Inside scoop: Swing Dance

As Jazz II was hastily making our way through the opening set of last Saturday’s Halloween swing dance, I started to get an uneasy sense that something wasn’t necessarily going as planned as I played through the lead trumpet part on “The Way You Look Tonight.” Perhaps the finest method for effectively communicating this mental dissonance is to take you through my mindset during the piece’s opening moments, and so I shall:

“Hmm… You know, it feels like we’re rushing. It’s a pretty young band, first concert of the year, that’s pretty understandable. We’re excited. It’s an exciting atmosphere. But man, we really have to chill on the tempo, this doesn’t feel like optimal time whatsoever. Am I doing something wrong? Is it me? Maybe I should stop compulsively glancing at my phone to check the World Series score every few seconds and focus on counting more accurately, otherwise … ”

But before I could continue tangentially drifting into horrific flashbacks of my first time seeing the film “Whiplash,” the persistent problem identified itself during a sudden, surreal epiphany.

“Oh, look at that. At this moment, I do believe we’re a good four to eight measures ahead of the vocal accompaniment. Um… UM…”

Suddenly, as if telepathically sensing my exponential panic, conductor Dave Hagedorn knowingly cut off the band, joking that we’ll take a mulligan and restart. This is normally a taboo when performing, but instead of booing, hissing and otherwise jeering, our audience applauded with encouragement and resumed swinging, as swing dancers are prone to do, as per usual upon our next downbeat. We still rushed – collectively fixing these things on the fly is a herculean task for a band that’s been rehearsing together for less than two months – but held together consistently enough for the dancers to accelerate and align with our more frenetic pace, thus igniting the energy within the Pause to a high that remained consistent for the duration of our set. Somehow, thanks to an auspicious, dynamic interaction between band and audience complimented by what can only be described as fortuitous divine intervention, the entire incident worked in our favor to create a better experience for everyone. 

At this point, I came to a realization: swing dances, for my money, are considerably more fun than your standard Pause dance. 

Let me describe to you my typical experience at Pause dances. First, I arrive, fueled by cautious optimism at having even made it this far beyond the quiet comfort of my dorm room. Second, I use that optimism to attempt and break into the hysteria driven mass of college students partying like there’s no tomorrow. Third, I fail, gingerly moseying over to the corner of the Pause, rolling up into the fetal position like a disgraced pill bug, and proceeding to roll out of the venue in shame, perhaps grabbing a pizza on the way out to drown my self-perceived social ineptitude in delicious affordable cuisine. Now, being a pill bug isn’t all bad – you’re able to inconspicuously hide in tight spaces and some people enjoy your presence – but in an extremely active environment filled with hundreds of likely intoxicated college students, odds are you’re going to get squashed. At Pause dances, I feel squashed. And thus, I roll away.

But the swing dance feels different. Perhaps it’s because there’s tangible purpose behind the event as an outlet to express by synthesizing dance technique and jazz, but there’s a certain amount of intentionality and jovial spirit that’s palpable throughout its duration. People genuinely want to be in attendance in order to communicate a specific passion that they rarely get the opportunity to publicly display – it’s a culmination of efforts from two dedicated organizations that attracts outsiders to the intrigue of our chosen art forms and demonstrates the joy and power of collaboration in the process.

So as I continued the set, frantically switching back and forth between notes on the page and World Series updates, as is natural for anyone caught in limbo between the music and athletic worlds, it became increasingly obvious why messing up so badly mere moments prior was overlooked and even celebrated: everyone is there to have fun at a school dance, which, for me and I imagine many others in the room, is likely not usually the case. Yeah, we rushed a lot. Things got messed up for a bit. But in the end, when everyone in the room was so immersed in their otherwise latent element for even a brief moment in time, it could hardly taint the experience.

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