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Social Dancing

Krzysztof Gajos -- The Tech
Salsa, performed here by members of the MIT Ballroom Dance Team in a competition at Harvard, has witnessed a resurgence in popularity along with other social dances such as swing.
By Katharyn Jeffreys

After years of greasy hair and flannel shirts, style is making a comeback. Along with martinis, cigars, and Gap khakis comes the revival of social dances, most notably swing. Around Boston, and even on MIT's campus, social dancing is quickly growing in its popularity.

While the style may be vintage, the attitude has a modern kick. Fueled by bands such as Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, the swing of the forties is infused with electric guitars and other ska influences.

"To many Californians I'm sure the swing craze seems very outdated, but it's never wrong for anyone, especially a guy, to know how to dance," said Carly R. Klein '00, a member of the MIT ballroom dance team.

Outdated or not, Boston is a definite hub for social dance. Many clubs have swing nights, including the Roxy, on Tremont Street, which is a popular stop for those accustomed to the club scene. However, this popularity has its drawbacks.

Klein said, "The only thing that annoys me about the swing craze is how crowded the dance floors are at clubs like the Roxy, where the room is full of couples who think that to look good one must take up a lot of space and elbow and shove. The truth is, you look the best, in East Coast swing, if you take up very little room on the dance floor you have more control that way."

For a more relaxed atmosphere, Roger N. Nielsen '01 recommends the Cosmopolitan, in the North End. "For big events and concerts like Cherry Poppin' Daddies, you can't beat the Roxy. But for small time dance and relaxing with my girlfriend Ellen, I like to head to the Cosmopolitan."

Swing draws a dedicated group

For people who swing, dance can take up a significant amount of time. Jennifer A. Healey G, an avid swing dancer, has a particularly hectic schedule. "A typical swing dancing schedule includes (not always but sometimes) private practice on Monday, Ken's Place in Central Square on Tuesday, a group practice on Wednesday in Harvard Square, dance lesson with Ravitte at the YWCA and then dancing at the Upstairs Lounge on Thursday, the Roxy on Friday, and either the IC dance (once a month at St. John's Armenian Church in Watertown) or Ryles on Saturday and on the seventh day we rest (or practice aerials). Occasionally we see our friends who don't swing (usually when we're doing laundry)."

This affection for dance is not uncommon. "If you hang at these places enough, you'll see the same people over and over. It's cool," Nielsen said.

"It's a strangely intellectual crowd," said Healey, who adds that swing dancers are "much more interesting than people I've met at other clubs."

Other dances become popular

In addition to swing, Latin and standard ballroom dances, such as tango and salsa, also have a large following. Some clubs such as the Roxy hold Latin dance nights each week. The popularity of these styles are not fueled by big name American bands, but remain a welcome alternative to regular club attendees.

Bassam G. Kassab G finds an alternate appeal to these dances. "I learned Argentinian tango for several months back in 1995. Then I found out it would be useless for me in social occasions because my date would not be a woman. However, when I saw a couple of men dancing it together in a very charming way, and I read that originally in Argentina it was a men's dance, I realized that nothing becomes obsolete or useless in our lives if we know how to put it on the right track!"

The resurgence in the popularity of partner dances has given people the chance to hone their social skills, meet new people, and hear different types of music. "For me, the ballroom dancing was a great way for me to be able to dance and perform again. It is a nice social outlet too," Klein said.