Counting down, “a five, a six, a five, six, seven, eight...,” signifying the beginning of each new move, Keenan Diggs, vice president and dance instructor, along with his co-instructor, former Memphis swing dance leader, Josephine Edwards, lead the group through step by step instruction during Monday night's swing dance class.
Flying under the radar, The University of Memphis Swing Dance club has been in action for at least 10 years. The club stems from the interest of the dance from a native Californian, Jaredan, who gave it life and continues to develop it into what it is today.
Jaredan, who attended the U of M, kept the legacy going by passing the reins on until it reached Josephine Edwards, who still co-teaches classes at the U of M lessons as well as the Memphis dance organization, The Red Hot Lindy Hop.
But the question remains, what exactly is swing dance?
It’s a term denoting several styles of dance which originated in the 1920s and expanding into several others by the 1930s. East Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, Balboa and Charleston are some of the most popular types of swing dance today.
Just the same, students as well as interested members of the community can experience the same “release.”
As the umemphiswing site boasts, “Want to have an AWESOME life? Dance. Want to go to amazing events with wonderful people? Dance. Want a life-changing hobby that will build self-esteem and be downright fun? Well… you get the idea.”
For Edwards, it was a “sign” that led her to swing dance.
“I saw a sign, a sign that said 'free swing dancing classes' and I came by myself, no one else and I loved it," she added. "I stayed and I ended up being good at it; so it has been awesome!”
Her love for it developed into downright passion for the dance, which led her along with Bethaney Loeblein to lead the club for their junior and senior years at the U of M. However, reaching the end of their stint as leaders, they too passed it on to the five dance instructors who currently teach and are taking the club to new heights.
“We saw in them the potential for dancing, and we kinda hooked onto them and left a legacy for them to take with them and they did...they've learned to teach and learned to dance and run the club. Under them it has grown more than it grew under anyone else,” stated Edwards in regards to how the club has grown.
The five officers who currently round out the leadership of the club are Nick Gordon, president; Keenan Diggs, vice president; Camille Maynard, secretary; Brooke Fearnley, treasurer; and Justin Todd, promotions.
While they all offer love for the dance and bring a unique flare to the dance, they all rotate in teaching the class.
Secretary Camille Maynard offers her take on what makes swing dance unique: “The history of the dance and the style. There's so much diversity to it. But the syncopation and the way all parts can blend together lends a unique creativity. Each dance is unique based on the song and the partner and what you bring to the dance. Then the costuming and the social atmosphere. Swing dancers are very open and welcoming. It's a heartening contrast in this rather jaded and mistrustful world. But most importantly is just how it can be so fun and never bore you.”
She also stated for her personally, on a scale of one to 10 of fun, “ (it's) an absolute 10. I've never had a bad swing dance or a bad time. It's invigorating and makes me feel fantastic...it's so much fun and not difficult to learn. But there's enough challenge to keep you motivated to improve technique. It occupies the mind and is honestly an awesome mental release.”
The usual turnout is between 10 to 20 people, remaining at a consistency of interested individuals. With the group continually gaining recognition within the U of M student body this semester and being free and open to the general public of all ages, skill level, and background, it is certainly something to check out.
The free basic lessons and social dancing takes place every Monday night 7 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. with lessons lasting until 8 p.m. Beginner swing dancing lessons are in Room 254 of the Elma Roane Fieldhouse and there is no partner or previous experience required. Just come expecting to learn a few new moves while having some fun.
“We want to share this dance and increase the (swing dancing) community...there is a lot of dancing in Memphis people don't know about, it's great,” stated Maynard and Edwards.