Paddy Kelly takes us swing dancing in Stockholm.
Dancing is better than sex.
Now I know that’s a daring statement but indulge me and I’ll tell you why.
Stockholm, in theory, is a wonderful city in which to be single. This comes from the observation that there are lots of single people here — the highest percentage of single-person households in the world, apparently. However, another conclusion one could draw is that there are lots of single people here because Stockholmers, including yours truly, are just really, really hard to get along with.
A few years ago, as I sat in my single-person apartment, counting my new grey hairs, I was beginning to suspect the last option was the truer of the two.
So in order to un-single myself, I ran the usual desperation marathon. I drank too much in the city’s meat markets, hoping to catch the tipsy eye of someone when the lights came up. I went on a dating site and met a bunch of people. I went on all the other dating sites and met all the other people, even the crazy ones.
Meeting them was easy enough. I’m Irish and the Swedes do like their Irish. But it never stuck. People are weird and I, apparently, was weirder. So finally, I threw my hands in the air and said – screw it, I’ll just take dancing classes.
I had danced before. As a child, I’d done Irish dancing (way before it became cool) and had abandoned it only due to the onset of puberty and the realization that dancing wasn’t a manly pursuit. Also, teachers and the like were hinting it was time to wear a kilt. Yeah, like that was ever going to work.
So I stopped and for years after, I didn’t dance at all, except in the disco, back when we had discos, and in my curtained bedroom. But still it sat there in my heart, a tiny glow. I loved to watch a man in a tuxedo tap-dance down some stairs on the TV, and the mad intense energy of modern dance or the grinning excitement of a Fred and Ginger routine always made my feet tingle.
Then I heard about swing dancing. It looked fun, just a little abstract, a pursuit pursued by other, prettier people. So when I stumbled across a taster class during the Stockholm Culture Festival, I bit the bullet and gave it a go.
It was fun, and it seemed like a neat way to exercise, combined with a way to touch members of the opposite sex in a way that wasn’t at all sexual, but still was a tiny bit sexual.
And all of that appealed to me, as did the retro 1930s thing — the suspenders and hats and two-tone shoes and nylons with dark lines up the back and over-elaborate hairdos and the rowdy, energetic blare of the music.
I signed up for a course in Lindy Hop, the most popular of the new wave of swing dances. And a week later, I found myself totally hooked.
An early discovery was that there are many dances fitting into the category of swing, the difference usually being the tempo of the music. There was:
Lindy Hop: The undisputed king of the revived swing dances. Lindy (named after Charles Lindberg, who preferred flying planes to dancing) is joyful and sweaty with huge scope for variation and improvisation. It also has its trademark jumps and throws, although these are rarely seen in social dancing.
Charleston: If you like jumping and kicking, you’ll like the Charleston, which can be done both as a solo and a pair dance. It’s danced to faster music than Lindy and is guaranteed to put a silly smile on any slapper’s face.
Balboa: For the fastest music. A very upright dance, with blindingly quick foot movements. Slippery shoes are pretty much a requirement.
Collegiate Shag: My own personal favourite. Lots and lots and lots of jumping. I recommend you try it while your ankles are still strong.
Swing dancing, I learned, grew out of the East Coast jazz and big band music of the 1930s (except for Balboa, which was a West Coast dance). The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem is accepted as the birthplace of Lindy Hop, where mostly African-American dancers would dance all night to whatever band was playing and they invented and shared new dance moves as they went along.
The Lindy Hop enjoyed decades of popularity but by the 1980s it had faded. Until Frankie Manning, who was there in the Savoy ballroom in the 30s, was tracked down by dancers from the UK, the US and Sweden, who were curious about the dances they’d seen in old movies. They relearned the Lindy Hop and began to spread it around the world, sparking off the current swing dance revival.
Sweden gained a central place in that revival, and that place was cemented by the founding of Herräng Dance Camp in 1982. It is the biggest such camp in the world for swing dancing. For five weeks every summer, the village of Herräng, a few hours north of Stockholm, is invaded by dancers from all over the world. They take classes from the world’s best teachers and dance and mingle until the small hours, seven sweaty days a week.
I’ve made my pilgrimage to Herräng and I frequent the social dance places in Stockholm. Because I discovered something about swing dancing — it makes me happy.
Nothing put me in a good mood like a dance class or a dance evening. The music, the energy, the physical contact, the flexing of hot muscles. During the grim winter evenings in Stockholm, with slush and snow underfoot, heading into a Lindy Hop social dance is like entering a magical parallel world.
And I’m glad to report, after years of searching virtual worlds and real ones, I met my fiancée at a dance evening, just like my parents and like their parents. We danced that first night, with a pair of sly smiles, our warm hands pressed together, and we haven’t stopped dancing since.
So if you’re single in Stockholm, or looking for a new social circle, or find yourself in need of some joy, you could do a lot worse than put on your two-tone shoes and go swing the night away. I did, and I learned that dancing is totally better than sex.
Although one can very easily lead to the other. I’m just saying.
Places to try swing dancing in Stockholm
Chicago: The undisputed Mecca of swing dancing in Stockholm. A good-sized and pretty spot with many regulars. Drop-in classes can be taken here, in swing and tap and even tango, and social dancing happens every Wednesday and many Saturdays, often to live music. There’s a small bar and café and a whole bunch of new friends just waiting to meet you.
Swedish Swing Society: Recently relocated to Solna in north Stockholm, the SSS offers many classes and social dance evenings. They have auditions for higher-level courses, and a slightly more organised approach than Chicago.
Stockholm Sång och Dans: Located in the middle of Södermalm, Stockholm Sång och Dans do courses in Lindy Hop and West Coast Swing.
Herräng Dance Camp: Take the plunge and do a week of courses at swing dance boot camp, in the beautiful Swedish countryside, or just pop down for a night of manic dancing. Either way, it’s an experience to remember.
Outdoor dancing: In the summer months, you can find dedicated Lindy hoppers dancing outdoors at Stora Skuggan, Vinterviken and the new dance pavilion at Skånegläntan in the middle of Södermalm. Find the schedules and lots of other swing dance info on the Stockholm Lindy Network page on Facebook.