All images credit: RMi Photography Services
“Wait! There’s something wrong. Do I look okay?”
“Yeah you look great!” my friend Syazween claimed as she adjusted her high platform heels outside her car.
“Thanks… Do these sneakers go with this dress?” I asked looking down, not ready to give in to Syazween’s persuasion.
“Okay I’m wearing my slippers” I said and kicked my sneakers off, tossed them and my socks into the car where I had tossed a vintage hat that I changed my mind about in the car ride that evening. My dress had already looked stupid.
Syazween followed suit, changing into her ‘jambans’ and off we headed in our floaty floral dresses to – for the very first time ever – swing dance.
We approached the loud and populated Laundry Bar, of which I have memories of sipping mocktails with the family with the flair of an under-aged girl and sloppy, boozy memories of vomit and cigarette smoke as a 20 year-old.
The bar near the entrance gifted me recollections of the drunken night.
The dance floor, however, gifted me something very new.
Happy swing music lifted the room and the limbs of those who were dancing, higher. Lady and Gentleman couples were hand in hand, spinning, twirling, kicking, dipping, smiling, shuffling and jiving… Elevating how intimidating it was for me to attend a dance event of a style I have never attempted. Let alone to have to dance with a partner.
A stark contrast to the dancing I do and observe at nightclubs, fuelled by alcohol, lust and the desire to look good while at it. It took a couple of moments for it to sink in that the people at Lindy KL’s Swing Out Loud event were actually having fun.
In what seemed like some sort of ‘living in the present moment’ trance, the people on the packed dance floor looked at ease. As if they had dropped all their burdens and problems at the entrance of the Laundry Bar and consciously decided to swing dance it away all night long.
Observing the dancing couples, something struck me quite intensely. The colours. There were people of all colours there, dancing together hand in hand, swapping every now and then with no obvious hesitation.
Shortly after came the moment of truth, Syazween was asked to dance by a stranger who offered to teach her the basics of swing dancing. I watched attentively like a doting friend, making sure she was comfortable.
Side step, side step, back step, back step — she had that look on her face she often does when she is confused and is trying to pay attention.
Across the room I noticed a couple that seemed very acquainted with swing dancing dip and spin, smile and giggle, shimmy and sashay. I needed to interview a few people for this story and decided that they would be just perfect. Out we went to a quieter spot where James Lee and Ashley Chan gladly answered my qualms.
Still panting from the dance I just pulled them away from, James, who is a 34-year-old photographer, explained that Lindy-Hop dancing – a spin-off of swing dancing – started in the 1920’s and died off in World War Two. It got revived back in 1985 and the Lindy we see today are the after-effects of its revival. As for Lindy KL, it has been around for 9 years now.
When questioning Ashley, a 22-year-old musician about how she got introduced to this event, she went “Hmm, well I love Jazz music and I am a dancer, but I have just started social dancing. A few friends told me about it and they were like ‘oh Ashley it’s so fun you should come and I’m like okay!’”
The both of them then very enthusiastically answered me a big ‘Definitely!’ when I asked if newbies who knew nothing about swing dancing would find the social swing events a good platform to be introduced to the dance. “Better than boring classes”, they joked. “The best place to learn is on the dance floor.”
They then turned the questions back on to me wondering if I had already gone on to the dance floor, to which I explained about having two left feet. James tried to throw some encouragement my way by affirming that everyone could dance. “If you can walk, you can dance. If you have two left feet, you can pick up one left foot, and then the other left foot. One left foot and the other left foot and then you are dancing.”
I found Syazween again shortly after, looking slightly wet from perspiration and eyes significantly brighter from post-exhilarating swing dancing, settling into content.
Are you okay? Was he okay? Was it alright?” I asked her, playing my part as a responsible friend looking out for unwanted advances from strangers towards my beautiful friend Syazween.
“Yeah it was fine.”
“Did he make you feel uncomfortable at all?” I asked again, being protectively stubborn.
“No he didn’t. It was perfectly okay.”
It was difficult for me to believe this as archaic views on the regular scenarios of men asking women to dance in bars have set in me like stone; they are hardly ever just friendly.
But Syazween is honest and has always reported any discomfort she felt towards her friends so I trusted her assurance.
It was also clear to me that to know what she was talking about, I would have had to try it out myself. However my extrovert self was not on that night and I was more than happy to just see everyone dancing in delight.
It made me giddy to see such a high degree of diversity and joy on one dance floor with live swing music putting everyone into a good mood.
A spectacle that looked more and more like a whirlpool of bliss between fast dancing each time you looked at it.
To finish up my story better, I had to look for the organiser of the event to interview and James pointed out a pretty girl in a red dress that looked quick on her feet and had years of swing dancing experience in hand.
I watched on till she thanked her dance partner goodbye at the end of the song and then swindled her outside before any other eager dancers could get to her.
“You looked really good, swing dancing on the floor just now! Have you been swing dancing for long?” I asked Natalia Shcheglova who then told me that she has been swing dancing for five-years now and is from Ukraine where swing dancing is widely enjoyed by people who are mostly around the age of 18 to 40 years old.
I took the opportunity to ask the 30-year-old about the swing dancing community here and she said that “the community here is fantastic, everyone is so friendly and supportive and also very persistent. Back in Ukraine there are a lot of classes while here there are relatively less classes but people would still gather in smaller groups and practise.”
“As for this party I organised, I wanted to have something similar to back when I was in Ukraine but the more I spoke to people, the more I wanted them to experience it. I didn’t expect that many people to come today but as I can see, most of them are enjoying themselves and discovering the dance and that was my aim, to show how fun it can be.”
Querying on the challenges she faced organising this event, Natalia described her difficulties finding swing bands to play for such events, as it was only when the members of the East Valley Swing band were around at the time could they hold this event with live music. “Its much more fun with live music, or maybe you can inspire some young musicians to play some swing?” Natalia asked, with a little glimmer of hope in her eyes.
She too, then asked if I had gone for a spin on the floor and volunteered to teach me when I told her I was still a swing dancing virgin. How could I refuse?
We went to the little place near Laundry’s entrance away from everyone else and she taught me where to place my arms and how to do the front steps and back steps.
Shuffle shuffle, drag drag, shuffle suffle, drag drag…
Natalia looked down at the source of the dragging following the shuffling and asked ‘not very easy to dance in those shoes huh?’ to which a sweaty but grateful me said ‘no, not at all’ and decided to thank the very talented Natalia goodbye.
Off I went to look for Syazween again and when I found her, a gentleman had asked me to dance. Without missing a beat I said ‘here, take Syazween instead!’ and watched on as Syazween learned a little more from her new partner.
If you are interested in attending Swing dancing socials, put on some comfy shoes (not slippers) and head on to Sid’s Pub at Bangsar South on Tuesdays at 9pm at New Star Studio in Taman Desa every Fridays.
As for those of you who would like to go for classes, New Star Studio offers a variety of workshops for absolute beginners, intermediaries and swing dance OG’s. Can play swing music? Let Lindy KL know! Help the community grow and make more of these fabulously fun events happen! Also, do follow KL Swing. Have an event coming up and want us to experience it, email to email@example.com