Black lights and fun nights: Swing Club brings social dancing to Hope community

Photo credit: Hope College website

On Friday, Feb. 23, the Hope College Swing Club hosted one of their most popular events of the year, the Black Light Swing. Students and club members came to the Maas Auditorium dressed up in neon and white apparel to dance under black lights. The club also provided face paint, glow sticks and an array of desserts. Club Vice President Caleb Brzezinkski (’25) joked about one unique feature of swing dancing at the event: “You have the interesting experience, unless your partner’s wearing white shoes, of not being able to see if they step on your toes.”

Hope’s Swing Club has a long history of hosting social dance events for the school community, with the club dating back at least twenty years. They aim to spread a love of swing dancing by collaborating with other clubs and placing a particular emphasis on creating a beginner-friendly environment, while also providing opportunities for experienced dancers to develop their skills.

Jillian Hickok (’24), the president of the club, listed some of the upcoming events and collaborations in the works. “We [have] collabs with HAIC and Geeklife, we partner with Dance Marathon to teach during their main event, we have a more formal event in the planning stages, and we have an end-of-semester ‘pizza swing’ right before finals week,” she said. “Swing Club is a great place to meet new people and build friendships; our members represent many different majors, including engineering, music, education, and biology.”

Brzezinkski, a jazz musician, explained some of the history behind swing dancing as an art form, distinguishing it as a uniquely American style of dance that emerged out of the Jazz Age. It has its roots in the “Lindy Hop” style of dance that was developed in Harlem during the 1920s, but it was particularly popular during the 1950s and regained popularity during the 80s and 90s. Unlike other styles of dance, swing is improvised and relatively easy to learn, with only one step. “It takes about five minutes to learn if you’re being taught in a one-on-one setting,” said Brzezinkski. 

“But it’s more like a language, to borrow an idiom from the Jazz world, where you’re learning the moves, which are the words, and you can put them together to form sentences and so on and so on until maybe one day, you’ll write a book. But it’s not like you’re reading a book that somebody else wrote. I think that’s very appealing to a lot of people, to just be able to do what they want, there’s no pressure, and you can’t mess up, really. It’s all about having fun and building that community.”

Nicholas Kaipainen (’24), the recruitment manager for the club, echoed some of these sentiments, stating that swing dancing “…gets people out of their comfort zones and gets people mingling and talking[…,]making connections that they might otherwise not have.” All three of the club’s e-board members who were interviewed shared that they love teaching beginners how to swing dance. “There’s a joy that people have on their face when they experience this for the first time,” said Kaipainen.

Though some might think swing dancing is a relic from the past, it is alive and well in the Michigan area, with one of the largest swing dancing clubs in the country, the Grand Rapids Original Swing Society, not too far from Hope’s campus. Kaipainen commented that the e-board has historically tried to model Hope’s Swing Club events off of this organization’s, so “we have a bit of that culture in our dances.”

“I would encourage anybody who is even a little bit interested to give Swing Club a try,” stated Hickok. “Often students are surprised by how easy swing dance is, and how much fun they have doing it.”

“I really hope that this will become a big part of Hope’s culture,” added Kaipainen. “I hope it gets a revival since Covid kind of killed it, mostly, but it’s now coming back and I hope that it becomes a meeting ground for people to learn how to dance and just to socialize.” The club hosts dances almost every weekend, alternating between Friday and Saturday nights to make the most of students’ busy schedules. Students can follow the club’s Instagram or check out the club at one of the upcoming events. “I’ll make the pun,” said Brzezinkski. “Just swing on by!”

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