In Full Swing

27 April 2018

Over the past decade, Kuala Lumpur’s swing dancing scene has changed from being non-existent to having weekly socials across town. We speak to the movers and shakers behind the small but growing scene.

While generations before had gotten together for socials such as joget and ballroom dancing, the popular dances of today celebrate a more romanticised American throwback: swing dancing.

An alternative to Latin dancing and late night clubbing, swing dancing is a happy place for many, combining a freedom of dance, grooving to really good music, and making new friends.

“The dance is so many things at the same time – exercise, fashion, meeting people, de-stressing and sometimes, live music,” says Ming Pang of KL Swing, one of Kuala Lumpur’s pioneering swing dance groups.

Back in 2008, the swing dance scene in KL was non-existent, much to the chagrin of long-time swing dancer Pang, who had just moved back after living in Singapore and San Francisco. She then decided to start KL Swing as a Facebook group, which hosted its first workshop that same year.

Ming Pang (left) is a dance instructor at KL Swing. Photo credit: RMi Photography Services.

“The first two years were tough,” Pang recalls. “No one understood much about swing jazz; we got kicked from venue to venue, we had a small online presence. Everything was a battle.”

But over the years interest in swing dancing started to increase, and thanks to movies like La La Land and a trending interest in all things vintage, the dance style has gained mainstream appeal.

Today, besides KL Swing, other swing dance groups such as Lindy KL and Blues Dancing KL also host their own weekly socials and workshops. 

One of the pioneers of KL’s swing dancing scene, KL Swing hosts weekly socials and taster sessions. Photo credit: James Lee.

“A couple of local [swing jazz] bands lead by dancers have also started such as Bona Hop and The Frankie Sixes,” says Pang.

Pei Ru Tan, a swing dance instructor at Lindy KL, notes the dance’s growing popularity. “When we first started [in 2011], there were only eight people on the floor and four of them would be us! But our dances got better and we were able to teach, and now, there’s a waitlist with our workshops.”

Pei Ru Tan is a dance instructor at Lindy KL.

With public events such as Swing Out! in Publika, Tan says it was the increasing exposure and visibility of their performances that attracted newbies, specifically with Lindy KL’s focus on the Lindy Hop – regarded as the most popular type of swing dance. Others include the Charleston, Balboa, Shag or Blues – all danced to similar swing jazz music, which inspires the freedom of improvisation.

Lindy KL hosts socials and taster sessions on Friday nights in Taman Desa, while weekends are dedicated to intensive dance workshops.

According to Tan, one major draw to swing dancing is its casual, carefree nature. It’s also a great alternative to clubbing; it’s a social event that isn’t loud and crowded.

“This style of dance attracts a lot of introverts I think, because it’s not very intimidating. It’s very casual – you don’t have to be sexy. You can actually talk to the person you’re dancing with,” she says.

With swing dancing, there’s a connection and intimacy, but one that feels a little wholesome and clean yet fun.

As Frankie Manning – considered to be one of the founders of Lindy Hop – has been known to say, “I’ve never seen a Lindy Hopper who isn’t smiling. It’s a happy dance; it makes you feel good.”

Join the socials and taster classes: KL Swing, Tuesdays at Twenty20Two, Kelana Jaya; Lindy KL, Fridays at New Star Studio, Taman Desa; Blues Dancing KL, Wednesdays at Sid’s Pub Bangsar South.

By Mabel Ho
Lindy KL photos and video by Teoh Eng Hooi.

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