By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
I love to swing, but I can't dance. I can't swing dance, either. But here I am at a VFW hall on Thomas Road in central Phoenix on a Sunday evening, taking a swing dance lesson and getting ready for some move called "the sugar push," which sounds to me like something kinky you'd do with a candy cane.
Hardly. The move consists of six basic steps, with the man leading his female partner in and out of the "slot" (again, sounds kinky, but it's just a word for the rectangular area the couple's dancing in). Now, I can sort of bob my head and jerk along to most types of music, but I suck at ordered steps and sequences, and I hate following leads. When I do go out and "dance," it's usually headbanging to some heavy metal band or "pogo-ing" (which is just jumping up and down) at a punk rock show. Neither of those "dances" requires a partner.
Put me with a partner, and I make that famous scene from Seinfeld, where Elaine is dancing like a short-circuited robot, look like something out of Soul Train.
So when I decided I wanted to check out this weekly swing dance shindig that The Greater Phoenix Swing Dance Club hosts every week, nobody wanted to go with me.
Toxic JuJu had to work, Bones and Chazz planned to be nursing hangovers, and CooKie had to barbeque naked with a harem or something. (Funny, none of my friends tried church as an excuse.) I think another reason I couldn't corral some company was because everybody assumed that only old fuckers swing dance at the VFW and that the whole thing would be boring. They were wrong on both counts.
So I'm alone tonight, which ends up being a great idea, because it turns out that lots of people come here by themselves, and many of them are young and good-looking. The first thing I see when I enter the dance hall for the 5 p.m. "beginner" dance lesson is one of the hottest chicks I've ever seen. She looks about 25, and she's tall and lithe, with short, spiky blond hair, a cute pixie face, and lascivious hips that move like she should be doing salsa instead of swing. She's one of several people here who are obviously under 30. There is also the more "mature" crowd, but the age range is broader than you'd expect. Many people in my age group told me they come every week.
This "beginner" swing dance lesson lasts until 6 p.m., and then there's an hour-long "intermediate" lesson, followed by open dancing from 7 'til 10. The first 30 minutes of the class feels like some sort of sociology lesson the man leads, the woman follows, and "if the ending changes, it's because the man has done something to make the ending change."
"She follows what I do," continues the male instructor, who looks like some weird hybrid of Bob Hope and Mr. Rogers. "The only time she can go off and do her own thing is if I hold her hand up and say, 'Play.'"
The fellas outnumber the ladies about 3 to 1, so we have to rotate partners, and I have to dance with a bunch of different men, which is weird for me because I stopped dating men more than 12 years ago.
But that's not really the problem. The problem is that I was paying more attention to the babes than to Bob-Hope-Rogers, so I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing now. And, as previously stated, I can be clumsy in close quarters with people. As my father used to say, I'm "all assholes over elbows." I knew there was a chance when I showed up here that I'd be writing later about how I busted my shin, broke my toes, and poked some old dude's eye out.
As I prepare to dance with a middle-aged guy with an Australian accent who keeps calling me "Mickey," I just keep thinking, ladies lead with right foot, end on left foot. I'm not thinking about turns or being led or any of that stuff, so while he's got my hand, trying to pull me into an "underarm pass," I'm just counting and marching in place, trying to land on the right foot, which is the uh, left foot, in this case. Luckily, I've got two of those.
While I'm dancing with a short, gray-haired guy in glasses who keeps calling me "Vickie," we both step in the wrong direction while trying to do the "tuck turn" and stomp on each other's toes. Thankfully, no one made me feel more stupid than I already did. But I definitely needed a cigarette break.
Inside the VFW bar, I start chatting with Hank, the super-friendly bartender. Hank says this place is packed every Sunday, but that the real action doesn't start until the free dance. That's when the real good swing dancers hit the floor, dressed to the nines. "You watch, this place is gonna be on fire," Hank tells me. "You'll learn more from 7 to 10, just dancing, than you will from these lessons."