AS I stepped into The Hop, a vintage dance studio in Silom, I was immediately bowled over by its enchanting atmosphere: the retro musical posters, the timeless wooden dance floor, the crimson walls and the people in 1930s-style dresses.
I watched them bounce with excitement and move to the sultry beats of Jazz, jiving to the tunes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. The guys were spinning the girls at a breathtaking pace, swooping to the beat and snapping their fingers. By the end of each song, everyone switched partners and had to start dancing with someone they hadn’t met before. And I couldn’t wait to try it for myself.
I interviewed him about Bangkok Swing and its spectacular upcoming event, “Digadigadoo.”
How did the Bangkok Swing dance community start?
Two expats – one American, one Australian – started Bangkok Swing in 2011 in an underground bar in Asoke called Bar 23. I asked them if I could help them build the scene, and they agreed. Those guys are no longer here, but there are other leaders who volunteer. Bangkok Swing has grown into a very tight knit community. International school teachers, writers, artists and architects…people from all kinds of professions visit Bangkok Swing nights. In fact, we attract at least 50 new people to Bangkok Swing events every week.
What makes Swing dance special?
Swing kicked off in the 1920s Jazz Age as a kind of rebellious dance popular at speakeasies. One of the most famous was the Savoy, in Harlem, where blacks and whites could hug, dance and have a good time without fear of being arrested. Basically, Swing dance transcends boundaries through music and dance. Even in Bangkok, about half of the people who join are expats and the other half is local. We attract about 10 nationalities to each Bangkok Swing night.
In Swing there are a couple of styles – we do Lindy Hop and the Charleston. It’s all social dancing. It’s a lead and follow rule. If the guy knows how to lead and the girl knows how to follow, then there is a connection and you can dance to the music. After you dance to one song you rotate partners. You can dance with anyone you fancy! Or anyone who’s smiling!
Why do you prefer Swing dance to other styles of dance?
To be honest it was a coincidence that I stumbled upon this style of dance. Each person likes a different type of music. Go to a rock concert and you’ll see people who have one kind of spirit. Go to an EDM night, and you’ll find another type of people. It’s the same with any kind of music. Swing just so happens to fit my character. It’s happy, bouncy and joyful.
How is Swing dance different to ballroom?
The social atmosphere of ballroom dancing is different. With Swing dance you can build a vibrant community like ours, where you participate and do silly things like skits, meaning it’s a lot more fun.
How did the Swing dance community expand so quickly?
We never do promotions. Happy vibes are contagious and people just keep coming. Dance culture is a big thing, and when people see Facebook photos of their friends having a great time, they want to check it out too.This way the community has grown organically.
What was your most memorable moment in the community?
When, about 300 people drove from Bangkok to attend an evening event in Nakhonpathom. It was incredible. The lady who helped me coordinate this event was also a Swing dancer. I put the band in and we organised it with her. By the end of the event, her boyfriend of 10 years said to me: 'Oat, I think this is the best time to ask her to get married.’ So at the finale, we gathered ten people in a circle and she was in the middle, and then all the guys would rotate to dance with her every few seconds and the last person was her boyfriend. He pulled out a sign with ‘let’s get married’ written on it, and everyone was so surprised. To be part of that was amazing.
Do you hold special events?
We normally host special events at The Hop once a month. These are themed parties like Alice in Wonderland or Halloween, and the last one was a Gangsters and Gun Molls party. This time, we decided to go all out and arrange Digadigadoo, a big event in Bangkok’s Chinatown. We’ve also arranged two big events outside of the studio. One involved closing a busy street in front of the largest Pagoda in the country, where people from over 20 countries came to dance. It was amazing.
Tell us more about Digadigadoo
The Digadigadoo event will be hosted in the exotic Shanghai Mansion boutique hotel on Yaowaraj Road (www.shanghaimansion.com). It will be a 1930s-inspired evening of mingling and dancing (everyone will be expected to dress to match the theme) headlined by burlesque champion Sharon M. Davis, all-star swing dancers and fashion gurus Rico Lim and Chloe Hong, world-class dancer Lindy Hopper Juan Villafane, and renowned tap dancer Tim Fournier.
The spectacular night will kick off with an introductory Swing class for beginners followed by live dance performances and social dancing accompanied by the ‘The Speakeasies,’ a seven-piece band from Greece. The event will finish with Electronic Dance Swing music performed by DJ Frederik Funk. The Three Brothers Barber will also have a stall at the event, just in case you need to get a trim.
The organisers of the event are all from the Bangkok Swing community. Everyone has different professions, but we all connect through dance. There is a designer, there is a PR person – we have all kinds of people volunteering – and that’s why we can make this event possible. We don’t do it for money, but simply to sustain our community.
Tickets are being sold online, starting at 900 baht. Drinks and finger food will be served at the bar.
For more info about Bangkok Swing and its events see www.bangkokswing.com digadigadoobkk.com / More info about The Hop at www.thehopbangkok.com