Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Lack of Swing Dancing in Vancouver

This is something that has been on my mind for a long time now. Vancouver doesn't have any good swing dancing venue right now. There are two dances outside the city, Fat City in Langley and Suburban Swing in Abbotsford, but they are a fair drive from Vancouver and are on Friday and Sunday night respectively. Fat City in particular has a fabulous venue but Friday nights are tough for most people as we are tired after a long work week. If it was run on Saturday night I probably wouldn't be making this post in the first place. Vancouver does have a dance running on Saturday which for the most part I don't go to anymore and that is the reason for this post.

A little history:
Vancouver's swing scene originally started in the downtown night clubs (The Gate in particular) and there was dancing pretty much every night if you wanted to. After a while down there we moved out of the downtown core largely because we didn't drink, we were there to dance, and that wasn't lucrative for the night clubs as they primarily make money on selling alcohol. The next place we moved to was the Legion on Commercial Drive. This place became "home" for the swing scene. The atmosphere there was indescribable! There were several hundred people there every night and you wanted to dance every song! No sitting down at all, the music was that good :-) and we were all addicts. The group that ran the venue then disbanded and we tried another legion over by Joyce but that was short lived. It seemed that swing was largely gone in Vancouver at that time.

There was also a change going on in the community as well. People were beginning to differ in what kind of music and "style" of dance that they chose to do. As a result of this two new venues run by dancers sprang up. They worked quite well for some time as people could chose to go to either and listen and dance to their more favourite kind of music. Then one of them stopped as it wasn't getting enough people out and a while after that the other one stopped as well due to a "disagreement" between the venue operator and the dancers to put it nicely.

At this time someone else decided that it would be a good time to resurrect the Legion again and bring the two groups of dancers together again. We were going home! Everyone was excited! The plan was to have two dj's a night one from each "group". It worked well for a while. The dance floor would undergo a complete change of dancers when the dj's switched over. Everyone for the most part was happy, you knew that if you didn't like the songs currently being played you would only have to wait a few and some you did like would be on again soon. This also allowed for a bit more socializing time too.

There was a problem though, new dancers were not sticking around. They came to the drop in lesson but did not stay in quite the same fashion as they had before. In my opinion this was because of the change of drop in lesson teaching. When a good number of us started dancing we learned East Coast swing at the drop in. It is very easy to pick up, allows the leads to learn to actually lead without worrying too much about their feet and allowed follows to learn to actually follow for the same reason. The newbies were able to dance (and well!) the first time out! They loved it! and came back for more! Then they would notice another kind of dance going on, Lindyhop. Which they then learned in workshops as it is a much more involved dance. So they could then go out and have fun dancing East Coast and work on their Lindy at their own pace. The frustration level that is seen now wasn't there because they could still have fun. The new dancers now trying to learn Lindy at the drop just don't stick around. There isn't a large group of up an coming dancers anymore.

The next thing that happened was the music. It changed. There wasn't to two opposite sides anymore. It was taken over and dominated by one side. I tried for several years to see if the original concept of two dj's could be brought back to no avail. The community also began to change again towards another kind of music, Hot Jazz.

In essence this brings us to where we are now. The music is what brings me out and makes me want to dance. The music being played now does not make me want to dance. The atmosphere is dead. It is not fun anymore. The Hot Jazz music lends itself more to Charleston dancing and other various line dances and other vernacular jazz dancing variations. I enjoy dancing Charleston and know a number of the other dances as well. However, for me, it is not my passion. Do I never want to hear any of that kind of music? Of course not. I like it and I like the dances that go along with it, but I don't care to do it all night long. It is not swing music or swing dancing. I want variety. I want hear music from all the eras and, yes, I like some neo-swing music. I want a mix of everything. But, the most important thing is, I like Swing music and what is played right now is for the most part jazz music not swing and it tends to be very long arrangements (ie 5mins or more for one song). There is no doubt that a good number of people really enjoy this and by no means do I want them to have to give it up. I know all too well what that feels like. I would, however, love to start another venue in Vancouver on a Saturday night. This has been in the works for a long time now but we haven't been able to find a suitable venue as of yet. I do not think that it will impact the venue that is currently operating right now because there are again two large groups of dancers out there. Another venue would attract the dancers that simply just don't go out dancing anymore because they cease to enjoy it at the venue currently available. Yet, every time I meet up any of them they ask if there is somewhere to go dancing because they miss it so much.

A number of other dance teachers in the Lower Mainland have also stopped teaching East Coast to their students as there is nowhere for them to go and dance it anymore. Their students were going out and trying to dance, but were only coming back and saying that they did not enjoy their experience. When did swing dancing cease to be fun? I am not interested in dancing to complicated jazz numbers (I would however love to sit and enjoy a martini while listening to them). I want to go out and be silly and dance to all the cliche'd swing tunes. I love them, they were what started me dancing in the first place and a new dancer wants to hear them too. Unlike many of us who have been dancing for a number of years they haven't heard them over and over and over again. I don't see that there is anything wrong mixing them up with some of the other songs that are not as common or played as often. As I said before, I like variety.

I will continue to go out occasionally dancing here in Vancouver and make the best of it. I love to dance. But I will miss seeing a lot of the old faces since they no longer come out. I will also make the trek out to the other dances because they are so much fun and worth the drive when I get to the point of missing dancing too much. If anyone out there knows of a place that has hardwood floors, is big enough for at least a 100 to 150 dancers, is reasonably close to transit, and isn't outrageously priced and is available on Saturday nights please let me know! Although the ideal thing would be for everyone to be in the same place however, sadly, that doesn't seem possible at this point and time yet.

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