600 Minutes of Swing

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This weekend, I was sent to review one of the many events that made up the 600th Anniversary celebrations. I’ve been following the build-up to 600 Minutes of Swing avidly throughout the year, from one of the first fundraisers back in March to interviewing the organisers last week, so I had high expectations of the night.

Arriving late (not so fashionably, more just misjudging the time it would take me to get across town) I was initially worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the venue. However, as I turned onto Queen’s Gardens, I could hear the merry tones of swing music beckoning me towards the Holy Trinity Church Hall.

The hall was filled with around 60 people at its peak, with dancers wearing everything from jeans to jumpsuits to one particularly gorgeous 1940s dress. This casualness and variety really summed up the atmosphere at the event, with everyone exhausted but having a great time nonetheless.

“I’m high on dancing,” said third year Joanna Ramasawmy. She then explained that the music we were listening to was vintage swing from the 30s and 40s, and that the dance had had a relatively recent revival in the 80s and 90s. “I’m really tired, but it’s been so much fun!” she commented, as the dancers had already had a full day of lessons.

This sentiment was echoed by the four teachers invited to lead the workshops. The two pairs, Joseph and Charlotte, and Cat and Alex were in high demand at the Speakeasy – the second they sat down, they were asked for a dance. Joseph has set up his own company, a swing dance club that puts on “classes, workshops and events”. Charlotte and Cat both highlighted the fact that St Andrews was the perfect place for swing dance owing to the large vintage interest, and expressed hopes that one day the two would collide here. “Given that this is such a young club, they’ve done so well to put an event like this on,” they praised.

Cat and Alex discovered swing dance at university, and Alex is now on a gap year to travel and teach dance. Currently living in Germany, he described his hectic schedule for the year to me: he and his partner had won tickets to 42 different swing dance events for “being basically the most enthusiastic lindy-hoppers” at a recent European competition. When asked what their favourite parts of the weekend had been so far, the consensus was the enthusiasm of the students, the social dancing and “seeing the students perform the routines we’d taught them earlier in the day”.

The organisers had really planned well, with everything executed with military timing. This was partially due to the venue change at 1am as we moved across town to the Barron Theatre. We were all sent outside “for a surprise” before forming a huge crocodile to North Street. Incidentally, this surprise turned out to be fire jugglers, which was a lovely touch to round off the first portion of the evening.

It felt so surreal as we entered the Barron. The band, Blueswater, were already playing (I was later informed that this was actually their sound check) draped over beanbags and sofas. More and more beanbags, mattresses and food were all brought in as the evening took a more mellow tone.

The most heard phrase of the night: “Would you like to dance?” was asked of anyone and everyone. Sometimes the question would be posed hesitantly, other times with a broad grin, yet everyone knew that a request could not be turned down. I tried to explain multiple times that I just don’t dance. I thought I’d escaped until the last dance, when my pleas fell on deaf ears as I was dragged out onto the dancefloor.

What was so great about this event was that everyone joined in. With international teachers, St Andrews townsfolk and students from as far away as Dundee, Aberdeen and Lancaster, the social aspect of swing dance definitely came and conquered St Andrews!

All photos: Henry Legg

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