“It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.” That was the word in 1931 Harlem, when Duke Ellington and his band laid down a beat that sent listeners racing to the dance floor to jitterbug the night away.
Swing is still intoxicating 86 years later and is attracting a “solid crowds” of those “hep to the jive.”
Monthly dances are held the second Saturday of each month at Dewey Hall in Sheffield and this Saturday The Versatones—Chris Kendall on tenor sax, Josh Connors, lead guitar, Pete Tenerowicz, drums, Otto Gardner, bass, Peter Jung, rhythm guitar—will do the musical honors. A beginners’ swing dance lesson will be offered at 7:30PM, followed at 8:30 by live music and dancing.
Beth Carlson, who is on the board of directors for Dewey Hall, said the monthly dances have proved a solid draw. Originally organized by Elizabeth Orenstein and Jennifer Clark and held at Racebrook Lodge, the dances were moved to Dewey Hall in a partnership with Kip Beacco and his fellow musicians, Jim Wright and Matt Downing. The move fit nicely into the Dewey Hall directors’ goal of making the building a center for community life.
“Kip, Jim and Matt established the Oldtone Roots Music Festival and they are dedicated to preserving roots music,” said Carlson.
Swing music fits firmly in this category. It became popular in the 1920s and ’30s, drawing inspiration from earlier music and dance forms. During its heyday, swing was expressed in a wide variety of dances that ranged from the Charleston, to the Lindy Hop, to the Balboa.
“There are many different kinds of Swing,” said Carlson. “We teach East Coast Swing, which has a specific sort of rhythm and a couple of twirls. West Coast Swing is a lot more athletic—that’s where you see people flipping their partners over their backs.”
She said the dances are open to all ages and levels of experience. “You don’t have to have a partner. We start with lessons to recorded music, then the live music begins at 8:30. We get solid crowds and a lot of people don’t come with partners so there are usually plenty of dancers and everyone has a chance to dance. There’s not a lot of wall-flowering unless people get tired. People are mixing it up and having a good time.”
Tickets are $15-$20, with a $10 charge for students with an ID. Dewey Hall is located at 91 Main Street. Refreshments are available during the dance.
Carlson noted that the September dance will not be held at Dewey Hall, however, but rather at the Oldtone Roots Music Festival on September 7, with three bands performing. “There will be dancing from 7 until midnight,” she said.
The festival will be held at Cool Whisper Farm, 1011 County Road 21, Hillsdale NY.
For more information call 413-717-1255. Oldtone events are sponsored in part by Salisbury Bank.