Lindy Hop your way to fast fitness with local swing dancing sessions.

Swing Schvitz

Written by Wynter Holden Category: Health & Fitness Issue: April 2016
Group Free

It all started with a GAP commercial. The 30-second “Khakis Swing” ad, which hit airwaves in 1998, featured dancers clad in neutral tops and beige trousers jumping and jiving to Louis Prima’s catchy jazz tune. Swing dance, which originated alongside swing-style jazz music in the ‘20s and ‘30s, was suddenly reborn as a national subculture trend, with events from Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing to legendary choreographer Frankie Manning’s workshops attracting packed houses. “It makes me laugh that there are serious swing dancers that ask if you are pre- or post-GAP,” dance instructor Jonathan Lindsey quips. “I’m pre-GAP. That’s a hipster way of saying I was doing it before it was cool.”

Lindsey teaches a basic six-count swing lesson every Tuesday night at The Duce in Downtown Phoenix – just one of a handful of weekly mini-classes and dance events offered locally for less than $10. “The Duce has a gritty, speakeasy vibe, which makes sense because it was actually used as one during Prohibition. It’s kind of south of the tracks,” he says. Swing nights here are heavily social, with dancers ranging from first-timers nervously drinking Mason jar cocktails to regulars with perfectly coiffed victory rolls, cat-eye glasses and ‘50s pinafore dresses. 

WHERE TO SWING

MON: Hepkats at the Women’s Club of Mesa, 200 N. MacDonald Rd., Mesa. 7:15-10:30 p.m. $5 cover.

TUE: South Central Swing at The Duce, 525 S. Central Ave., Phoenix. 7-11 p.m. $8 cover.

THUR: West Coast Swing at Fatcat Ballroom, 3131 E. Thunderbird Rd., Phoenix. 7:30-10:30 p.m. $7 cover.  

THUR: Speakeasy Nights at DeSoto Central Market, 915 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. Free admission. 

SAT: Kat’s Korner at New Horizon School for the Performing Arts, 446 E. Broadway Rd., Mesa. $8 cover ($6 students).

In contrast, classes at Fatcat Ballroom in North Phoenix and Hepkats at Women’s Club of Mesa are geared toward dance and fitness. It’s an ideal environment for newbies looking to incorporate swing into their weekly exercise routines, since there’s less fear of being watched. “Anyone can swing dance,” says Karen Vizzard Hopkins, who runs Hepkats with her husband Dabney. “If some movements are difficult, there are always variations or different steps to make it easier until your stamina increases.” Swing dance is separated into three styles: East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop. Hopkins and Lindsey specialize in the latter, considered the most challenging due to heavy technique requirements and advanced moves like the GAP commercial’s high-flying aerials.

 Arizona State University’s Compendium of Physical Activity classifies vigorous dancing in the range of 4.5-6.8 METs (Metabolic Equivalent), similar to a moderate bike ride or steep hill climb. So it’s no surprise some locals prefer to ditch the treadmill for a pair of Keds and The Stray Cats’ “Stray Cat Strut.” Kate Ramsey, a 27-year-old pediatric nurse who lives in Phoenix, dances up to 10 hours a week for exercise and stress relief. “Swing dancing is the spoonful of sugar that keeps my pant size down,” she jokes. “One fast Lindy Hop can leave me a complete ball of sweat, gasping for air... and I will still say yes to the next person who asks me to dance.” 

Ramsey also works out at the gym regularly and participates in half marathons. However, she’s quick to point out these activities lack the social interaction of swing dance. As a 2013 University of Minnesota study pointed out, social interaction can be as important as exercise for overall mental health. Swing dance kills two proverbial birds with one stone – or rather, one six-count. “It’s a combination of physical exercise and emotional interaction,” Lindsey says. “In three minutes of dancing, you are interacting with someone on a personal level. Just from a social standpoint, you’ll feel better.”