On Tuesday nights, you won’t hear a single pop song or synthesized electronic dance beat at the Wherehouse in Walker’s Point. Instead, you’ll hear music from another era—the jaunty rhythms of classic jazz and foot-tapping funk.
Swing is both a music and a dance style that evolved together in the 1930s and 40s, and this World War II-era relic and sock hop staple is still alive and thriving in Milwaukee. It’s fast-paced and full of toe-bouncing and knee-bobbing action, twists and turns, hops, flicks and kicks, and dramatic dips. Watch a period movie that has dancing in it and you’ll see it. The classic swing out move has the lead pushing the lady out of hold, keeping one hand joined. She twirls out like a whip, hair lifting, does a rock-step, and twists back into hold. Some ladies do it with a crooked grin and bit of sass. It’s hard not to smile.
For how complicated swing looks, it can be surprisingly easy to pick up the basic rock-step. Everything else builds upon that four-part step. Then you can learn the swing-out move, try a trick or two, and you’re ready to dance. Part of the fun is spontaneously combining the moves and tricks on the fly.
Tuesday night lessons hosted by the Jumpin’ Jive Club are welcoming to newcomers. Dance instructor Maureen Majeski leads the lesson, demonstrating the moves for all to see. She always teaches the basic step first, so beginners can learn and experienced dancers can warm up. After a few repetitions, Majeski incrementally adds more elements, guiding dancers to practice each new turn or combination separately before putting them all together to music.
Don’t worry about having a partner for everyone in your friend group when you come, just get out on the floor. You’ll be paired up in no time. With rotating partners, you’ll meet almost everyone in the house during a lesson. Afterward, you’ll have a chance to practice your new moves when the floor opens up for social dancing.
It’s certainly an unconventional but fun way to spend a Tuesday night, and the lively spirit of swing is infectious. In the end, because the lessons are so social, everyone who comes as a stranger leaves as a friend. Majeski says, “I’ve made a lot of really good friends doing this. The really nice thing is [you] can come into a room and soon know 40 and 50 people. If you go out to a restaurant or a bar, everyone is a stranger. It’s nice to go out and move and know it’s a safe environment and you’ll have fun.” Regulars are eager to chat and show newcomers the ropes. Go and you’ll discover why the old is new again.
How to not make a fool of yourself
DO: Be a good leader or follower. A leader should give his partner clear cues with his hands to tell her where to go. A follower should stay alert but not get ahead of her leader.
DON’T: Worry about your outfit too much. You can just come as you are. The crowd here is pretty laid-back. But nobody will complain if you want to channel the era and break out a vintage dress and do your hair up in victory rolls either.
Where to go:
Knights of Columbus Hall
1800 S. 92nd St., West Allis
First Friday of the month
8:00 p.m.–12:00 a.m.
$7 (all ages)
The Wine Cellar
409 Delafield St., Waukesha
Thursday 7:00 p.m.
$7 (all ages)
818 S. Water St.
Tuesday 8:00 p.m.