Until 1961, dancing was banned at St. Olaf College. Today, campus embraces this form of art and socialization through a variety of departments, events and organizations. Among student groups celebrating dance are the Lindy Hoppers, the St. Olaf Swing Club.
St. Olaf started hosting Lindy lessons with a small group of students in 2003, shortly after the re-emergence of swing dance in American culture. Since then, the club has become quite popular on campus. At this year’s first meeting, close to 100 students showed up to try out their moves. Instruction usually centers around the Lindy Hop, but other forms of swing dance are also explored from time to time. The club is open to anyone interested, although students may have difficulty joining late in the semester as the lessons tend to build progressively as the year goes on.
“Attendance usually drops later in the semester, as people get busier and think they can’t come back if they’ve missed a meeting or two, which isn’t true,” Swing Club “Emperor” Elaine Grafelman ’18 said.
The Swing Club officers typically teach a lesson every Tuesday from 9 to 10 p.m., followed by an hour of free form swing dancing, during which students get to have fun and dance with a variety of partners. In addition to the weekly meetings, the club offers additional opportunities to learn and practice. Carleton College’s Swing Club welcomes St. Olaf students to its Monday dance nights and often attends events hosted at St. Olaf.
This year, the St. Olaf Swing Club is hosting open dances on the last day of classes each semester and will collaborate with the jazz bands for a swing fest in March, similar to the recent Halloween event. Group members often venture off campus to dance with other swing enthusiasts. Over interim, the group plans to send students to Minneapolis to take lessons from professional swing dancers who studied under the famous Lindy Hop instructor Frankie Manning. St. Olaf swing dancers attend swing festivals around the Midwest, from St. Paul to Iowa.
Most students who join the Swing Club do not have a background in the activity but are interested in learning something new and meeting a variety of new people along the way. For many, the club is a place to get away from the usual routine and enjoy some good old-fashioned socializing.
“I really, really love that it’s social,” Grafelman said. “It’s a new way to relate to people. I can get dinner with my friends, and that’s one way to relate to people, but I like that there’s this physical way of relating to people through the dance. And it’s not such a strenuous way of dancing that you can’t talk to people while you dance, and it’s not so strict that you feel uncomfortable. It’s a very laid back and comfortable way of dancing that really lends itself to being social.”
In true liberal arts fashion, Swing Club offers an opportunity for students to go beyond their usual studies in the classroom and build intentional community with their peers. However, the unique group also expands beyond Northfield and college years, as the skills learned are globally relevant and useful. Some members have connected with other swing dance groups while studying abroad or have gotten involved with community dance groups post-graduation. The Jitterbug, West Coast Swing, Jive and aerials serve as the building blocks for lifelong activity and relationships.
Swing Club meetings are held every Tuesday from 9 to 11 p.m. in Dittman Studio One. Contact President Serena May Calcagno at email@example.com with any inquiries.