By Samantha Wilson
City on a Hill Press Reporter
For 10 years, students have had the opportunity to travel back in time to the 1940s with the Swinging Slugs, UC Santa Cruz’s established swing dancing organization. It has helped hopeful dancers learn different swing styles and work at their own pace. Last quarter two UCSC students, third-year Melissa Downey and fourth-year Laker Sparks, took over as instructors for Swinging Slugs, bringing a fresh style and light to the group.
“I’ve been swing dancing for about three years, and Laker has [been swing dancing] for two or three as well,” Downey said. “When the original instructor left, Laker and I had the most experience, and decided to take over.”
Downey and Sparks have kept the essence of the group, but changed some teaching methods to keep it kicking. The group that once exclusively taught the complicated Lindy Hop now has added a variety of swing styles to fit the competence levels of all dancers.
“When we just taught Lindy, many of the beginners couldn’t keep up and we had a problem with dancers dropping the class,” Sparks said. “We’re always trying to fiddle with our format to keep beginners interested, and more experienced dancers challenged.”
For those Slugs who have not had the chance to swing, the dance is a combination of several simple steps that form a complete number. Sparks and Downey teach East Coast style for the beginners, but later delve into other dances including the Lindy Hop and the Charleston.
“East Coast is such a fun dance, and people usually get the hang of it right away,” Downey said. “Who wouldn’t want to have an extra skill on the side?”
Their lessons are structured but informal; during the meeting students stand circled on the dance floor, laughing and smiling nervously, still in shock at the revelation that they can actually dance. No partner is necessary to join — it is made clear that the No. 1 objective of Swinging Slugs is to have fun, without pressure or expectation.
Second-year Cristina Gonzalez, a veteran Swinging Slugs member, has stuck with the club through the change in instructors and lesson plans.
“I joined [Swinging Slugs] last year and had so much fun,” Gonzalez said, “This year is definitely different, but still good — I’m getting better and need to move up to a new level, so hopefully Melissa and Laker can help me with that.”
For those who want to step into Gonzalez’s shoes, the Swinging Slugs meet every Wednesday night from 8:30 to 10 p.m. in the East Field Multipurpose Room. Intermediate lessons are expected to begin at 8:30 p.m., and beginners at 9 p.m. Downey and Sparks promise you a “swingin’ time.”
“The most important thing I can stress,” Sparks said, “is that you all just show up and have some fun.”