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Don’t be a wallflower.
Jump, jive or just have a laugh at free dance sessions in Norfolk

The Virginian-Pilot,J an 9, 2006,

At first glance, Swinging at Selden is simply an afternoon of free dance lessons downtown.
After a few minutes, it’s clear that it’s also about making connections.
Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, and singles searching for something more interactive than dinner and a movie, dance like they took a time machine back to The Cotton Club.
The event is put on by Swing Virginia, a group of instructors who say dance is their hobby.
Since August, people have jumped and jived on second Sundays at the Selden Arcade at 208 East Main St . Novice and advanced dancers try out what they have learned. Lessons begin at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and dancing ends at 4 p.m..
Shelly Abriss of Virginia Beach and Jay Barrett of Chesapeake were there Sunday afternoon.
The couple decided to swing dance together for the first time as a way to say goodbye after dating for a year.
Abriss got a job in India helping nurses there master English in preparation for jobs in the United States. She is due to leave Saturday.
Abriss smiled most of the time she danced. Barrett seemed to carefully execute each step.
“My rhythm isn’t that good,” he said.
Abriss didn’t care. “We’re trying to enjoy every last second,” she said.
Jeannette Rainey, a real estate agent who lives in Olde Towne Portsmouth, was there with a male friend who’d been promising to teach her to dance. The toughest part, she said, wasn’t the moves.
“The hardest part for me is not leading – letting go of control and letting someone lead me.”
In swing, a man is called “a lead.” A woman is “a follow.” With a slight push of his hand, the man can lead the woman into a swirl or a dip. The woman’s job is to stay in tune with his body, and let him make her float and spin.
But, swing isn’t just about individuals coming together. It’s a fusion of cultures. It has roots in West Africa, where dancers often orient their bodies toward the earth, and improvise to beats inundated with percussion.
The music is inspired by jazz , ragtime and blues, which have roots stretching from the deep South to northern cities.
Some historians say early swing dancing originated in Harlem as musicians and dancers inspired one another in big jazz clubs.
It also borrows from European social dances, where men and women dance closely and hold hands and stand upright with the legs doing most of the movement .
For Chesapeake resident Brian Thomas, who said he swing dances two to three times a week, swing is both a passion and a compulsion.
“It’s an intimate act,” he said. There are times when a couple barely touches each other, he said. But, they instinctively know each other’s next move.
Those two or three minutes on the dance floor can go fast, he said. But, it’s something he savors. “It’s just a beautiful moment in time.”
Dancing can change how people relate to one another, said Swing Virginia instructor Andrew Jaswa.
“It’s a social dance,” said Jaswa, a full-time Web designer who spends about 20 hours a week doing dance-related projects .
Couples can go out expecting to dance with other folks. Singles can get paired up.
The dance teachers at Swing Virginia just love the music and the friendships that come out of it, Jaswa said. They aren’t in it to collect money or for the pursuit of local fame.
“We like to dance. We want to get other people to dance, too,” he said. “That’s basically our deal.”

Reach Nicole Morgan at (757) 446-2443 or nicole.morgan@pilotonline.com.

Swing Virginia hosts the free dance sessions on the second Sunday of the month at Selden Arcade in downtown Norfolk. Lessons start at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. and dancing goes until 4 p.m. For more, go to www.swingvirginia.com.

At right, Christina Fleege of Virginia Beach and Jason Turan of Norfolk practice the Charleston. Come with a partner, or get paired up.

Instructor Ilona Weckerly, right, demonstrates a version of the “Charleston” during free swing lessons at the Selden Arcade in downtown Norfolk on Sunday.


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