This is the first installment of Mustang News’ “Let’s Go Clubbing” series exploring various Cal Poly clubs.
The sound of chatter, laughter and, more importantly, big band music echoed through Madonna Inn. It was like a scene from a 1920s film noir; people were out on the dance floor, bodies flailing, feet moving alongside a partner’s at a fast, jazzy pace.
It’s a dance style not often practiced today, but one Cal Poly group can be found jiving and swaying in Madonna Inn every Monday night: The Swing Club.
“We just love to dance to the music of the ’30s through ’50s,” environmental management and protection senior Indigo Bannister said. “It’s a great time.”
Bannister, along with city and regional planning senior Emily Foley and mechanical engineering senior Alex Haughton, have been in the club since their freshman year. All had some type of experience before joining the club, so it’s no surprise that they bring a particular liveliness to their dancing.
“I grew up listening to big band swing with my dad and going to (see) live jazz musicians. And then I found a way that I could actually participate in it because I am not musically inclined at all,” Bannister chuckled. “So you’ve got to dance.”
There are a variety of dance moves involved in swing, each one with its own signature beat and rhythm. Every dancer tends to have a favorite they like to perform on the dance floor.
“My favorite dance move would be the Charleston because it changes your pulse,” Foley said. “You’re bouncier, you’re kicking — it lets you be a little bigger in your dancing and more expressive and have more fun.”
Dancing “big” is something the club prides itself on — the ability to express yourself through the movement that takes hold of you.
While the club attends social dances, like the one at Madonna Inn each week, it also holds lessons for beginners and intermediates. Stopping by one of its lessons on a Sunday afternoon may be surprising, as the chants of “shark bait, ooh ha ha” bounce off the walls and transform the group into a tribe of exotic dancers.
“What we realized while we were lesson planning is we wanted to make it more fun,” Foley said. “We wanted to figure out a way to really make it accessible and easy to understand so we thought about ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘shark bait oh ha ha.’”
The beginners and intermediates aren’t the only ones improving their dancing style during the lessons.
“I get a lot better at dancing as well when I teach because when you’re just dancing, even if you’re really good, you may not entirely understand where all that greatness is coming from,” Haughton said. “But when you teach, you have to break down each move into its component parts and really understand how those parts build to make the whole.”
The Cal Poly Swing Club meets from 8-11 p.m. on Mondays at Madonna Inn and 8-9 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Julian A. McPhee University Union (building 65), room 216. Sunday lessons are from 2-4 p.m. in Architecture and Environmental Design (building 5) near (often outside) room 225 and costs $3.
“Have fun, get out and be social,” Bannister said. “It’s my form of exercise for the week, my form of social entertainment for the week. It’s how I express myself artistically and it’s just a lot of fun.”