Olympia Swing Dancers Shake a Tail Feather

olympia swing dance
High school students (from left) Lucas Johnson, Grae Hill, Elex Hill and Isaac Arneson take a breather from a Tuesday night swing dance.

 

By Marti Schodt

lucky eagleEvery Tuesday night at 7 p.m., you will find them. At 805 Fourth Avenue East, at the top of the Eagles Ballroom, they wait. All ages, all sizes, all kinds of people from all walks of life; they’re there. They’re ready, they’re willing, and they’re calling to you with open arms, warm hearts, and sweaty brows, to join them in the swankiest of all hobbies: swing dancing.

olympia swing dance
High school students (from left) Lucas Johnson, Grae Hill, Elex Hill and Isaac Arneson take a breather from a Tuesday night swing dance.

There’s Susan Youngcrane, who took up dancing after chemotherapy left her in search of a new start. “I wanted to get my coordination back after going through chemo for my brain tumor,” said Youngcrane. “I lost about half the muscle mass in my legs and I thought dancing would be a good way to rebuild strength.”

Youngcrane started attending the weekly swing dances held by Olyswing. “Every week there’s a lesson before the dance that teaches you the basic swing moves,” said Youngcrane. “I would go to the lessons every week until I had the moves down.” Youngcrane found in Olyswing a place of acceptance and friendship, and has since joined the ranks of volunteers who make the dances possible.

As soon as I climbed the stairs to the ballroom, I was greeted by her broad grin and twirly skirt (which she had sewn herself). The friendly atmosphere is one of the draws for newcomers. “If you see somebody smiling, it’s probably because they messed up. A lot of people here are of the philosophy that it’s about the fun and the spirit of the dance, not getting all the moves perfect,” said Youngcrane. “It’s not like we’re gonna shun you if you’re a bad dancer. We’re going to help you improve and make you smile along the way.”

olympia swing dance
Susan Youngcrain and Creg Moir are valiant volunteers for the lessons offered before the regular swing dancing.

Walk out onto the dance floor, and you’ll find Andrew Warner cutting a rug. Although you couldn’t tell from lightness of foot and easy smile, Warner previously had crippling social anxiety, “I used to weigh 350lbs and had extremely low self-esteem. Even after I lost a lot of weight, about 95lbs, I still had no social skills,” said Warner.

One day, a friend invited Warner to attend a swing dance. Slowly, but surely, Warner begin to build his confidence as he danced with partner after partner. “There’s always people to talk to, and no matter what you have something in common – you’re both swing dancing,” said Warner. “The most important thing to remember when learning to dance is you can’t be afraid to ask someone to join you. You can’t just sit on the sidelines and wish you were out on the floor.”

Manning the ticket table is Greg Moir, another steadfast volunteer who fell in love with swing dancing after being introduced to it by his brother. Greg explains that volunteering is a great way for people low on cash to partake in the fun. While normal admission for the dance is $5, volunteers dance for free. “We show up early, set up the sound system and the chairs, and basically make sure everything is in it’s place before the dancers arrive,” said Moir.

olympia swing dance
Bill Shoaf and Lexi Z dance the night away.

Between ticket sales and acting as a “lead dummy” for the beginning lessons, Moir finds time to shake a tail feather on the dance floor. “Dancing is highly addictive and it’s the best cardio I know,” said Moir. “Why would you run on a treadmill when you can dress up and have fun with people?”

Moir maintains that he’s never left a dance in a worse mood than he came, and encourages everyone to come down and give it a try. “You don’t need a partner, everybody dances with everybody. Don’t be shy, come on your own.  Bring your girlfriends, bring your guy friends, just come and enjoy yourself. Dancing is good for the soul,” said Moir.

A look across the ballroom proves that swing dancing knows no age limit. On the left, older couple Bill Shoaf and Lexi Z spin and dip, their faces alight with smiles of exquisite happiness. “We’ve been dancing a long, long time,” said Shoaf. “But not together,” amends Z.

Z recently moved to Olympia to be with Shoaf, and the two have been living La Vida Loca ever since. They just returned from a 50-mile hike. “We danced the whole time,” said Shoaf, “We danced down the mountain, we danced along the trails, we danced at camp, this is the life! Don’t you doubt it for a second! Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re gonna keep on dancing!”

olympia swing dance
Alice Marinella (left) and Christine Corey are the queens of swing on Tuesday evenings at the Eagles Ballroom.

Turn your head to the right and you’ll find high school students Lucas Johnson, Grae Hill, and Isacc Arneson dancing the night away. “We love it here,” said Hill. “It’s something different. Most people can’t say they went swing dancing last night, we can.”

And watching over them all, at the front of hall, are Alice Marinella and Christine Corey. Marinella started a swing dance scene in Olympia, hosting weekly dances at various night clubs around Olympia when her sons expressed interest in the art of swing dancing. After learning the moves, the boys wanted to showcase their routines at a real swing dance.

“Swing is timeless, it’s like falling in love with somebody for three and a half minutes,” said Marinella. A couple of years into the dances, Marinella taught Corey how to dance, “She was really welcoming to me personally,”said Corey. “We just kind of clicked.” Corey then founded OlySwing.

Corey considers the OlySwing dances as a kind of safe haven. “We live in a world where people judge us all the time, but not here. Here you’re safe. Come as you are, we’re going to accept you,” said Corey.

 

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