Chicago Part 3: Swing City
And then there was: Swing City.
The third installment in our Chicago-based adventure.
Dan and I headed out to Swing City, an annual gathering of West Coast Swing enthusiasts held in the Chicago area. This year, Swing City was held at the Westin in Lombard, IL, which was a classy hotel surrounded by all the usual suburban necessities (there was literally a Target across the parking lot and access to over a dozen different mid-level restaurant chains).
Dan had found the event’s website and information on the Internet and we registered in advance and reserved a nearby hotel room.
The registration process was simple – the website had an accessible interface whereby you could insert your information and pay with a credit/debit card or PayPal. There were a variety of options: registering for specific portions of the event (i.e., just workshops, just social dancing, just Saturday or Sunday, etc.), registering for everything all weekend, or to show up as a spectator (which was free!)
Dan actually participated in activities held over two days (Friday night and Saturday), while I bought a one-day pass for Saturday day-time only.
Between the two of us, we attended about eight different West Coast Swing workshops over the two days. For the cost of registration (approximately $60 for me, and $50-something for him with a student rate), that was a bargain. Not to mention that we learned from teachers whom we would normally never have the occasion to meet nevermind learn from, and we were able to take in a broad cross-section of workshops that address all different areas of our dancing/dance experience.
Here are a few highlights:
Footwork – this was a really neat workshop where we were taught how to essentially fill a measure (or phrase, depending) with footwork that deliberately either “slowed down” or “sped up” the feel. What I appreciated the most about the class was the teacher, Mario Robau, who even though we’d seen his name come up a time or two in Austin, we’d never had the chance to take a class with. Not only did Mario have a seasoned approach to teaching, he also kept things light with humor, and shared some of his own experiences as a dancer and teacher that helped make the dance process more human. One thing I appreciated was the the class was taught both to us as individuals (i.e., leaders on one side of the room and followers on the other), and as pairs (i.e., as coupled dancers rotating partners). I really appreciate this approach because it allows me to improve on my own skills as a dancer well as my skills as a follower. (Some of you would say these should be one-in-the-same and maybe for a Ballroom purist they would be, but not coming from me who has been a dancer in some form since I was a kid.)
Musicality- this workshop was especially useful for Dan and I as we’d recently had a conversation about fitting dance to music. For those out there who dance regularly, you’ll know that fitting patterns to music can be a little tricky, as sometimes we’re taught to count steps and those may/may not match up with the phrasing/timing of the music we’re dancing too. At any rate, this workshop helped us get beyond counting the steps and thinking more about the music.
(Though I will say, I think in some ways guys have it harder when it comes to partner dancing. They not only have to learn how to lead, but they also have to think about which pattern to do when, monitor the beat of the music, and in the case of same dances, navigate around other couples. Tricky!)
Connection- this workshop went back to the essentials; bettering connection with one’s partner and truly dancing from a lead-follow perspective. This was definitely useful, as connection has been a difficult thing for me to master, at least. What helped the most was closing my eyes and paying greater attention to any signals I might feel. For me, I often enter this quasi-trance state while dancing where I’m swept up in the music/vibe and can forget to pay attention to what the leader is initiating. This workshop was certainly helpful in curbing my dance-induced spacey-ness; though I’ll admit, truly letting go and just moving is what I love the most about dancing, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be a top notch follower in that regard.
Now, one of the major draws for Swing City is the competitions. Though we did not compete, there were Jack & Jill competitions as well as others. The experience may differ if you were attending in order to compete (for instance we noticed most workshops were in the morning/afternoon, while most competitions were in the evenings- and went late into the night).
A few tips:
– Plan time for transportation; being that Lombard is about an hour or so outside of Chicago and at least 40 minutes from O’Hare Airport, plan accordingly – we booked an airport shuttle in advance which worked well.
– Register in advance; for us the process was very simple and stress-free. Why spend your time waiting in line when you could be learning or dancing, anyway.
– Bring snacks; the workshops have 15 min breaks in between so there isn’t time to eat a meal but after dancing, or even just trying to stay mentally focused on what you’re learning, you’ll be hungry
– Shop around for a hotel and food; we stayed at a Hyatt next door and saved about $40 a night on our room and the hotel offered complimentary shuttle rides to the Westin (which was maybe 1/2 mile away); we also ate at a Greek restaurant nearby which was completely delicious but not a national chain
At any rate, should you ever find yourself available in late October, check out Swing City in the Chicago area. We definitely found it worthwhile.
Check out Swing City Chicago.
Thanks for reading,