SwingCats: the evolution of a social scene

The social scenes at Montana State University are as unique as its mountainous setting. At few other universities will one find a group of individuals as avid about this classic venue or as purposeful in promoting its popularity. Unlike the traditional development of most MSU clubs, however, the SwingCats have evolved considerably since their founding.

The club began eight years ago as a performance troupe of six couples, Ethan Olson the current vice president of SwingCats, explained. Not too long after the club’s founding, the pioneering couple moved from Bozeman, and the remaining troupe members, all MSU students, transitioned the club into an open social dance. The group stayed small for the next few years, resulting in of the unique fashion. “By the time the whole thing was over,” Olson said, “they had developed their own style of dancing.” Additionally, he continued, “It seeded the seeds of loving dance in some very key players in the scene now.”

When Olson became involved with the club in 2012, the popularity of country swing was growing and the SwingCats “started to shed all things outside the vintage swing world.” The club began to become more connected with Bozeman’s community swing dancing venue, and more specialized in their own genre: predominantly Lindy Hop and Balboa. “Lindy Hop is like jazz music; it is individuality and teamwork, equally expressed.” Olson explained. Although a partnered dance, many of the moves allow for the individuals to move freely in ways fitting to the flow, according to Olson.

“Balboa is the fine wine of swing dancing,” Olson said with a laugh, “It [is] all smooth and fluid and motion.” Balboa was originally practiced in tight ballrooms, resulting in its reliance on a minimal space between partners. “A lot of the moves bring it where the two partners compress,” he said, “And that gives energy; you can spring-board off of that.” When queried as to his favorite, “It’s song-related … I love both to no end because of their own uniqueness.” Olson enthusiastically promoted the club as welcoming and not popularity-driven. “We are a bunch of weirdoes by modern society’s standards,” he laughed, “We all obsess about the old.”

For anyone interested in exploring the swing dancing scene, the SwingCats gather Monday and Wednesdays in the Romney Gym dance studio. Monday nights go from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., and are open social dancing. Wednesday nights offer lessons, with intermediate instruction 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., beginner lessons 7:15 p.m. to 8 p.m., and a social dance afterward. The ending free dance is an important element, Olson explained, “Lessons are nice, but dancing is one of those very dynamic things … you can go to a classroom environment, but you really don’t learn it until you do it socially.”

March 28 – 30, the SwingCats are hosting a Lindy Hop workshop, with guest instructors, opportunity for private lessons and abundant social dancing. The workshop kicks off Friday night, with an open dance at the Movement Arts Center. The weekend continues with lessons, and opportunities to connect with other student and local Bozeman dancers. Student tickets are $50 for the whole weekend while community members pay $75. “You literally can’t go to a workshop that cheap anywhere on Earth,” Olson laughed.  Personally, Olson explained his connection to swing dancing as related to the accompanying values. “I like the old idea of showing courtesy to women,” he said, “It’s never been an issue of inferiority; in fact just the opposite … if I ask for a dance, I’m asking for a gift that I don’t deserve.” he appreciates the communication and care created between partners when swing dancing. “It’s the most beautiful thing in the world;” he said, “Very hard to find in the 21st century.”