By Jennifer Pund
Michelle Northrup discovered dancing to help recover from muscular problems, but continues because of the joy of dancing, the connection with others, and a little light exercise. She now spends her free time helping mountain residents discover the fun of dancing. Her free swing dance lessons at the Stage Stop in Rollinsville are a perfect way for beginners to learn the social dance of swing. The bi-weekly lessons focus mostly on steps and rhythm and how to lead or follow. Solos, couples and whole families can take advantage of these dance nights and have fun learning new dance skills.
Northrup spent 10 years commuting long distances to a desk based job and said the lack of activity and constantly being in the seated position caused major muscular problems. Combined with a skiing accident, she gradually became unable to walk or move without pain. “After some physical therapy and specific exercises I was ready to incorporate regular movement that was not-too-much, not-too-little and dancing fit the bill,” she said. “I did some research and decided I wanted to learn swing dancing, because I like the music.”
Swing Dance, also known as Jitterbug is actually a group of dances that developed with jazz music in the 20s, 30s and 40s. At the time, there were hundreds of styles of swing dance, but the ones most common today are the Charleston, Shag, and Lindy Hop.
As Northrup got more into dancing she realized that a commitment to learning can be difficult for folks that are juggling jobs and kids, not to mention the cost of gas to get to classes in Denver or Boulder. “It’s quite an investment for something you aren’t sure you will like. Especially getting started as a beginner, it can feel awkward and take some time. I knew that if I ever wanted to see swing dancing up here, I’d have to make these dancers myself,” she said. So, that’s what she did. “The Stage Stop has been very generous allowing me the use of their space, especially since it can take a while for people to get in the habit of going to class, and some folks – like me- can take a while to get the basic steps down.”
The beginner classes are held every second and fourth Tuesday of the month in the hay loft upstairs at the Stage Stop in Rollinsville at 7 p.m. Northrup says she arrives a bit early to meet anyone with questions before the lesson begins. She is also available for private lessons if there are scheduling conflicts.
“I decided that offering an open basic class would be good practice for me. Over time we might develop enough intermediates here to fund a class with one of my teachers, and eventually some dances with a band,” she said. “I’m just a neighbor who likes dancing and like to share what I’ve learned with people who might not otherwise have the opportunity.”
These classes are for all ages and are a great way to meet new people but also get a bit of exercise. “Some folks see videos of Lindy Hoppers in performances and think it’s all about throwing each other around, dancing really fast and doing tricks, but that’s the performance variety. Social Lindy is a lot more subdued. Basic social dancing is just for fun and easy going,” she said. “I highly recommend it for older folks trying to stay active in a fun way [because of] how intensely you dance is really up to the individual. Each person goes at their own pace.”
She said it took her months of weekly instruction before she felt truly comfortable with the steps and movements. “Everyone is a beginner, so we stick with just learning the basic rhythm and steps, and basic instruction in partner dancing at the end. Nothing fancy,” she said. “Beginners can take all the classes they want until they are bored and ready for an intermediate instruction. It took me about three months of classes once a week to get started, and a few more months of intermediate classes to really feel like I was dancing without thinking about it.”
She said the joy of the dancers is what draws her to this style of dance. “Dancing is joyful. You’ll never see so many big, sincere smiles as you do on a swing dance floor,” she said. “A bad night swing dancing is still a really good night, and you can see that joy on everyone’s faces.”
Nothing is needed to join the lessons, not even a partner, but she does understands that dancing with a stranger can be awkward and said it’s worth getting used to. “No partner is needed as we mainly work on solo steps, and for partner moves, everyone dances with each other in a rotation. This part can be nerve-wracking for some, it was a huge hurdle for me, but it is so worth getting comfortable with, and dancing with other people is really the only way to get better,” she said. “There are no rules about gender leading or following in swing. Plus people who dance with only one partner often learn the same mistakes and can hinder progress. But if you are a couple who only want to dance together is fine too, I dance with each person briefly to see how they are doing.”
The Stage Stop swing classes cover the basic rhythm, steps and good partner etiquette and form. Northrup said these social dancing skills are great for everyone, but really good for younger singles. “The focus is on good leading and following skills. Social dancing skills are really super useful for young people in situations where socializing can be awkward. We inadvertently teach some basic social skills that can help young men and women be more comfortable and have more fun in social environments,” she said.
“Plus Ryan Gosling is in a movie playing a swing dancer, so young men should expect swing dancing to be popular with the ladies for a while,” she said of La La Land. The film also stars Emma Stone and will be released this coming summer.
To get on Northrup’s swing dance e-mail list or to ask questions, contact Northrup at Michelle@Northrup.com or visit www.facebook.com/swinginpeaktopeak. Otherwise, simply show up for the next lesson to get started.
The Stage Stop is located 60 Main St. in Rollinsville. Call 303-258-0649 or visit stagestoprollinsville.com for more information.
Originally published in the February 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly