Learn to swing dance for free at the Mukilteo Y

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 04, 2014
Courtesy of: Thane Walkup Thane Walkup will be teaching an introductory East Coast Swing class at the Mukilteo Y from June 9-July 7.

If you've got two left feet, have trouble meeting the opposite sex, or know you need to exercise but find treadmills and weightlifting mind-numbingly boring, then maybe you're ready to swing a little.

Swing dance, that is.

Mukilteo Family YMCA is offering a free East Coast Swing class this summer for members.

The five-week class, to run June 9 to July 7, will meet at the Y on Mondays from 7:15-8:15 p.m. The lessons will be taught by local jitterbug Thane Walkup.

The classes will cover the basics of East Coast Swing, including open and closed positions, inside and outside turns, tuck turns and floor craft – the fine art of not bumping into each other.

“I love dance, and I want to share it with as many people as possible,” Walkup said. “It’s had a profoundly transformational affect on my own life, and I think it’s very important that people have it available to them.

“It’s not for everybody, obviously, but for those that it is for, by all means, they should be able to get to it.”

East Coast Swing is just one of the many styles of swing-era dance (from the 1920s to the 1950s).

A simpler 6-count variation of Lindy Hop – a popular but complicated dance – East Coast Swing evolved with swing-band music and the work of the Arthur Murray dance schools in the 1940s.

“I like to call it a great ‘gateway drug’ for other swing styles,” Walkup said. “It’s a good way to get started, because anyone can learn it. It’s very simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.”

In the class, Walkup, of Mukilteo, and his teaching partner will first demonstrate each dance move, then have leads (men) and follows (women) try their parts alone before dancing their parts together, both with and without music.

“I’ll be going around giving advice to try to help people, but it’s not going to be one-on-one the entire time,” he said.

Leads and follows will dance once or twice with each partner before rotating to another in the class.

Rotating partners helps with the learning curve, Walkup said, because dancing is not just a matter of learning where your feet go, but learning how to lead and follow.

“I want people to help each other learn; I don’t want people sticking with themselves,” he said. “That’s how everybody in Seattle teaches. Hey, stick with what works.”

A Y member, Walkup was working out with his personal trainer when he mentioned that he’d like to try teaching a dance class. With some networking, the class was a go.

“I thought it was a great idea, to offer a fun class that invites all aspects of fitness,” said Stephanie Whipple, health and wellness director at the YMCA.

“People love to dance, and not everybody wants to come in and do an exercise class. If they want to get up and move, this is a great opportunity.”

Walkup has taught several private and group swing lessons, including a quick one at his own wedding at Rosehill Community Center.

He has been dancing swing since 2006. At 35, Walkup had never danced a lick before in his life.

“I had two left feet,” he said. “I started for the same reason almost every single guy does, which is to meet women.”

That year, he took five or six different swing dance classes – of varying styles – at the same time and also went out dancing whenever it was available.

“It was a bit of an obsession for me,” he said.

Although dance lessons didn’t get him any dates, Walkup said it did help him come out of his shell.

“I learned a lot about how to interact with people,” he said. “Before I started dancing, I was an insecure, anti-social geek – and now I’m an insecure, anti-social geek who knows how to talk to people.”

If you lack self-esteem, he said learning to dance could give you the confidence boost you’ve been looking for. At least, it worked for him.

“There’s a bit of ‘fake it till you make it,’ but you do eventually learn something, which is how to walk up to someone and say, ‘Will you dance with me?’ and that does carry through to other things in life.”

If all goes well, Walkup may teach a follow-up class at the Y also available to non-members. His hope is that Mukilteans catch “the bug” to swing dance – and maybe start their own weekly dance at Rosehill.

“To me, it’s very much about giving back and making sure there are people to dance with,” he said. “Because if we don’t try to maintain the dance, then it won’t be around.

“If something has helped us in this world, we need to try and make sure it continues and help other people.”

Want to learn to swing dance? Show up at 7:15 p.m. Monday, June 9. Limited to the first 25 dancers. Must be members of the Y. Wear smooth-souled shoes.

The Mukilteo Family YMCA is at 10601 47th Pl. W., Mukilteo. Call 425-493-9622 for more information.

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