Taryn Temple is a founding member of Topeka Swing Dance. As she called attention to the attendees of the group’s second meeting of 2019, she was met by some smiling faces, nervous looks and folks in all types of footwear.
There is no dress code for this group, just a few simple rules: Dress comfortably, bring $5 cash for the lesson and be prepared to have fun.
Temple starts by having the dancers introduce themselves, as many are strangers, and begin swaying to the music. As they take each other’s hands, the shorter of the dancers ducks under their partner’s arm in a modified twist, then moves on to introduce themselves to the next dancer.
Soon the dancers begin to warm up, and their voices swell in the gallery of the Jayhawk Theatre, 720 S.W. Jackson St.
“When we started this we didn’t really know what we were doing,” Temple said. “I am a teacher by trade, but I had never formally taught swing dancing.”
Temple, along with her boyfriend, Ben Sester, and Natalie Davis, began the Topeka group because they were tired of traveling to Lawrence and Kansas City to practice swing dancing. Temple said she first learned the dance about five years ago, but it quickly became an obsession.
“We really didn’t know if anybody would come,” she said. “But I think the more disconnected our society becomes, the more we seek the type of connections that an activity like swing dance provides.”
For Zoey Hall, a sophomore at Washburn University, that was exactly the case.
Hall was introduced to swing dancing by friends in Lawrence last spring. Shortly after that, she heard about the new Topeka group and has been a regular ever since.
“I just hadn’t found my niche yet,” Hall said, as she had moved to Topeka for school. “ But I wanted to learn more, and I absolutely love it because I’ve gotten to meet more people and it’s the most supportive community. It’s the most fun, and everyone is always trying to build you up and make you better.”
Temple highlighted the diversity of the group and has emphasized in her classes and on social media that this beginner-level class is open to everyone.
At the Thursday night rehearsal, attendees ranged from children dancing with their parents to senior citizens looking for an opportunity to socialize.
Class sizes have fluctuated since they began in May, Temple said, with the original group being about 10 people. The class following their Big Band Christmas event in December brought in 93 people. On average, the class has between 20 and 30 students, Temple said.
January classes are focusing on the six-count East Coast Swing. For beginning lessons, Temple said, it is important for dancers to get comfortable and start acclimating their bodies to the movements.
“We’re not here to create professional dancers,” she said. “It’s challenging because so many of us either sit at a desk or we walk, all day. So when we’re asking you to move your body in a way you don’t normally move, people sometimes need to be reminded to cut themselves a break. They’re here to have fun and to meet people.”
No partners are required, and at one point in the lesson Temple encourages her students to split into leaders and followers. Dancers are encouraged to go where they are most comfortable and not be deterred by gender.
Following the lesson, the class takes about 30 minutes as a “social dance” to practice their new moves without instruction.
January classes are scheduled on Thursdays, Jan. 24 and 31, but will switch to Tuesday nights in February. Class is held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and costs $5 per person.
For more information, visit the Topeka Swing Dance Facebook page.