Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Jazz-age dancing

With less than a month until the European Swing Dance Championships, Melonie Clarke gets ready to don her dancing shoes.

Written by Melonie Clarke
ESDC-Sept18-00-176Sharon Davis Jazz-age dancing, or swing dancing (including things like Lindy Hop, Balboa, Charleston, and the Collegiate Shag) has well and truly swung back into style. In London alone a quick search shows that there are 58 classes and around 29 social dances a week held in the capital, that's before looking at the UK as a whole or even further afield.

One of the people spreading the Lindy love, both in the UK and around the world is Sharon Davis.

As well as being a leading historian and world champion in Lindy Hop, Charleston and other swing dances (she's also an award-winning burlesque dancer, and set up Sugar Blue Burlesque in 2006, Australia's largest burlesque company to this day), in 2011 she founded the European Swing Dance Championships, a yearly event of which she is still the director.

And in less than a month, the 4th European Swing Dance Championships will be held right here in the UK.

Sharon founded the event whilst living in Barcelona, and consequently the first two were held in the city in collaboration with Spain's largest swing dance school Swing Maniacs .

When she made the move to London the event came with her, much to the excitement of countless London Lindy hoppers, myself included! With the first London event taking place in 2013, the excitement on the dance scene in the capital, and across the UK, is high as dancers from across the UK and further afield prepare to pack their dancing shoes and head to the 4th championships.

On setting up the championships, her mission statement was to create a world-class event to support the development of swing dances in Europe, and promote jazz-age dances, their music and culture. Lindy Hop and other swing dances have a vibrant, rich history and with ESDC Sharon gives dancers from across Europe the chance to develop their skills through classes, competitions and the chance to social dance with a range of dancers.

'I hope to give European dancers an opportunity to showcase their talents to the international community, whilst also honouring the rich history of Lindy Hop and other jazz dances, and preserving their spirit,' she said.

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For me, just booking onto a dance weekend starts the excitement. Once there, what I'm able to take away from the classes and what I can learn whilst dancing socially with everybody from beginners, to international teachers (always a bit daunting to ask a teacher for a dance but a real must!) is what makes the aching feet and tiredness (us lindy hoppers are known for dancing until we drop) all worth it.

So for the lady who's organised one of the biggest dancing events in the lindy calendar, what are her favourite moments of the weekend?

'One of my favourite things at my event is the annual EuroStar Award we give out,' she tells me.

'It is an award for exceptional performance given to one European leader and one European follower at ESDC, who have exemplified the spirit of the dance throughout the weekend. As well as a trophy and inauguration into the EuroStar Hall of Fame, the winners will also receive free passes to swing dance events all around the world, to encourage them to pursue their love of dancing.'

At the last event winners Marcos Agote (Spain) and Ciana Skeete (UK) won tickets to whopping 63 swing dance events around Europe and the world, for a year of professional development and exposure.

So, with tickets still available, what can you expect from this event if you haven't been before and are looking to book?

Well firstly there is the stellar line up of teachers; Max Pitruzzella (France) and his partner Pamela Gaizutyte (Lithuania). Max is one of the names people look for when booking onto dancer weekenders. Having won countless competitions, he is known as one of the world's best; Remy Kouakou Kouame (France) started his dancing career as a Boogie Woogie dancer, transitioning into the world of Lindy Hop. Today he is best known for being the Director of French event Xpress Your Swing, and the choreographer of the infamous Caribbean Shim Sham; William Mauvais & Maeva Truntzer (both from France) have been dancing as a couple since they were just 14. Their years of experience has seen them take 1st place titles at ESDC and numerous other events.

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To keep the event swinging for the four huge nights of social dancing, there is also a great line up of bands to keep toes tapping.

Created just for ESDC, the European Swing All Stars consists of a group of handpicked musicians ,loved from around Europe, who will play for the entire weekend, including playing live for contest finals. To name a mere few, members include London's very own dancer and musician Steve Combe on trumpet, Italy's Luca Filastro on piano, Shannon Barnett from Germany on trombone, with more musicians to be announced.

The Hot Sugar Band from Paris and London's own Basin Street Brawlers will be adding to the musical feast over the course of the weekend.

The competitions, whether you're a competitor or merely watching, are also a key part of the weekend. For those watching, it's the chance to be inspired by some of the best dancers from around the globe. For those competition, it's a great chance to get yourself noticed by some of the best Lindy Hoppers today.

European Swing Dance Championships, 15-18 October 2015: www.europeanswing.com

Photos: Bobby Bonsey, Ben Hejkal, and Bob Debris



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