Swing dancers gather in Rittenhouse Square on Sundays for a swing dancing session organized by Lindy and Blues.
A crowd gathers in the middle of Rittenhouse Square – some dancing, others watching and some dressed in 1920s attire. A band from New Orleans plays swing music. No, this is not a vortex into the past – it’s still 2012 – but walk into Rittenhouse Square on a Sunday and it is like walking back in time.
Every Sunday, swing dancers gather for “Rittenhop,” from noon to 2 p.m., weather permitting. The event is free and open to anyone and includes live music on occasion, including Tuba Skinny from New Orleans, who played on April 1.
“Rittenhop” is sponsored by Lindy and Blues, a volunteer-based swing dance organization. Carsie Blanton is one of LaB’s founders. She began dancing in 2005 in Eugene, Ore. In 2007, she moved to Philadelphia and started attending dances held on Thursday nights.
“It was a sort of small dance, and it was for lindy hop,” Blanton said. “I was always into blues dancing, so myself and three other people in Philly who were into that kind of dancing decided to start LaB so that we could teach and practice both kinds of dancing.”
LaB offers lessons and dances every Tuesday at the Ethical Society Building at 1901 Rittenhouse Square. The lessons rotate every other week between lindy hop and blues instruction. Admission to both the dance and lesson cost $5. The lessons begin at 8 p.m., followed by a dance at 9 p.m. There are drop-in lessons, which are suited for beginners, and progressive lessons for more advanced dancers.
Entrepreneurship major Graham Hunter said he started dancing approximately 10 years ago while he was a freshman at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. At one of the school’s club festivals, he saw there was a swing dance club. He started going to their lessons once a week and was hooked. He said he “hasn’t missed a week of dancing since then.”
Hunter said Rittenhop’s main purpose is to encourage others to come to LaB and try swing dancing, while dancing outdoors is a plus.
“It’s beautiful to dance in the park,” Hunter said. “It’s a smaller group, so it’s more social. It’s intimate, but also more public, so it has that dichotomy.”
For Blanton and Hunter, one of the initial attractions to swing dancing was the music. Hunter said the historical aspect was also intriguing.
“Lindy is like the father of swing dances – all swing dances derive from that,” Hunter said.
When Hunter came to Temple approximately four years ago he founded a swing dance club, which practiced once a week in Mitten Hall. The first lesson held had more than 100 attendees.
Junior anthropology major Hannah Lents was a member of the club during her freshman year. She said she found out about the club in a way similar to how Hunter did at Creighton.
“I was walking around at Welcome Week and saw the swing dance club,” Lents said.
She said that she had done partner dancing and swing dancing a little bit in high school.
“It was a great way to relieve stress,” she added.
As the semester continued, less people started to come and the group eventually dwindled down to a core of approximately 10 dancers. Some of the same people involved in the club are now involved with LaB. Eventually it became too hard to sustain the club and meet requirements Student Activities asks of student organizations, so Hunter said he invited people to attend LaB.
Swing dancing may seem as if it is a pastime, but there is a thriving community in the city. Hunter said the swing dance scene in Philadelphia is made up of approximately 1,000 people. There are several other organizations in the area including the Philadelphia Swing Dance Society and University of Pennsylvania’s graduate club UPtown Swing.
Lents said she likes the variety of skill levels and age range of participants at LaB’s dances.
“You really experience what it’s like to dance socially,” she said.
Hunter said one of the reasons people are drawn to swing dancing is its “element of good, clean fun.”
“There’s the aspect of social dancing, which is I dance with you and we have a great time, and then you move on to the next person,” Hunter said. “It’s almost like speed dating – there is the option for dancing or conversation.”
Hunter added that not everyone who comes enjoys dancing.
“Once you come and experience it, you’re either that type of person or not,” Hunter said.
Others are immediately hooked.
“They come and they’re like ‘oh my God these are my people,’” Hunter said. “I don’t have many friends who aren’t dancers and my friends who weren’t dancers became dancers.”
Hunter said people should not let intimidation stop them from trying swing, and added that the mentality at LaB is “everyone was a beginner once.”
If someone is a bit curious or wants to pursue this type of dancing, he said to attend a few of the Tuesday lessons or come on Sundays. He also recommends finding a person to practice with.
“The goal of dancing is to have fun – the best thing to do is put on a big smile and be terrible but awesome,” Hunter said. “I would even say the point is to make the other person have fun.”
“When your goal is to make the other person have fun, it’s a virtuous circle,” he added. “Some of my favorite people to dance with aren’t the best dancers – my favorite are the ones that are laughing and having a great time.”
Maura Filoromo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.