Welcome to the ’20s everyone. While war, violence and environmental collapse seem to encroach more and more each day, maybe there are some trappings of a bygone era that aren’t all that bad.
For instance, UMSwing — the U of M’s local swing and vintage dance group — is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Got to dance
UMSwing began January 2000 with U of M student Vania Tse, originally from Vancouver, B.C. At the time there was a major revival of jive and swing dance in B.C. but the craze had yet to reach Winnipeg.
“When I got back to Winnipeg, I was baffled as to why there was no dance club in the school,” Tse said in an email.
“Every major university has a dance club — usually ballroom — that competes nationally if not internationally, but U of M didn’t.”
After setbacks due to the U of M’s recreation programs policy forbidding its instructors from student club instruction, the group managed to find a dance instructor — Patricia Anderson — and in the winter semester of 2000, the U of M Swing Dance Club (UMSD) had begun. The club later changed its name to UMSwing as it is easier to say.
Like Tse, Vicky Yeung — the club’s first vice-president — began dancing outside of the U of M.
“In high school, a few of my friends and I decided that we wanted to try ballroom dancing,” Yeung wrote in an email. “Around that time I also watched the movie Swing Kids and I desperately wanted to also learn swing.”
Yeung added that by 2004, the Winnipeg dance scene had grown and become more connected with the greater Canadian swing dance movement.
Throughout this semester, UMSwing is offering a long list of events and programs for anyone interested, not just students.
The UMSwing 20th Anniversary Open House will take place Jan. 22 in 210 UMSU University Centre. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the event beginning at 7 p.m. There will be free dance lessons, choreographies, prizes and live music from the Fort Richmond Collegiate Senior Jazz Band.
Current president Melissa Ricard entered UMSwing through the open house in 2016.
“My friend guilt-tripped me into going to the open house,” she said, “then guilt-tripped me into taking a course. Next term we took four courses.”
This semester, UMSwing is offering jive classes on Mondays and Lindy Hop and Charleston classes on Wednesdays. These are eight straight weeks of hour-and-a-half classes, costing $40 for students and $45 for non-students.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Ricard said.
“We’re one of those dance styles that’s very free and fun and self-expressive.
“There’s different styles, like Charleston. If you like hip-hop and the bouncing and a lot of moves like that, you might like Charleston. Then we also have blues, which is the slow and romantic style of dance. Then we have Lindy Hop, which is our bread and butter.”
Other events in Winnipeg help contribute to the group’s activities. There is Saturday Swingout at 460 Main Street every Saturday, and in March is the Prairie Lindy Exchange (PLEx), which circulates through the Prairies but will spend 2020 in Winnipeg.
PLEx is also a great opportunity for those interested in vintage fashion as many UMSwing members dive into the aesthetic.
Power of community
The benefits and community Ricard has gained through UMSwing are intangible.
“Growing up, I never danced or did anything too creative,” she said. “Finally I got a chance to be creative and just be free, I guess you could say.
“So this is my way of growing and maturing, and becoming my own self is just becoming a part of the club and just seeing that you can be goofy and people will still take you seriously.”
Ricard added that when she started university she didn’t have many close friends, “then I got into swing and I started leaving the house.”
“My first year, I went home, I came to class then went home,” she said.
“This is my sixth year […] I spend all my days on campus and go home at ungodly hours.”
UMSwing’s office is located at 172 Helen Glass. For more information, visit umswing.ca or follow UMSwing on social media.