JANESVILLEBy Greg Little
ANESVILLE—Bobbi Thompson just wanted a place where she and her friends could dance.
A fan of the “swing” style, the Orfordville woman knew there were enthusiast groups in Madison, Milwaukee and Rockford, Illinois. There also was a group in Beloit, but it only met during the summer months, she said.
“I wanted an opportunity that was closer to home and more convenient,” she said.
That got her thinking: Are there others in the Janesville area who like to dance but have no interest in going to the clubs?
In three months, she’s gotten her answer.
Last November, Thompson and her DJ husband, Chris, launched Swing Station, a monthly swing-dance get-together held at the refurbished Resonate Church on Janesville’s west side. That first month, more than 70 people showed up ready to hit the newly-laid hardwood.
“I was surprised it turned out so well,” she said. “December was a little slow because of all the things going on that month, but last month (January), we had almost 60 people.”
Swing Station takes place in a church, but it’s not “church-related,” Thompson stressed. Dances are open to the public, and those of all skill levels who are ages 13 and older are welcome.
Before each dance, instructors offer a half-hour introductory lesson that covers the basics of swing. The lessons, which are included in the $3 admission fee, help newbies get a feel for the style before everybody hits the dance floor at 8 p.m.
“You learn enough basics to dance through the night and to know how to follow an advanced dancer,” Thompson said. “We have good instructors who walk you through everything with and without music. You don’t need to know all the steps, you just have to get out of your comfort zone a bit and try.”
Part of swing dancing’s popularity stems from the fact it has so few rules. Freestyling is encouraged, and dancers learn they can apply swing styles to most any type of music.
“I found swing dancing to be easy compared to other dances because it’s just a simple dance,” said Bill Lein decker, who helps organize the monthly events. “It’s not a lot about form and posture and framing, and swing can be danced to almost anything.”
Leindecker also appreciates swing’s laid-back manner, which allows dancers to interact comfortably.
“I’m an introvert, but I like meeting people,” he said. “Because this is a social dance, you’re encouraged to dance with others besides your partner. Four years ago, when I started taking lessons, I was told to rotate around the room and dance with others. The more I did that, the more comfortable I got.”
“The socialization aspects of swing and the crowd you’re seeing at events takes any discomfort away,” she said. “People laugh and smile and encourage you. When I was new, I remember feeling (uncomfortable), and I’m not a shy person. But the people you dance with make it all OK.”
While most of the music played at Swing Station harkens back to the early to mid-1900s, it’s not intended as a way to deter younger dancers. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“This is such a good thing for young people,” Leindecker said. “They want something to do. They ride the circuit and get into trouble. This is good for teens because they can’t go to the bar. This is good, clean fun, and we’re in a church, so it’s a safe environment.”
Mike and Donna Malterer are two of the folks you’ll usually find at Swing Station. The retired Evansville couple met at a church dance 56 years ago, and the music keeps calling them back.
“If you like to dance at all, swing is a fun and active way to do it,” Mike Malterer said. “You can do all kinds of moves with it; you’re not tied to specific moves. With a waltz, you just do X amount of steps then turn and do another X amount and turn.”
Swing also offers the Malterers an exercise opportunity they find pleasurable.
“(Swing is) an enjoyable style,” Mike Malterer said. “It’s fast, so it’s good exercise. And you’re usually going to dance for two or three hours, so it’s not like 45 minutes or an hour at the gym. The gym is boring.”
Tara Sliwinski, a Michigan native and Beloit resident, taught the introductory class prior to January’s Swing Station event. She started swing dancing as a student at Michigan State University, and she said it opened a wide range of social doors for her.
“It’s more exciting to get out of the house and do something like this rather than just stare at your phone,” she said. “It’s a good way to get in touch with your body, and you really form connections with people.
“I find that, as an introvert, swing offers a more structured way to socialize because you don’t have to talk a whole bunch. You go out and learn something new, practice what you learn and meet new people interested in the same thing.”
Aside from its exercise and social aspects, swing dancing has unveiled other benefits for Sliwinski.
“I have experienced loneliness in the past, but now, having swing dancing as a hobby, I can travel to any state in the country or around the world and go to a swing dance and meet people I have things in common with,” she said. “It’s been really beneficial for me to make friends that way.
“It’s really important to get the social connection for people who become easily depressed or have anxiety about not making friends and being alone.”