When I was in high school, I was a majorette in the marching band. I’ll pause for a moment to let you laugh. I’m not ashamed. I loved baton twirling and I loved band. Sorry I’m not sorry.
Anyhow, for one of our halftime shows, the band performed the swing hit “Sing, Sing, Sing.” The majorettes and color guard combined forces, along with some male band members, to do a choreographed swing number. This was my first introduction to swing dance. I loved it so much that I talked a friend of mine into learning more swing and performing at our end-of-the-year talent show. I’ll pause again to give you another opportunity to laugh. Again, I feel no shame.
YouTube didn’t exist back then, so we somehow acquired a VHS tape of a swing-dancing couple that we watched over and over again. We spent many afternoons teaching ourselves how to swing dance and customizing our own routine. That’s where my love affair with swing dancing began. The fast turns, the flips, the kicks, the organized chaos of it all--I was hooked.
I know I am not alone in my love for swing dancing. A good portion of Grand Rapids loves swing dancing, too, believe it or not. And they come out and show it every Tuesday night in the summer.
Steve Zaagman, founder of the Grand Rapids Original Swing Society (also known as G.R.O.S.S.—yeah, they could have picked a better acronym), started teaching swing dancing in a college cafeteria in 2003 to a small group of students, according to Grand Rapids Business Journal. Over time, that group grew exponentially and transformed into G.R.O.S.S.
In 2012, G.R.O.S.S. organized a dance that broke the Guinness Book World Record for the largest number of people swing dancing in unison (765 people), according to MLive.
I’ve wanted to attend one of these Tuesday night dance parties for as long as I’ve lived here. My husband, God bless him, has never been much for dancing. He has humored me from time to time, learning a few steps in our living room in preparation for a prohibition party and purchasing us dance lessons as an anniversary gift. But he does not feel the passion for it that I do, so I haven’t really had a partner/an excuse to experience it…until this blog project came about, that is.
So Tuesday night, we got in the car and drove downtown. They were supposed to be dancing on the Blue Bridge this week, so I drove across the Fulton Street bridge first to scope it out and see if anyone was out there. Boy, were there people out there. The bridge was packed.
I was super impressed that so many people in the city have learned to swing dance and enjoy dancing together every week. It’s inspiring to see so many people share their love of dancing openly for all to see. What’s really great about G.R.O.S.S. is that they encourage all ages and all experience levels to come out. So some people you could tell have been dancing for a while and some people are just starting out. And if you have zero experience with swing dance, then you can come early, and they’ll teach you a few moves.
What I saw was a lot of young people out there on the bridge—high school and college students. Older adults might expect that “kids these days” spend their time causing trouble or loafing in front of the television, but they aren’t doing anything like that. They’re out in the city, they’re active, they’re learning something new, and they’re having fun.
And from what I saw, it seems like that’s what G.R.O.S.S. is all about—having fun. It’s an easy, affordable way to get out on a Tuesday night, get some exercise, and hang out with fellow Grand Rapidians.
Photo Credit: Brenda Pauley Bargenquast
To learn more about the Grand Rapids Original Swing Society, visit their website.