A small group has gathered at Galleria-area studio Sonia’s World of Dance on a Tuesday evening, looking a little world-weary after the workday. But as class begins and the room fills with swing music, the dancers warm up and the grinning starts. “When people are swing dancing, they immediately have a smile on their face,” says Houston Swing Dancing Society president Alexis Strickland, chatting with us after class.
There’s also an intensity to some of the dancers in the room. These are the competitors preparing for this month’s Lindyfest at the Royal Sonesta, where they’ll go head to head in the Lindy Hop, the highly energetic dance, born in the Jazz Age, that surged back to popularity in the 1990s during the swing revival.
The event is one of more than 175 such competitions held annually across the globe. “You can go anywhere around the world and find Lindy Hop. You can go to Croatia or Ireland or Australia and find a group,” says Houston Swing Dancing Society co-founder Rowena Steves. “It’s a great way to socialize.”
Steves founded the Society with her husband Buddy in 1987, hoping to find like-minded Houstonians. “We would travel to different countries and make friends and swing dance,” she remembers. “But when we would get back home, we would basically forget everything we learned because there was nowhere to go and practice.”
The Society hosted the inaugural Lindyfest in 1997. And what started out as a handful of couples bouncing in a strip mall has today turned into a four-day event that attracts roughly 700 dancers and features swing jam sessions, instructor demos, workshops for all skill levels, and the Lone Star Championships, in which dancers from more than 50 countries will battle it out to the sounds of the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet.
While some couples prepare for competition together, others take part in Jack & Jill contests, which pair dancers randomly. “You can communicate through the dance, even with people who don’t speak your language,” says Strickland. “I feel that the music is pretty universal, and the joy that comes from it is universal too.”
Mar 24–27, See website for registration.
Royal Sonesta, 2222 W. Loop South, lindyfest.hsds.org