When I was seven years old, my mom enrolled me in dance classes. Over eight years, I studied tap, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical and ballet. The day I put on my first pair of pointe shoes was magical to say the least. I felt like a real dancer. I loved the flowing skirts, the turns and kicks, everything about ballet and pointe, and it became a huge part of my life.
Being a dancer helped me in high school - I was never afraid to be placed up front in the musicals and people looked to me on stage because I knew everyone’s choreography. Being in high school theatre was another opportunity for me to show off or lead the pack. I joined cheerleading because I wanted to get more hip-hop experience that I couldn’t always get at dance class. It also gave me tons of confidence and spunk - I wasn’t afraid of leading a group or taking center stage.
Unfortunately, cheerleading and musicals got in the way of dancing. I couldn’t commit myself to dance as much as I used to and I found myself struggling to catch up during rehearsals. I knew I had to drop something, so dance had to go. Now, going into my fourth year of college, I can’t remember the last time I danced in a proper pair of ballet shoes. It was such a huge part of my life and it was gone so suddenly.
So, last spring, I joined Clarkson Theatre Company in their production of All Shook Up, a musical combining the stories of William Shakespeare with the rock and roll of Elvis Presley. Our choreographer Heather was involved with Clarkson University’s Swing Dance Club and incorporated a lot of swing dancing into our full cast choreography. A lot of us caught the bug and decided to go to the Swing Dance Club’s meetings, myself included. I was so excited to be dancing again, even though swing was still kind of foreign to me.
We had a little bit of training from Heather before arriving to Swing, so I felt prepared enough that I could get by. I paired up with someone from Clarkson that I didn’t know and we just started dancing. He was a good leader and I tried to be the best follower I could be, but there was something that I couldn’t help but notice.
No one counts the beat.
My life, ever since that first dance class, has been divided up into eight counts. Eight counts to move across the stage, eight counts to pirouette, eight counts to get into a new formation. Even in cheerleading, everything was in eight - Prep on one, bounce on three, toss on five, hit on seven, catch on the next one. I don’t count seconds, I count eights. And that’s not how it works in swing.
Within swing dance partners, there is a leader (usually the male) and a follower (usually the female). The leader gives cues, either verbal or visual, to signal the follower what move they want to do next. There are no rules, no logical progression of steps, no choreography. It was overwhelming.
The guy that was leading me was very experienced and being a follower meant that I was pretty much at his mercy. I didn’t have to make any decisions about what moves to do, especially since I only knew a handful of steps. I’d never been a part of a dance where I didn’t know what was coming next. But Matt was a good leader and he was willing to help me learn the more difficult moves.
The next couple of weeks, I was dancing with another beginner and we were more equally matched, so I felt a little more confident. We actually started dating and we’re both looking forward to going back to Swing Club at the beginning of next semester and tackling more difficult moves. I’ve also enrolled in a Jazz Dance class for the fall and I hope to start dancing more at Potsdam. I can’t wait to go back to Swing Club because of the new friends, new experiences and new outlook it taught me in just a few short weeks.You can’t live your life according to the eight counts - there’s no way to plan out every beat, every step, every motion. It’s too much. When I first started swing, the lack of planning overwhelmed me. Now I realize that forcing myself into a rigid, little box of eight counts was more overwhelming than I could have imagined at seven years old. I still have a special place in my heart for dance and I will never forget what I learned at Miss Judy’s all those years ago. But sometimes, you just have to let go and swing.