Mark Fletcher’s wife came home from the Thursday farmers’ market one evening, grabbed him by his collar and said, “We were born to Lindy Hop!”
She met some dancers from the Cal Poly Swing Club at the market and the couple soon began learning how to dance from the club.
That was 15 years ago. Fletcher is now an organizer and member of the local swing dancing club, SLO Rugcutters, and teaches beginning Lindy. His wife is a dance teacher at an elementary school in Paso Robles.
“It became an addiction,” Fletcher said.
Lindy Hop is a type of swing dance that originated from Harlem, New York in the 1920s, according to the Rugcutter’s official website. The social dance is accompanied with jazz music. There are different types of swing dances but the SLO Rugcutters mainly dance the Lindy Hop.
Every Monday, Fletcher, his wife and the Rugcutters meet at the Madonna Inn to Lindy Hop in the ballroom.
“A recipe for dancing is just great floor, great people and great music,” Robbie Hughes, another regular at the Madonna Inn, said.
Swing dancing is how Robbie met his wife, Bridget Hughes.
“The nice thing is you don’t even have to speak the same language as long as you know how to dance,” Bridget said.
The Fletchers and the Hugheses are a part of a small tight-knit swing dancing community that travels around the world and communicates with each other through the language of dance.
“We don’t speak in English, but we speak Lindy. We have this fantastic dance with people from South Korea and from Sweden and France and Spain,” Fletcher said. “I’ll ask somebody if they would like to dance and they speak to me in a different language and we’re all like, ‘yeah.’ It’s just super fun and we don’t miss a beat.”
Like many other communities around the world, the swing dance community was hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID really put a damper on things, especially for a while we couldn’t come here [to the Madonna Inn],” Len Kawamoto, Cal Poly’s Swing Club Advisor, said.
The community is slowly returning to the dance floor, although not back to pre-pandemic numbers.
“Pre-COVID, it was really hard to find a spot on the floor,” Fletcher said.
The San Luis Obispo Rugcutters resumed their weekly dance nights at Madonna Inn in July, after canceling it for almost 16 months, according to their Facebook page.
Even after the indoor gathering restrictions were lifted, some dancers are still hesitant to return to the dance floor due to masking policies.
“Obviously, we’re not discouraging people from masking indoors,” Kawamoto said. “If you feel comfortable masking, we totally respect that, but it’s really hard to do physical activity with a mask.”
Fletcher is one of those who cannot wear a mask while dancing.
“I have asthma so I can’t dance with a mask,” Fletcher said. “If I put a mask on, I sort of have an asthma attack.”
Fletcher is hopeful that people will slowly make their way back to the dance floor.
“People have crashed at different places along the coast and they’re just making their way back,” Fletcher said “The scene is growing back again.”