Houston we have swing

Swing dance has been associated with many places, but the last place people think of when they hear Glenn Miller Orchestra is Houston. In March 18, 1997 the Houston Swing Dance Society was put together as a non-profit education organization at the historic El Dorado Ballroom. Since then, HSDS has come far since their starting days and now boasts two major events in the Houston area.

The El Dorado Ballroom is located on the corner of Elgin and Dowling street right in front of Emancipation Park.
The El Dorado Ballroom is decorated with the faces of famous acts that have performed in the venue. Many from Ray Charles to Arnett Cobb have performed under the same ballroom.

They held their first event the same year they opened and named it the Frank Manning workshop, but eventually the name changed to what is now known as Lindyfest. People from all over the world gather at Houston’s own Lindyfest where swing dancers learn from each other in workshops and socials. It is held every year during spring break with registration starting well before then. The events starts on Thursday night with a free social for all to come dance and goes into the next day that is filled with different levels of dance taught by “world class instructors.” Lindyfest 2017 marked HSDS’ 21st year since it began which in turn marks HSDS’ 21st birthday.

Later that same year a couple of members formed the “Houston Hepcats” and began competing in dance competitions locally and nationally. They eventually came up with “Prepcats” which are the “junior varsity” to Hepcats’ “varsity” status. They train with Prepcats for a year until and later move on to perform with the Houston Hepcats.

Hepcats and Prepcats warm up before team practice

HSDS also takes part in what goes on in its surroundings and has partnered up with Project Row Houses, other non-profits, local schools and libraries to “raise awareness of Lindy Hop and the Swing Dance Era.” They do acknowledge that it has been difficult to maintain being involved with the local community due to scheduling conflicts, but according to Robin Carlson, past HSDS president, it hasn’t kept them down. They continue to try to bring more people from the community into the historic ballroom that is after all theirs. Kari Kron is a teacher, Hepcat, and secretary for HSDS that talks about HSDS’ value to the surrounding community as well as her own personal experience with them. Kari Kron has been with HSDS for three years and found out about them after moving to Houston from Colorado.

They do not require that anyone have any prior knowledge of the dance in order to join in only that the heart be willing. They have a weekly social event that starts at 7 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. at the Chocolate bar in Rice Villiage where anyone can dance the night away surrounded by a bunch of candy. They also have Harvest Moon Ball as an annual event that holds friendly dance competitions and social dancing at Rice Univeristy. It is a collaboration between HSDS and Rice’s Social Dance Society. Everyone has the night to dress nicely and swing dance to the beat of a live band. Through Harvest Moon Ball they seek to get the attention of the younger college generation by holding the event at Rice University.

Students warm up before Level 2 swing class begins
Level 3 students warming up before the start of class. HSDS has classes for levels 1–4 on Sundays and Tuesdays.

HSDS are working with local universities and colleges to expand past El Dorado and reach the younger generation in the place where they spend the most time, school. Laura Gould is a young Prepcat that heard about HSDS through her “college swing club and when [she] graduated [she] wanted a place to go to dance.” She sees it as a place that she can socialize and meet other people that share the same interest in a dance that has very few people paying attention to it anymore. Another college student, Noah Price, started dancing with HSDS, and is now looking to re-establish UH’s old swing dance club. He started dancing with HSDS three years ago and feels that they have made a positive impact on his life.

Thomas Williamson, teacher at HSDS, has been with HSDS for three years and is one of the “accelerated learners” in the bunch. He was one of the fastest members to become a teacher due to all the time he dedicated to HSDS. As dedicated as Williamson is he admits that while the overall mission is to “[raise] public awareness and participation in an energetic joyful part of American historical culture” through swing dance the fact that it isn’t “mainstream” does affect how many people they reach. Since other dances such as hip hop and ballroom dance are much more popular than swing dance, the Houston Swing Dance Society remains a “niche” club that wants to bring the modern age to the times of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, and hopefully bring others with them.

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