On Wednesday nights, the old Underwood typewriter factory on Arbor Street in Hartford comes alive with the sounds of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington.
Hartford Underground, a swing-dancing club founded by Connecticut Swing Dance Society, holds weekly socials in the first-floor dance studio.
Adam Gallagher of West Hartford, the director of Hartford Underground, teaches the dance classes with Jaime McAtee of Enfield. Both hang around after the classes to boogie to the beat well into the night.
“Once you get the steps and get into that rhythm, it’s pretty easy. You can understand how it spreads in popularity. You let go of your anxiety,” says Gallagher, whose “day job” is a mechanical engineer at Pratt & Whitney.
“After you have a little bit of experience, you can watch dancing shows on TV and you can tell which movies stars can dance and which ones can’t," Gallagher adds.
So let’s get you hopping, no excuses:
But what if I don’t know how to dance?
Free beginner lessons are held before the dances from 8 to 8:30. (A weekly hourlong class on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. costs $50 a month.) Getting the dance moves down pays off.
“When it’s going well, you feel as if you are flying,” says Amber Black of Easthampton, Mass., said at a recent social dance.
And what if I don’t have a partner?
Come anyway. That’s why they’re called social dances. If the women outnumber the men or vice versa, same-sex dancing is perfectly OK.
But isn’t swing dancing a little old-fashioned?
Yes, and that’s part of the appeal.
“I like the music. It seems a little simpler,” says Jane Ladd of East Hampton, at a recent Hartford Underground event.
“I grew up with jazz. It’s the music for me,” says Javier Reyes Johnson of East Hartford. Johnson both DJs the social dances and hits the dance floor.
Kay Wilcox of Willington started dancing while a student at UConn: “I was a transfer student and I was lonely. I thought, this is nerdy but I’ll try it anyway. The community is so welcoming."
Swing dancing began in the 1920s but faded in popularity after World War II. Frankie Manning, a former choreographer with the 1940s troupe Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, helped revive interest in swing dancing the ’80s, and then a 1998 Gap commercial brought it back in a big way.
In a lot of swing-dancing footage, people are seen throwing people around and jumping over each other’s heads. That is more for performance than social dancing, and Gallagher says he does not encourage it at the socials for safety reasons.
To see Frankie Manning in action in his heyday, go to YouTube.
OK, then what should I wear?
Something comfortable. At a recent dance, women were dressed in both flats and heels, both dresses and pants. You can wear sweats, jeans, a suit, anything that feels comfortable. Gallagher advised, however, that leather-soled shoes are most effective.
What kind of swing dances are there?
At the monthly classes, Gallagher and McAtee teach the eight-count Lindy Hop and six-count Lindy Hop.
Less frequently, Gallagher teaches the Charleston; the blues, which Gallagher describes as “more modern than the Lindy Hop”; and the Balboa, which he describes as “a close dance with shuffling.”
But where’s the Jitterbug? Jitterbug is a generic word that essentially means all kinds of swing dancing.
Is there food and drink?
There is if you bring it. It’s BYO everything. And remember, it’s a social, so bring enough to share.
When, where, and how much?
Dances are Wednesdays from 8:30 to 11 p.m. at 56 Arbor St. in Hartford (go through the front door). The dance floor is in Room 103, behind the elevator. Admission is $10.
Other swing dance groups
Most events use recorded music but some use live music. Don’t be surprised to see the same people at these places who you see at Hartford Underground.
Susan Dunne can be reached at email@example.com