“The Swing Express” Promises Excitement

by / dance (1) in Arts & Sciences /
Eleni Polychroniadou '14 is caught between Mike McCann '15 and Aaron Kano-Bower ’15. (Courtesy/Jacob Dixon)

If there is one thing to remember about the end of the roaring ’20s, besides the collapse of the economy, it is the Lindy Hop. Jazz was flourishing and swing dance was already on its way. While the general population often imagines the Lindy Hop as the definition of swing, a plethora of other complex swing dance styles were created from the 1930’s to the ’60s. The Charleston, Blues, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing and the Boogie-Woogie developed as fine forms that augmented the repertoire of swing dance tradition and remain integral parts of it to this day.

A group of individuals has taken swing to the next level of artistic expression by carrying on this richly historic  dance tradition. Filled with energy, vivacity and gaiety, the College’s Swing Dance Club is led by Co-Presidents Melanie Dennis ’14,  Timothy Fraser ’16 and Lindsey Hunt ’14.  As proved during the excellent swing showcase at the International Student Organization Fall Cultural Show, it is the improvisational nature of the dance and communication between the lead and the follow that makes swing look simultaneously intimidating and exciting.

The Swing Dance Club has put on more shows in each successive year, and this year, they are putting on their most ambitious show to date.

“It is [the] third swing show of its type, but it is the biggest swing dance performance we have ever done,” Fraser said.

Without giving too much away, the show will contain fourteen different acts, each lasting between three and four minutes. The story begins with a group of friends who decide to take a journey on a train, The Swing Express, and each act depicts a different scene in a different carriage.

As this is the biggest show to date, there is a lot of effort needed to overcome unprecedented challenges.

“Each of the acts [will] have anywhere between two to fourteen dancers, which is a lot to coordinate,” Fraser said.

In preparation for the show, each of the three leaders is directing five pieces and teaching a sixth. This requires that they meet with the dancers weekly for two hours per piece. As challenging as this has proven,  show directors Eleni Polychroniadou ’14, Dennis and Fraser feel very confident that they are the best locomotive engineers for piloting the Swing Express.

“It’s going to be such a fantastic show,” Dennis said. “We’re proud of the work.”

The show will also include a number of pleasant surprises. The club is experimenting with the fusion of jazz with modern techno, and with some elements of Indian music on top of the traditional Lindy Hop, Blues and Charleston. The incredible variety of styles and scenarios are important elements to pay attention to during the performance.

“It is interesting and very creative,” Fraser said.  “You would not think that such synthesis works for swing dance, but it really does.”

The club is also working to involve members of the community in the show.

“It has worked better than we thought,” Polychroniadou said. “And we will have little swing dancers from Bridport Central School.”

The popularity of swing is, to a large extent, due to the remarkable flexibility and extemporaneity of the dance form.

“Swing is not really choreographed and that allows you to express yourself in a unique way because each person can bring their personality to the dance,” Polychroniadou said.

The popularity of the Colleges’ Swing Club has increased over the years since Polychroniadou took over as president. Currently they hold two practice sessions in the McCullough Social Space, one on Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m. for beginners and 8:30 p.m. for intermediates. The second session is a free dance on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.

“It is a great opportunity to bring that goofy inner self out,” Dennis said.

Polychroniadou believes that part of the current attraction stems from the Swing Club’s emphasis on a sense of community, which did not exist when she started in the fall of 2010. She believes that swing is not just about mastering the art of dance, but also meeting people and communicating with them in an unconventional manner by dancing instead of speaking.

“It’s about developing a spontaneous conversation through movement with another person,” Polychoniadou said. “Meeting other people, interacting with them and getting to know them in a way that is different from ordinary spoken conversation are exciting.”

Most performers have had no experience before coming to college, and Polychroniadou, Fraser and Dennis all started dancing in their freshman years. Some of the performers only started during the J-term Swing Dance Workshop.

“One of the nice things about the show is that it has allowed us to work with a whole new group of beginners as well as people who have done swing before and have not been in it for a while,” Fraser said.

Dennis believes that the community connection is conducive to progress.

“Anyone up there on stage could be you in a year or a semester or even a month,” Dennis said.

All of the money collected from The Swing Express will be donated to the Charter House, one of six volunteer-based programs run by a local non-profit organization called Charter House Coalition. The Charter House program provides emergency housing for up to five families during winter and early spring months November to April. These families are not only provided with shelter, but with counseling and child-care services.

The resident families often have energetic and curious children who often feel limited to the indoor areas with little to do. A project to build a playground, which will provide an environment and opportunity for these children to play, amuse themselves and cultivate their curiosity, is underway. Polychroniadou believes that community service is a rewarding activity.

“We like the idea of supporting and giving back to the local community,” she said.

As for the dancers, they also benefit from the marvelous feats they will be performing through a deep sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. Love, commitment and dedication are imperative to getting a full swing experience that is truly rewarding. Each of the members is busy with many other activities, but swing maintains a huge role in each of their lives.

“We do swing because we love it,” Polychroniadou said.

The grand spectacle should not be missed by anyone who craves an evening of fun and swingtacular delights. The Swing Express will only make one journey for the rest of the academic year. To join in the fun, catch the Swing Express just before it departs on April 11 in at 8 p.m. in the McCullough Social Space.

Tickets are already available for $5 and $8 through the Box Office for students and other community members, respectively. They will also be sold for the same prices at the door.

 

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