Students swing into new dance styles

by Beacon Staff • December 10, 2008

Emersonians tired of grinding and gyrating can find new moves in the social dance sector.

Emerson Ballroom has been teaching and performing social dance since the fall of 2006 under the guidance of senior studio television major Serra Izmiroglu and Adam Eisenhut, a junior theatre studies major and dance minor.

Though Emerson Ballroom is not currently SGA recognized, Eisenhut hopes to get the group recognized as soon as possible.

"I'd love for it to grow into a multifaceted organization. I think it's important that we offer regular classes for all, but continue to perform in order to cater to all of Emerson's lovely performers," Eisenhut said in an e-mail to iThe Beacon/i.

Last spring, Eisenhut assisted Marlena Yannetti, the dancer-in-residence and full-time faculty member at Emerson College, in choreographing for the film, The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. The film, which should be released in 2009, gave Eisenhut the opportunity to help teach Jennifer Garner how to foxtrot. Aside from teaching stars and Emersonians how to jump, jive and wail, Eisenhut has also taught social dancing at Arthur Murray Dance Studios.

These studios in downtown Boston offer private lessons as well as dance events for students of the studio.

"Swing can be very difficult to learn," said Kristen Belcher, an Emerson alumna, student director and teacher at Arthur Murray Dance Studios. "It's awkward at first, but if you stick with it, it becomes natural. Sometimes swing feels a little hidden in the city, but it's more popular than people think."

Belcher, one of the last dance majors to graduate before Emerson terminated the program, encourages people of all ages to try swing dancing. She said that people who are new to swing dancing are often surprised by the music.

"Swing satisfies many people's music interest because it crosses musical styles. It can be to classic big band as well as '80s music and some of the popular top 40 types of songs," the 25-year-old from Ashland, Mass. said.

According to Belcher, swing dancing's popularity is also due to television shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

These more aggressive dance forms are part of Eisenhut's future plans for Emerson Ballroom. Eisenhut has brought in a dance coach to teach some of the classes and hopes to make a competition team.

"I think it would be awesome for Emerson to have a competitive ballroom team and it looks like we might have a (small) one next semester," Eisenhut wrote.

Until then, Emerson students can find various places in the city to learn how to swing dance. For students crunched for time and money, swing dancing at M.I.T. may be the place to go.

"Swing dancing is a really efficient way to do everything," said Austin Huang, a graduate student in the M.I.T. Health Sciences and Technology Department. "You get to be creative, you get to exercise and you get to socialize."

The 28-year-old from Vienna, Va. is the treasurer for M.I.T.'s Lindy Hop Society, which hosts free swing lessons and dances each Wednesday evening.

"The dances are really casual and relaxed," Huang said. "You can come on your own, or with a partner or with a group of friends."

Huang started swing dancing a year and a half ago when his cousin got him into the genre. After a few classes, Huang was surprised to find that swing dancing wasn't all about memorizing moves, but about creativity and improvisation.

"Swing is just a name for a lot of different genres of social dance," Huang said. "You're really able to develop your own style."

Huang said Boston's swing dancing population is growing.

"Swing dancing is a labor of love. People that run the events aren't in it for money, they're doing it because they enjoy the creative activity," Huang said.

One of those people is Olaf Bleck, event director for Swing City Boston.

"Swing dancing is for everyone," the 41-year-old from Chelsea, Mass. said. "We [Swing City Boston] have all-ages events with a bar for those that are 21 and up, but it's accessible for anyone."

Bleck has been working to build up Swing City Boston so that more people come out to the weekly swing dancing events.

"There's a great vibe [at Swing City Boston]. There's something very real and genuine about dancing," Bleck said.

According to Bleck, Swing City Boston offers a discounted student rate, which allows students to learn some "fundamentals and flavor" before they hit the dance floor until 1 a.m.

"You don't need a partner, because everyone dances with everyone," he said.

At Swing City Boston's weekly dances in Somerville, Mass., more than 100 people of all ages usually attend, and the group hopes to grow and expand even more.

"If people are interested in the dance or music at all, they should come out [to Swing City Boston]," Bleck continued. "The energy keeps going up and it's always a good time."

From downtown to college auditoriums to out in Somerville, there are plenty of opportunities to get moving and grooving in the city.

"There is swing dancing going on in a lot of areas in the city," Belcher said. "With a little research, you can find something to suit you."