A SWINGIN' DEAL
HOW SWING DANCING CHANGED MY LIFE
by Travis LaRiviere
All my life, there are many things that define who I am. Rather, they are certain little aspects about myself that those closest to me know me by. Some know me as an artist, a drummer, or even the guy with the fedora hat.
Lately, people have been starting to recognize me as the swing dancer. Why is that? It's a rather fun an interesting story. To start it off, swing dancing was not only the catalyst to many new aspects of my life, but it literally changed it for the best.
You read that correctly. Swing dancing changed my life.
I've always had a fascination with all things vintage: big band music, film, fashion, and swing dancing. I never thought of myself as a good dancer despite me being a trained musician for 10+ years. I can make the music... I just cannot move to it really well.
Let's rewind the clock back about a year ago. I was in a place where my life was feeling a bit stuck. I had graduated from college and was just starting into my career, but I was just feeling like something was missing. Once I graduated, it was time for me to really get into the world and I had this longing desire to break out of my introverted habits. For too long, I had locked myself away in my dorm room and not wanting to engage in any social activity or anything.
This was something that I didn't want to do anymore. Something was out there ready to break me out of it.
Fast forward to February 2013. My mom had proposed the idea of learning how to swing dance from a professional instructor. I always had an interest in it, but never thought I could afford it, let alone have time for it. But alas, the stars aligned and brought us to a wonderful instructor by the name of Rusty Frank. Rusty, a world renowned swing dancer and instructor, runs a dance studio called "Lindy by the Sea" and her own weekly swing club! You can read all about Rusty and her lessons at RustyFrank.com.
My fabulous swing dance teacher, Rusty Frank!
For $88 dollars, I was able to have 2 hours of swing dancing lessons for 4 weeks. In that time, I learned a great number of moves, coordination, and skills.
However, the one thing that I never expected to learn from Rusty was confidence. Pure confidence that I never knew I had in me.
In these 4 week lesson blocks, week 3 & 4 include lessons in the art of "Social Dancing" where one partner asks another for a dance, whether they have met or not. The great part about Rusty's classes is that you are constantly rotating partners so as to get experience by learning how to become comfortable dancing with everyone and not just one person. Formally asking a partner in class to engage in a swing dance for a mere 30 seconds wasn't too intimidating. It was actually rather fun to ask Mom for a dance ;)
After doing two months of classes with Rusty, it was time to put my skills to the test. I had heard that Downtown Disney did swing dancing on Saturday nights (in an effort to relieve the normal swing parties held inside the Carnation Plaza, under refurbishment at the time) so I went with my parents one night. When the free lesson happened early, Mom and Dad partnered up where as I was left alone. I found myself a partner and all of us on the floor got a basic lesson (or refreshing for us three). Once that was over, it was time for the band to go back up on stage and play their set... .and that is when everything changed. You can read more about Downtown Disney Swing on their Facebook page!
From that Saturday and approximately 2 months after that, I went to Downtown Disney every Saturday night to swing dance. What made it even better was that I had a regular group of friends who all went together. It was such great fun for all of us to be together, have fun, and get our energy out.
Our dancing partners were not just limited to our small group... and that is what build up my confidence. Social swing dancing has such a charm to it. It is three minutes out of your life that wont be wasted by asking someone to dance. Sure, you may never see that person again, but at least for those brief moments, you can just dance your heart out! It is amazing how many weeks I would go and see poor girls who were never asked by any guys to dance. It is normally proper etiquette for the man to ask the woman to dance, but in times now, everyone wants to dance so it doesn't matter who does the asking! It is amazing how many interesting people you meet through social dancing.
Swing dancing at Downtown Disney
Swing dancing at Downtown Disney
But social dancing escalated really quickly for me one night in May... I danced with only one girl the whole night and little did I know the adventure that awaited our lives after that first dance together. But that entire story is best saved for another post ;) it is way too detailed and exciting to keep to a minimum in this post.
Swing dancing has allowed me to break out of my shell and literally "get out on the dance floor!" I feel no shame in going to Downtown Disney in Dapper outfits and dance the night away for 4 hours! In no way do I claim to be the best dancer in the world. However, the best part about swing dancing is that you don't need to be the best, but rather need to just have fun! If you aren't having fun, then what is the point? One of the very first things I ever told Gerianna on our first date while she was nervous about dancing was about feeling good for herself by getting out here in the first place rather than stand on the sides! It didn't matter that it was her first time... it was OUR first dance together and by golly it wouldn't be our last.
Swing dancing has changed my life. It established new friendships with swing regulars, solidified dance partnerships, and unleashed an extroverted side of me that I never knew existed. Because of it, I frequently visit the parks dressed to the nines... always anticipating a chance to dance. Swing dancing has made me more fashion conscious as I transition my wardrobe from tshirts and jeans to dress shirts, suspenders, slacks, and stylish Wingtip shoes!
And finally, swing dancing has led to some of the best memories I have ever had in my life.
Big thanks to all those at LINDY BY THE SEA and especially Rusty Frank for being a tremendous teacher. Rusty, I cannot thank you enough for being such a wonderful influence on my life now and showing me the way of the dance. You were always encouraging, helpful, and honest. I always take great pride in knowing that one of the best swing dancers in the world taught me how to move! In reality, this post is for you and a much more extended testimonial of how your class affected me.