The swing is the thing for these Hepcats
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.
The Hepcats dancers in the group’s Erb Street studio.