Holidays

West Coast swing draws dancers young and old to Sacramento

Dancers warm up before the juniors and masters Jack & Jill prelims during the 24th annual Capital Swing Convention, a West Coast swing extravaganza, at the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake Sacramento on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, where more than 700 dancers ages 14 to 84 were hoofing and twirling to blues, jazz, rock and big band music.
Dancers warm up before the juniors and masters Jack & Jill prelims during the 24th annual Capital Swing Convention, a West Coast swing extravaganza, at the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake Sacramento on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, where more than 700 dancers ages 14 to 84 were hoofing and twirling to blues, jazz, rock and big band music. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Those looking for Valentine’s Day dance partners got about 50 to 100 in three-minute intervals at the 24th annual West Coast swing extravaganza this weekend celebrating a vintage dance that’s enjoying a resurgence.

As a recording of Adele’s “Water Under the Bridge” played in the ballroom of the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake Sacramento, some 700 dancers ages 14 to 84 at the Capital Swing Convention learned how to step, half-turn and twirl in what organizers said has become one of the hottest dances in the world in recent years, spurred by the popularity of the TV show “Dancing With the Stars.”

The dancers also moved to singers Ed Sheeran and Al Green and a broad range of pop, jazz, big band and hip-hop.

“When I first started working this 21 years ago, we had about 12 conventions a year, and right now we have 240 and are in Europe, Australia, Germany and Canada,” said Dani Canziani, a dance teacher and judge who’s done the West Coast swing for 28 years. “We truly dance to the music that drives our body movements and our styling. You need a ballroom for ballroom dancing, but you can do West Coast swing anywhere. I danced it to banana boat music in the Bahamas.”

In fact, Sacramento’s become a hotbed of West Coast swing, said Bart Upton, 67, who started Capital Swing Dancers in 1998 after transitioning from country dancing.

West Coast swing grew out of blues bars and caught on in the 1940s, when, during the war, dancing offered affordable entertainment, Canziani said. It also became a hit, especially in Southern California, because on crowded dance floors there wasn’t room to toss people in the air as one might with other types of dances, Canziani said.

“Jitterbug and Lindy Hop are our sister dances – those dances are done in a circle,” said the 55-year-old teacher. “They move all over the floor, and our dance is slotted. We dance on a cross, horizontal or perpendicular to the floor.”

On Sunday, many of the dancers were young people, with more single guys than gals, and some of the hottest dancing by teens from Sonoma County.

“The boys figured out that a girl wants a boy who can dance – either at 15 or 85, guys who can dance are worth their weight in gold,” said Jennifer Filzen, a dance teacher from Monterey who met her husband in a dance class in 2007.

“You don’t have to be good to get the girl,” said Jerry Slater, an 85-year-old from Sacramento. “There’s not that many guys who can dance.”

Some guys, however, really could, including the boys from Nordquist Dance Studio in Santa Rosa, who were among the 25 teens there who danced until early Sunday.

Daniel Almond, 15, was walking arm in arm with his girlfriend, Leanne Wildman, 16. “We did meet after being dance partners in October,” Wildman said. “Some of our friends say, ‘You do ballroom; that’s kind of weird.’ ” But it’s Almond who’s laughing now.

Ann Brickman, 15, said with a smile: “It’s relaxing. I just have more fun doing this dance; you can mix it up with hip-hop.” Another person who danced all night, 16-year-old Wesley Page, added: “There are four or five basic steps, and you can improvise.”

Many come to the dances looking for a bit of company, Filzen said.

West Coast swing classes “tend to attract people in transition, people who have gone through a divorce or some kind of death or tragedy, or are starting or looking for a new job,” said Filzen, 45. “All this is, is a three-minute love affair without the marriage proposal or divorce papers. It attracts people who want to hold someone without the commitment.”

Every three minutes, the women changed partners, exchanging little more than high fives with their partners after each mini-dance. The closest the dancers tend to get is a move called the sugar push, where in the ’40s, men would lean in and plant a kiss on the woman’s check, Canziani explained. “Back then they’d say, ‘Give me a lil’ sugar.’ 

“It takes a lot of time to learn, but don’t give up!” said Upton, of Capital Swing Dancers. “We have members in their 80s and 90s, and people ooh and ah. They look wonderful!”

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @StephenMagagnini

West Coast swing

  • Classes are offered Tuesday nights at the Opera House Saloon at 411 Lincoln St. in Roseville. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1R3kHVA.
  • Classes are also offered Thursday nights at the Spotlight Ballroom, 2534 Industrial Blvd., Suite 150, in West Sacramento. Visit www.spotlightballroom.com for more information.
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