A fast-tempo song featuring trumpets is playing from speakers as about 20 people learn the steps to “Mama’s Stew,” a choreographed dance based on the swing style of the Lindy Hop. The dancers move from side to side, turning their bodies around with each eighth count, their arms and legs working in tandem. This dance requires fast-moving feet to keep up with the beat of the song. Many are breathing heavily.
Club President Johnna Gurgel, leads the group through the routine one more time before 8 p.m. hits. She congratulates everyone on their perseverance through the routine. As Gurgel moves around the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room, people stop her to ask clarification on swing moves and the room transitions from a practice space to a social scene.
In honor of their twentieth year as a club, WWU Swing Kids plan to celebrate this achievement Saturday, May 30, at The Majestic Ballroom with lessons all day and a social that evening, Gurgel said.
Gurgel moved to Bellingham almost two years ago from Vancouver, Washington. Last year, some friends of hers told her about WWU Swing Kids, so she went looking for them, Gurgel said.
“There’s a very strong sense of community and it’s ridiculously fun,” Gurgel said about the club dynamics. “It inspires bonds that last a very long time, and that’s true of any swing scene I’ve been in.”
Vice President Devon Hamblett got interested in swing dancing in high school. When she came to Western, she sought out the club to continue swing, she said.
Hamblett’s favorite part of the club is how casual it is, she said. When newcomers show up they think it is going to be formal, but it’s really not.
“People come in t-shirts and jeans and they just make friends and dance together,” Hamblett said.
The club teaches different styles of swing, such as East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop, Hamblett said. Lindy Hop is a fast dance style that started in Harlem, New York that follows an eight-count beat. East Coast Swing came out of that style and is slower and follows a six-count beat.
Liliana Cory, the club’s public relations officer, said she saw people in Red Square dancing during the info fair during her freshman year at Western and has been with the club ever since. The main reason she likes the club is because of the community support.
“I really love the fact that I can come to this club and feel like there’s a group of people that share similar interests as I do,” Cory said. “I also really like that it’s a safe space for me to be artistically expressive. Even if my technique isn’t right, I know that it’s ok because I’m having fun as a dancer.”
Bailey McCully started as a freshman and is still coming to WWU Swing Kids three years later. When asked if she knew about the history of the club, she said the story depends on which alumni are asked.
The story as McCully heard it is when the club started in 1995, they taught themselves the most basic steps, such as East Coast Swing, McCully said. They had 400 people crammed in the Multi-Purpose Room, McCully said. Once they mastered East Coast Swing, they moved on to the more difficult Lindy Hop, McCully said.
Christina Nourmiev saw the WWU Swing Kids dancing this year at the info fair, grabbed a flyer and showed up. Nourmiev has always liked dancing, and within this club the alumni are always willing to help people improve, she said.
Being here at the club gives her the opportunity to practice the skills she learned during the lessons, Nourmiev said. They also have a monthly workshop where the alumni teach swing moves for four hours, she said.
Nourmiev grabs a friend and they go out on the dance floor. Another song starts as Gurgel and Cory grab partners to dance with. Even as other people leave the dance floor, they continue dancing until the last song of the night.