The legendary American tradition of swing dancing, which began on the streets of Harlem in the 1930s, is revived in various schools and events around Rome. Formal lessons and informal live music nights that fuse jazz melodies and lindy hop movements offer a social venue for locals and foreigners alike. The foremost dance school to have promoted the swing tradition in Rome is Swing and Soda, located near the Garbatella metro station.
The cultural association offers beginner, intermediate and advanced classes in lindy hop, the earliest and most popular form of swing dancing. It incorporates steps from an earlier form of jazz dance popularised on Broadway in the 1920s, the beloved Charleston, a synthesis of jocular, fast-kicking steps. The school also provides a class in Balboa dance, a more romantic version of couple’s swing dancing involving a close embrace, as opposed to the more acrobatic lindy hop.
Co-owner and dance instructor Valentina Raimondi studied the dance where it originated, in New York City, “and was electrified.” She opened a school in Rome dedicated entirely to swing that now includes six different classes and approximately 100 students who learn the foundation steps of various forms of swing dances.
Several clubs around Rome such as Micca Cluband Circolo degli Artisti have caught up with the excitement and have begun themed evenings centred on swing music and dancing. Bands such as Blues Willies, Four Vegas, and Red Wagons offer a musical backdrop of varying forms of jazz, big band, blues and rock & roll to practice your moves.
One talented “swinger”, Luigi Cota, who attends beginner lessons at Swing and Soda, said he likes swing dancing because he loves the music and feels the rules are not as strict as in other dances. He said “I’m just a beginner, but the dance seems easier because it allows for a lot of improvisation.” The popular music of Benny Goodman and countless others of the 1930s and 1940s facilitated the development of the lindy hop.
The dance started from choreographer Frankie Manning’s first “air step” in an improvised section of the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. He impressed crowds with an aerial move that involved a back-to-back roll. The air steps, where one of the partner’s two feet leave the ground in an acrobatic style, poses probably the biggest challenge to becoming a more advanced swing dancer. Students from Swing and Soda attend social dancing events at clubs in the neighbourhoods of S. Lorenzo and Pigneto such as HulaHoop, 7cland Assisi 33. Swing and Soda also advertises evenings at the dance studio featuring special guest dance instructors.
One of the oldest dance schools in Rome, Istituto Addestramento Lavoratori dello Spettacolo (IALS) recently added swing dancing to its list of about 100 dance varieties. Instructor Claudio Santinelli leads one swing class per week that attracts about 30 students. He pointed out that the classes he teaches are rock and roll dances put to swing music, although he focuses on the boogie-woogie style popular in American during the 1950s.
Meanwhile the Scottish community, and more specifically St Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Rome, is taking advantage of the spring weather and a spectacular terrace on the church’s rooftop to organise Scottish dance events. Several social clubs and specialist societies have been working with St Andrew’s church minister William McCulloch to establish dance workshops that teach various forms of traditional Scottish dancing as well as other forms of ethnic dance.
McCulloch said he has been dancing traditional Scottish dances for over 30 years and he likes the events on the church terrace because “after one dance, your spirits are lifted.” In the past, the Caledonian Society of Rome organised annual Scottish dances consisting of a formal dinner banquet and ceremonial dance. Over the past three years the Rome Ceilidh Club has been offering monthly social events on the church terrace at a cost of €10 per person, creating an informal setting to learn traditional Scottish dancing. Scottish natives Andrew Marmion and Gillie Paterson founded the club to make traditional Scottish dancing events more accessible to those living in Rome.
By definition, a ceilidh is a Scottish (or Irish) social gathering with folk music and dancing. At the Rome ceilidhs guests are invited to bring their own food and beverages while the hosts supply some refreshments. Marmion said that the terrace events are most definitely “a good laugh” and that many of his friends who attended just to enjoy the folk music always ended up dancing and having a great time. Dances such as the Dashing White Sergeant, a Scottish folk dance, are taught and practiced during the evening among a crowd of about 60 people.
It begins with groups of six forming a circle turning anti-clockwise then clockwise, holding hands, before breaking into two sets of three where hand clapping, stomping and various steps are performed. Mary Dargie from the Caledonian Society organises events every Wednesday evening to teach Scottish country dancing, a form of social dance comprising three or more couples. Similar to traditional ceilidh dancing in its choreography, country dancing is a more formal version of the social ceilidh dance and used more often in dance competitions. The money raised by the Rome Ceilidh Club at the events is often donated to St Andrew’s parish or to charities. You need not have a kilt to attend. Just be ready to learn to dance and, as they say in Scotland, “get on the crack wi’” (start a conversation) and make new friends.
Assisi 33, www.assisi33.it Circolo degli Artisti , www.circoloartisti.
it Istituto Addestramento Lavoratori dello Spettacolo(IALS), www.ials.org
Micca Club, www.miccaclub.com
Rome Ceilidh Club, www.scottishdancinginrome.com
St Andrew’s Church, www.presbyterianchurchrome.org
Swing and Soda, www.swingandsoda.com