On the third floor of Urban Grace Church on Market Street in downtown Tacoma, every Thursday night for $5 at the door (regardless of holidays or weather), hands clap or snap in tune with the beat of new and advanced dancers tapping their feet. Anyone is encouraged to jump straight into the swing of things at T-Town Swing with a beginner dance lesson from 8:00 to 8:30 p.m. before a social dance from 8:30 to 11:00 p.m.
Swing dancing has historically been an inclusive dance style where just about anyone can learn and have fun doing it. The Syncopation Foundation has venues both in Tacoma with T-Town Swing and in Redmond with Eastside Stomp.
Artistic Director for the Syncopation Foundation, Ben White, said both locations are a great way to get up and out and try something new among a variety of people you may otherwise never have gotten to know.
“The way that people get involved most of the time is to show up,” Ben said. “You don’t have to bring a partner. You don’t have to have any experience. You don’t have to have fancy shoes. You just show up and shake your butt for 30 minutes and you get to try it out.”
Ben has been teaching dance for 10 years and travels to teach. He helps out not only with the beginner lessons on Thursdays, but also with series lessons (over the course of a few weeks) and single workshops offered by the Syncopation Foundation. Series lessons give new dancers the opportunity to learn the moves of classic swing dancing and other styles of swing such as Lindy Hop, Balboa and Shim Sham.
There might be 40-50 people on a given night of Thursday night social dancing, and about a third of those are new to T-Town. The $5 cover helps to pay the DJs and teachers that got T-Town Swing up and running again after some time without a Tacoma-area dance venue or organization.
“We kind of had a dance desert here for a couple years,” Volunteer Coordinator Laura Nichol said.
T-Town originally started in 2012, but went out of business in 2014. Laura and other dancers started it back up again in 2016. She said it’s been successful, but small since then. In 2018, they joined the Syncopation Foundation.
“That has helped us to grow a lot because it’s given us more resources,” Laura said. “It’s given us access to more teachers and more advanced teachers than we have in Tacoma.”
Laura appreciates the opportunity to improve and learn more every week. With so many types of swing dancing and different styles to try, you can always make it your own and have fun with it. And when you start to dance with someone and instantly get that in-sync, smooth-stepping connection, Laura said the moves you made are just that much more satisfying.
The dependability and social aspect of Thursday night dancing can also be said to help those going through tough times or those simply looking for more friends. A diverse and inclusive group of people who share a commonality in dancing will always welcome others with open arms.
“I hear all kinds of cool stories about how swing dancing essentially pulled them out of just being in a really bad place or gave them friends and taught them to be social,” Laura said. “And I have to say that my friends in swing are probably the most accepting of the way that I am.”
New dancers meet and connect with a range of people just by showing up. The youngest dancers are less than 10 years old, the oldest in their 90s. Whether you’re a casual swinger who sits out every other song, or an excited elite that keeps the jive alive and ends in a sweaty slump, there’s plenty of room on the dance floor for all.
“It’s one of the friendliest, most inclusive communities I’ve been a part of,” Ben said.