The swing is the thing for these Hep­cats

Waterloo Region Record - - ARTS & LIFE - Martin De Groot Martin de Groot writes about lo­cal arts and cul­ture each Satur­day. You can reach him by email at mdg131@gmail.com.

I met up with a cou­ple of hep­cats this week.

Water­loo Hep­cats, that is — mem­bers of the Hep­cats Swing Com­mu­nity Dance and Mu­sic Stu­dio.

A friend in­tro­duced us. I’d heard about things still hap­pen­ing in the for­mer LCBO build­ing on Erb Street, which used to be a quite a lively hub in the hey­day of the Cre­ative En­ter­prise Ini­tia­tive.

The stu­dio in its cur­rent form — as a true club, run by dancers for dancers — has been there for less than two years.

The dancers I met are vol­un­teer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Martin Hansen and Keren Ad­der­ley, who has been with the group for about a year and helps with mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

It was Ad­der­ley who pro­vided the of­fi­cial de­scrip­tion of what the group is all about: This is “a vol­un­teer-run not-for-profit dance com­mu­nity ded­i­cated to bring­ing peo­ple in Water­loo Re­gion to­gether in an in­clu­sive com­mu­nity to share and en­joy swing dance and mu­sic.”

Or, as she put it more suc­cinctly at one point in our con­ver­sa­tion, “It’s just fun.”

To that end, the stu­dio of­fers reg­u­lar so­cial dances, spe­cial events and in­struc­tion in a range of swing dance styles, most no­tably Lindy Hop, Blues, and West Coast Swing.

The group’s 1,800-square-foot stu­dio space is avail­able for rent to the broader com­mu­nity when it isn’t booked.

A ro­tat­ing group of musicians known as the The Hep­cat Swing Band call the stu­dio home.

Swing dance, I learned, is rooted in U.S. Amer­i­can “street dance” tra­di­tions that go back to the be­gin­ning of the last cen­tury. Swing in its var­i­ous forms be­came widely pop­u­lar in the 1920s and ’30s with the rise of recorded mu­sic, ra­dio broad­cast­ing and movies with sound.

A defin­ing el­e­ment is that it’s “so­cial”: It’s about go­ing out and hav­ing fun danc­ing with oth­ers.

The form has evolved over the years. There has been a ma­jor re­vival of in­ter­est in re­cent years, start­ing in the ’80s.

The cur­rent form as prac­tised by the Hep­cats in Water­loo along with sim­i­lar groups all over North Amer­ica and the world at large is pri­mar­ily paired danc­ing. Dancers work from a shared set of “lead­ing” and “fol­low­ing” prin­ci­ples, which al­lows par­tic­i­pants from dif­fer­ent places to “com­mu­ni­cate and im­pro­vise to­gether.”

Some va­ri­eties, like the Lindy Hop, re­flect the jazz ori­gins of the form. West Coast Swing is the most ver­sa­tile: it al­lows danc­ing to al­most any pop­u­lar mu­sic style.

Over time, swing dance cul­ture has de­vel­oped a re­laxed at­ti­tude re­gard­ing tra­di­tional gen­der roles. Men or women can lead or fol­low. Any­one can ask some­one to dance. A paired danc­ing team doesn’t have to be of dif­fer­ent gen­ders.

If you’re in­ter­ested in mak­ing swing dance part of your life, or if dance is or has been part of your life and you’re seek­ing a new out­let, check out Hep­cats Swing.

Septem­ber startup is an ideal time to con­nect: Fall classes start the week of Sept. 24. There are a num­ber of of­fer­ings for be­gin­ners: For West Coast Swing, there is an in­tro­duc­tion to the ba­sics class from 6 to 7 p.m. and an all-lev­els class from 7 to 9 p.m. ev­ery Wed­nes­day. For Lindy Hop there is a level one class on Mon­days from 8 to 9 p.m. and for Blues there are drop-in all-lev­els classes ev­ery se­cond Sun­day from 7 to 9 p.m.

There’s also a spe­cial dance event hap­pen­ing tonight (Satur­day): Jazz trum­peter Jon Seiger and his band will per­form for both lis­ten­ers and dancers. Seiger, who stud­ied with Jimmy Gi­uf­fre, John McNeill and Roy Eldridge and has per­formed all over the world, is one of very few per­form­ing deaf musicians.

The evening be­gins with a swing dance be­gin­ner les­son at 8:30 p.m.; the mu­sic starts at 9 p.m. Ad­mis­sion is $15; $13 for stu­dents.

For de­tails on all Hep­cats Swing Com­mu­nity Dance and Mu­sic Stu­dio classes, dances and spe­cial events, go to hep­catswing.com.

AMANDA BELL

The Hep­cats dancers in the group’s Erb Street stu­dio.

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