Swingers’ Party

It was like a scene from a mobster film set in the Prohibition era. An overcast day on tired Minnehaha Avenue in South Minneapolis. I pulled up to the nondescript, red brick building that bears a sign reading “Tapestry Folkdance Center.” From the outside, it was quiet, barely a soul in sight. I figured the rendezvous was canceled for lack of interest. But on the other side of the glass door, swinging big-band tunes offered a friendly welcome, and a brief trip down a carpeted office corridor revealed a new old world whose residents are lindy hoppers. The whole thing was so seemingly undercover and speakeasyish, you’d think the president had outlawed dancing. (He hasn’t, has he?)

Disappointingly, there were no flapper gowns or cloche hats, this being a modern and altogether relaxed midday gathering, but there was lots of energy. These are the people who continued with swing dancing even after the initial (and subsequent retro) crazes had passed, and on this Saturday afternoon, the trend-bucking swingers were fantastic. And they should’ve been, given that it was the “Cats Corner Competition,” the annual contest to determine regional qualifiers who would go on to compete at the American Lindy Hop Championships in Connecticut in October. Despite that opportunity, and the cash prizes that come with it, the air lacked that certain tense hostility one expects at competitions. Instead, during the half-hour of open dancing prior to the beginning of the contest, the smooth wood floor was alive with smiling, laughing dancers, some there to perform, some there to watch, support, and take to the floor during breaks. Old and young, they were twisting, swinging, and spinning, most of them with a different partner every song.

The first competition was the fast dance, a two-minute improvised dance to music of the band’s choice. Seven couples each took a turn, adding their own individual flair to the performance. With the lindy, it’s all about feeling the music; although the moves themselves aren’t that hard to master (one female competitor had been swing dancing for only six months), you’re simply 23 skidoo if you don’t have rhythm. This wasn’t a routine the dancers performed; instead, they were actually dancing to the music, to each other, for themselves. And, the scene being rather small, most of the competitors knew each other and cheered the others on. Bizarre, wholesome, surreptitious fun.

Cindy Gardner sat down beside me after a dance during the second open-dance hour. She and her husband, Terry, teach lessons through their company, TC Swing, and were the organizers of the day’s events. Cindy has been teaching swing since 1979 and is revered in the community. She gazed around at the whirling, cheerful dancers, beads of sweat glistening along the bridge of her nose. “All this without drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes,” she noted. “Although Terry will have a cigar when we get home tonight.” True enough, but it was only 2:30 in the afternoon. There were still two competitive events to go, then prizes and a break before the evening’s dance, an event that happens on the first Saturday of each month and draws around 400 people of all lindy abilities. I didn’t mention to Cindy that I had heard several of the competitors outside discussing the most opportune time to hit the liquor store.—Katie Quirk