The main theme of salsa is sexiness, and of tango is seriousness, according to Jonathan Jow, UT alumnus and Austin Swing Syndicate Board vice president. But the world of swing dancing — with men clad wearing newsboy caps and bow ties and girls in wide, flaring skirts — is simply about having fun. And that’s exactly what the Austin Swing Syndicate plans to do.
On the weekend of May 10, after practicing weekly for nearly a month, members of the Austin Swing Syndicate will perform a flash mob at a location to be decided upon. Anywhere between 70 and 100 members are expected to perform, according to Jow.
Jow said that the purpose of the flash mob is to internally build community with the members of the Syndicate, to bring awareness to the public about swing dancing and to have fun.
“A lot of people think swing dancing is like the old Gap commercial-people flying in the air,” Jow said. “That’s not quite what it’s all about, but it’s a common perception. We want to educate the public.”
Like hip-hop dancing, Jow said that swing dancing is one of the few distinctly American dances.
“That popularity [of hip hop] is equivalent to how [swing] was back in the day,” Jow said. “So if you put on Justin Timberlake, people would be like, ‘Oh, Justin Timberlake, this is my jam,’ and back then, you’d put on Count Basie and they would be like, ‘Oh, awesome, Count Basie.’”
Jow believes that swing is a naturally athletic dance, explaining that many guys have to change their shirts halfway through the night because they sweat so much.
“It’s almost like going out for a jog in your normal clothes,” Jow said.
Paula Martin, a flash mob group member who has been dancing for two years, said that swing dancing helps her stay in shape. Martin noted that her step counter calculates her walking 2.5 miles per hour while she dances. One day, she said she danced more than 12 miles.
“It’s a very aerobic exercise,” Martin said. “You get done and you’re hot, you’re sweaty and you’re like ‘My hair is all dripping,’ and there’s no other exercise I’ve ever enjoyed sweating to in my life. If I was in my 20s, I’d want to be doing this.”
Ginny Min, a member of the flash mob, acknowledges the health benefits of swing dancing, but said it is not the reason she likes to dance.
“It’s more just so much fun, and I don’t know how else to describe it,” Min said. “I guess it’s just so simple, but it’s the feeling you get. Different types of activities have that feeling, like the runner’s high. It’s a similar type of feeling you get when you dance.”
The Syndicate is trying to make the flash mob an all-level dance, according to Alexander Cloutier, an English senior and dance instructor at a studio called Four on the Floor. Cloutier thinks, however, that the Syndicate may be taking for granted a certain amount of knowledge.
“I think there are some people who, if it’s their first day, they’ll walk in and feel a little bit intimidated, and of course, no one will keep them out,” Cloutier said. “I’m thinking of it more as an outreach thing. Rather than something to bring the community closer, it’s more to show people. There are other ways to include the new people than this.”
Cloutier hopes that the flash mob will bring in a better historical perspective to the dance that is more consistent with the swing community’s.
“Anything that can show people that this is our art, our passion, what we care about and it’s a real thing that has a lot to it, rather than just whatever you see on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’” Cloutier said. “[We have] more of a knowledge that this is a living thing rather than just a historical thing. It is something that’s still living and growing and changing as we do it, and that’s the big difference.”