with in a 30 min drive.
“It helps keeps us fit,” says Pam, “because we’re doing something we enjoy. It keeps your brain active too. And you can really adapt the steps to suit your own level.” But fitness is a byproduct: it’s the enjoyment that keeps them coming back. “The music, the dancing – I just love it!” beams Pam. “And it’s so nice to be among lots of different age groups. It makes you feel young.”
It was quite obvious by evenings end that I had found community. Swing nights at Royal City Swing are not all about the dancing, it is about social communication and friends. There were lot's of single's; there were couples, people of all ages, nationalities, gay, straight and everybody dances.
Wouldn't it be nice, in today's world, if an example could be taken away from dance?