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UNC dance club offers a swingin' good time


UNC Juliette Gringeri dances with co-teacher Casey Lepley during a Carolina Swing Dance Club practice on Nov. 3, 2023.

On Nov. 2, a classroom in Carolina Hall was transformed into a makeshift dance studio as tables were pushed to the side and jazz music flowed through the speakers.

For an hour, this space belonged to the Carolina Swing Dance Club, which hosts biweekly lessons for students to learn and practice the basic steps.

The dance form was created by African American dancers in Harlem during the 1920s and was typically a partner dance with fast, yet casual choreography.

“There are steps and rules and everything, but they’re very lax, and that’s what I think appealed to people in the 1940s and ‘50s,Maddie Behnke, the club’s treasurer, said.

The lessons are currently taught by Behnke and Carolina Swing co-presidents Casey Lepley and Annie Veum. All three joined the club in the 2021-22 school year.

Although Behnke teaches lessons, they said they were initially bad at the specific steps of swing. They danced throughout their childhood, but stopped in middle school. 

“I also love that it’s kind of brought me back to dance as well, even though I didn’t do it for a good eight years before, and it kind of reminded me — I can dance,” she said. “I thought I couldn’t because I hadn’t done it in so long, and it’s just a really great thing to do.”

There are many styles of swing, but the club specifically focuses on East Coast Swing. This style includes moves such as the 1930s Charleston, which includes a pattern of footwork that involves “rock steps” and kicks to upbeat music.

Veum said she enjoys meeting new people through the club and being present in the moment. 

The club is very flexible and the time commitment is as low or as high as people want it to be. 

“It’s not something that you feel judged with,” she said. “It’s all about learning together and figuring out how to dance better and how to do these things, and I think that’s really fun, and it's a really great community as well.”

The club board focuses its first few lessons of the semester on teaching the basics of swing and slowly progresses to more complex moves. One of the first moves the club teaches is a six-count, which involves a series of steps and footwork over six beats.

“We try not to intimidate people too much, especially because we get a lot of people who are like, ‘Oh, I can’t dance,' and I was like ‘I didn’t dance coming into this either,’” Lepley said. “But it’s not meant to be hard or intimidating, and we really just want people to know that, especially since it was a social dance.”

While the club board acts as teachers, Lepley, Veum and Behnke said they are always learning from others.

Lepley said she learns new moves from other swing dancers at social dances hosted by the Triangle Swing Dance Society. These dances are frequented by both experts and beginners, and the club has encouraged students to attend when they can.

Veum said that she enjoys learning from Carolina Swing members who know other styles of dance, such as country or West Coast Swing, and incorporating those styles into their lessons.

Juliette Gringeri, a junior at UNC and a new member of Carolina Swing, said she was initially unfamiliar with the style of swing that the club taught.

“I learned West Coast Swing, and I did that primarily, so I’d never done any of this other stuff, so it’s really fun. We learn new stuff every class, so it's kind of a bunch of everything,” she said. 

The club has plans to hold at least one social dance this year, similar to the one they did last spring that featured a live jazz band, according to Lepley.

Lepley and Behnke also expressed that the club’s main goal is to ensure that members are having fun in a safe space, including eliminating the gender and height requirements that come with partner dance and allowing members to dance on their own rather than with a partner.

“We just want people to enjoy themselves, because if they’re not enjoying themselves, then what’s the point of being at the club?” Lepley said.

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