DANCE. Entering Tims Mints, a bar in the heart of old Riga, on a weekday might surprise you with an intriguing scene brimming energy.
Dancers are swinging and flowing across the dancefloor in all directions accompanied by cheerful chatter and laughter from within and around. The music picked out by a DJ varies from uplifting swing pieces to slower sensual jazz, each of which has its supporters in the local Swing Dance community in Riga.
The Swing Nights are events organised by the Swing Dance community in Latvia, who specialise in vintage dance styles from the Jazz Age and Swing Era – Lindy Hop, Charleston, Authentic Jazz, Balboa and Blues. They offer classes and social dance events, such as this, as well as a variety of social gatherings, like picnics, movie nights and more.
As soon as the first notes of a particular track are played, people go “Shim Sham!”. Dancers swiftly get into a circle to perform one of the most iconic group routines and now a tradition – within both the Swing dance and tap dance scene all around the world. Also, in Riga, people perform this piece to pay respect to the origins of the dance. Furthermore, regardless of having the unifying moves, the routine usually results in a mixture of elementary steps, expressive improvisation and extra moves from more experienced dancers.
Social dancing is essential to the swing dance that evolved alongside jazz at the beginning of the 20th century. This is an opportunity for all dancers to use the moves they have learned.
Apart from Solo Jazz, most types of dance here require a couple to carry out the movements – a leader and a follower. Most popular here is Lindy Hop, a couple dance that is not only exciting for the dancers but also amusing to watch.
This type of dance requires the dancers to change partners all the time and do it for their own sake. Rather than getting accustomed to the reactions and movements of their partner, changing partners allows a dancer to learn how to lead or follow. The live communication through body language and visible mutual understanding is what makes it mesmerising to encounter.
Having been an insider from the very beginning of this community’s development four years ago, I have had the chance to experience its growth from initially just a few curious dancers to what it has become now – a growing community of over fifty people of various ages and cultural backgrounds all coming together and getting crazy on the dance floor regardless the levels of experience. This is one of the dance scenes where mixing of the levels on the dance floor is most present and expected.
The ’open to all’ approach results in a broad mingling of levels. Depending on the connection developed and the charisma, an experienced dancer and a beginner might have the most fabulous time dancing together. This is what makes up the welcoming and joyful atmosphere of swing dancing – you do not need to master all the dance moves to look great on the dancefloor – it is primarily about human communication, feeling the music or as many call it, having the groove, and in the end – simply having fun.