In the midst of fads like the "Harlem Shake" and "Gangnam Style," it can be refreshing to participate in a genre of dance with a little more history, one that has been popular since the 1920s.
The Knoxville Swing Dance Association (KSDA) is hosting a lesson and free dance at 7 p.m. tonight at the Laurel Theater. The lesson caters to beginners, but the free dance offers a chance for novice and more experienced swing dancers alike to show off their sometimes newly learned skills in a relaxed, non-judgmental environment.
Kemper Talley, vice president of KSDA and dance instructor, said that the KSDA aims to educate about swing dancing and encourage people to step outside their comfort zones.
"We want to promote swing dancing and the importance of learning a new skill," Talley said. "When I first started dancing a year and a half ago I had two left feet. I just kept at it."
He started swing dancing after seeing a flyer for one of KSDA's events shortly after one of his friends who enjoyed swing dancing passed away in an accident.
"He always talked about it," Talley said. "Matt loved swing dancing, and I knew if he liked it then I would too ... and I fell in love with it."
Now, Talley dances worldwide and has competed in Sweden, Italy and Washington, D.C. He advises students and possible future swing dancers not to worry about being judged.
“We all want to improve together, to succeed,” Talley said. “No one wants their partner to be bad because they want to have a good time as well. It makes the atmosphere more encouraging.”
Maggie Weaver, president of KSDA, has been involved with the organization for four years and has been swing dancing for six. She emphasized the variety of people that come to these events.
“It’s not just UT students,” Weaver said. “People of all ages come from all over and dance with us.”
The “all over” is a reference to the national community that KSDA is a part of. Weaver discussed the ubiquity of swing dancing organizations across the U.S. and the welcoming nature of these groups.
“You can literally go everywhere in the U.S. and as long as there are swing dancing groups, you will have an instant community,” Weaver said.
Kassie Sexton, sophomore in anthropology and mathematics, is a member of KSDA and helps research and organize some of the organization’s events. The KSDA has become a family to her during her time at UT.
“It’s my swing family,” Sexton said. “I’ve gotten to know so many new people. Once you dance with everyone, you get really close to them.”
Besides fostering a close community, the group has also given Sexton the chance to relieve stress while engaging in a fun hobby.
“You can really let loose,” Sexton said. “Any kind of dance move works. It takes my mind off homework or any troubles. It’s just fun.”
The Knoxville Swing Dance Association has a lesson from 7 to 8 p.m. and then free dancing from 8 to 10 p.m. every Wednesday in the Laurel Theater across from Laurel Residence Hall. No partner or special dress is required. Cost for the lesson is $1 for KSDA members and $2 for the general public.