June 27, 2016

Swing Patrol

A couple of weeks ago, The Insider was invited to attend a Lindy Hop class in London.


Ahead of the class, I decided to do a bit of research to see what I was letting myself in for.


Turns out, swing dancing is one of those phenomena that I think I know a bit about, when, actually, I know nothing.

The word ‘swing’ is best known as a musical style popular during the 1930s and ‘40s.


However, swing dancing can be traced as far back as the 1920s and is distinctly American.


According to Tamara and Erin Stevens in their book Swing Dancing: “It’s categorised as an ‘Afro-American’ dance, whose roots extend across the continent deep into the heart of Africa.”


Members of the swing dance family include the Harlem-born Lindy Hop (nicknamed the Jitterbug for its agile nature),  Balboa, Charleston, Solo Jazz and Blues.


While all of these dances are unique in their own way, all are performed to the same snazzy, uplifting music.


With such a rich, diverse history, it’s no surprise that swing dance has stood the test of time and experienced something of a resurgence in the past 20 years.


Its energetic nature is infectious and has the ability to rejuvenate and enliven dancers just as much today as it did almost 100 years ago.

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One person to have recognised swing’s modern-day potential is Scott Cupit, director of dance community Swing Patrol.


A politics and sociology graduate with a postgraduate degree in banking and finance, Scott worked in property management and for a major bank before he discovered his love of swing dancing.


The crossroads came during the Christmas of 1997, when he visited his family in America and an impromptu trip to Disneyland led to his witnessing Lindy Hop for the first time.


It took him back to his childhood days playing the saxophone in church jazz bands and, just three days later, he encountered swing dance again when his sister took him to the Glen Echo Ballroom in Maryland.


Scott returned to his native Australia only to discover that, during this time, there was only a small swing scene present in the city.


He quickly joined this niche group of enthusiastic dancers and, collectively, they became determined to blow away the cobwebs of the swing fairytale and reintroduce it to modern-day Melbourne.


This was the foundation for what would become Swing Patrol.


By 2009, Scott and two passionate teachers, Ben and Tanya, set themselves a new challenge: to bring Swing Patrol across the pond and into the Big Smoke.


Despite arriving empty handed, they set about building a London community of dancers from scratch, often teaching seven days a week just to pay rent.


Today, Swing Patrol comprises more than 1,000 dancers, as well as a teaching squad, staff, volunteers and “four amazing troupes”.


It offers: over 40 weekly classes at 35 London venues; weekly Lindy Hop and Blues social dances; an annual London Swing Festival and Blues Baby Blues Festival; swing dance balls across the city, as well as around the country; four performance troupes that share their dancing moves across London; and a year-round programme of dance workshops.


Of its myriad of classes, workshops and festivals, I was introduced to Swing Patrol via a Thursday evening beginners class, taught by swing convert Rory Donaldson and his partner, professional dancer Serena Rizzo.


Every week, the pair oversee drop-in classes in the centre of London: one at 7pm for level 1 beginners’ and another at 8pm for level 2 intermediates.


Clearly destined for the beginners class, I was relieved to read on the Swing Patrol website that, for this class, “no experience is required as we repeat basics every week!” Phew.


The website also points out that you do not need to bring a partner with you, and can just pop into the class “ready to have some fun”.



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A young, good-looking and friendly couple, Rory and Serena, were warm and welcoming, and it quickly became clear they’d be a joy to watch and listen to.


With little microphones attached to their heads, they relayed their instructions clearly and slowly.


With swing dancing, there’s always a leader and a follower, and so, once the class was in full attendance, everyone formed a circle in the middle of the room and split into two groups accordingly.


Unsurprisingly, most of the leaders were men, leaving me a follower.


I was paired with an older gentleman, who surprised me with his moves as soon as the music kicked in.


He was far more agile than me, with his feet falling perfectly into place.


After five minutes, I had to bid my new friend goodbye as it transpired that, throughout the class, the leaders of the class rotate and find a new follower periodically.


Luckily, every single gentleman – and one woman – I  danced with was patient and kind, often giving me tips on how to get the hang of it.


For example, one piece of repeated advice was: don’t overthink it!


I was also reminded on multiple occasions that I was a follower and should stop trying to lead. Oops.


The class involved learning an eight-count Lindy Hop, as well getting to grips with a butterfly, a swing-out and Frankie shuffles, named after Frankie Manning – a legend in the dance world.


The steps ingrained in us at the start of the class seemed to go something like this: rock step; triple step; walk walk; triple step.


That may not be totally accurate, but you get the gist. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually quite tricky to get to grips with, especially when you have a partner in tow.


That said, once you conquer the steps, it’s a real achievement and gives you the freedom to experiment with your moves and really enjoy the music.


The one-hour lesson flew by and was concluded with everyone being encouraged to check out of class mode and just enjoy a little freestyle dance before heading home.


What struck me most about the Swing Patrol class was how happy all of its regular dancers were to be there.


Everyone I danced with had the same, positive energy and enthusiasm for the dance, so much so that I found myself tapping my feet and bobbing to the music by the final couple of routines.


Swing Patrol has classes taking place in London, Melbourne, Sydney and Berlin every night of the week.


It’s a dance that never tires and will never grow old, destined to delight and enchant dancers – young and old – for years to come.


The Insider goes for a spin with Swing Patrol teacher Rory Donaldson

How did you get involved with Swing Patrol?


I was lucky enough to be asked to teach after about four years of dancing hard in London.


Is teaching classes a part-time thing for you or full-time?

I teach part-time – I love it – I love teaching with my partner Serena, and I get to help the next generation of dancers and have a brilliant time with them too.


I’m very honoured to be a part of it, and I’ve made many brilliant friends along the way.


What do you love most about swing dancing?


For me, swing dancing is really a joyful dance, and an amazing thing to be able to share with someone else.


It’s a very individual dance, so you can do it in a way that suits you.


You get to dance with lots and lots of great people and to fantastic music.


It’s fun to learn, keeps you fit, and it feels incredible when you get comfortable doing it.  It’s pretty addictive.


Find Swing Patrol:
W: www.swingpatrol.co.uk
T: @SwingPatrolLDN

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