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June 27, 2013

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Back in the mood

Chattanooga’s swinging again, led by the MillennialsWe innocently strolled through an entrance into Eastgate Town Center, on our way to see a show at Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga—but no sooner had we set foot inside than we were plunged into a whirl of people in vintage costumes literally kicking up their heels. 

I knew this could not be part of the ETC show, which had nothing to do with dancing. So what was going on here? 

Well, as it turns out, Eastgate Town Center has now become a hotspot for the return of the swing dance scene to Chattanooga. And the people Lindy Hopping everywhere? Young, full of energy—and, apparently, born to dance.

Cameron Gaul runs Chatterbugs, one of the two groups staging monthly events at Eastgate. The 20-something describes the events as “a laidback, creative environment. You don’t need to bring a partner,” he says, explaining that before each dance session begins, there is an hour of instruction for people just learning Chatterbugs’ favorite step, the East Coast Swing. “It’s a uniquely American style and an easy step to pick up,” he says.  

In Pennsylvania, where Gaul hails from originally, “There is a big ballroom and Lindy scene,” he says. “When I came to Chattanooga, I figured there would be one here, too.” Instead, he found interest, but not too much actual dancing going on. He threw a dance-themed house party, which was a huge success, and then, after attending ETC’s “Bizarre Bazaar” fundraiser, realized that Eastgate Town Center would likely be a perfect venue for bigger events. “The floors were good and the rent was affordable,” he says. Chatterbugs began to cut a rug.

Erin Sizemore helps facilitate and hosts UTC’s Chattanooga Swing Society, the other group staging events at the mall. “I learned to dance at Shirley’s in East Brainerd when I was in high school,” she says. “Then a group of us started the UTC Swing Society about 18 months ago.”  Sizemore says that interest in the dance forms popular in the 1920s-40s has been revitalizing since the 1990s. “It’s part of the retro movement,” she explains. “A lot of us enjoy reliving that era, which seems happy and simple. People were energetic and optimistic.”

Though it’s absolutely not mandatory, many participants dress in vintage clothing to add to the ambiance; men in bow ties and slicked-back hair and women in the figure-flattering styles of those decades.

The Swing Society meets weekly and members travel to other cities to recruit teachers for their events. Like Chatterbugs, an hour of beginner’s instruction is offered before each dance event. “Basic swing is very easy and after you learn the steps, you can improvise,” Sizemore says. Most of the attendees at Swing Society events are college-age students, but organizers welcome people of all ages. “We’ve had people bring their kids to learn to dance,” she says.

Newly elected president of the UTC Swing Society, Jordan Grindell is also one of the founders of the organization. “I’m an outdoorsy guy, I love rock climbing, but I also love to dance,” he says. Grindell’s interest began his junior year in high school when he helped organize a swing dance for his sister’s wedding. 

Now he instructs beginner-through-advanced level six- and eight-count Lindy. One of things he loves about it is the community atmosphere the events foster. “Many people have told me, ‘I was kind of in my own shell’ before they started dancing. This is a way to get out of your own little bubble.” Gaul, Sizemore and Grindell all emphasize that although the dances are obviously social events, most people just come to dance. “When you swing dance with someone, you’re just having fun dancing together,” says Gaul.

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June 27, 2013

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