Hopstop brings swing dance to kids

by Joyce Lee | 2/28/16 6:01pm

Hanover families joined Gerry Grimo and The East Bay Jazz Ensemble and the Dartmouth Swing Club at a Hopstop Family Show in Alumni Hall on Saturday morning. Families with small children crowded the colorful rug while others sat or stood in the back to enjoy the show.

The Hopkins Center runs Hopstop for young children to experience different forms of performance art, including music, theater and dance, outreach coordinator Mary Gaetz said.

Gaetz, who organized the event, said that the program frequently seeks Dartmouth student groups to be part of Hopstop, noting that Gerry Grimo and The East Bay Jazz Ensemble helped them recruit the Dartmouth Swing Club, a group with a similar musical interest.

“It was nice to have a different part of the show that was physically active and engaging so that the audience had a wider and [more] fulfilling experience, rather than if it had been watching just the jazz ensemble,” Gaetz said.

The two groups coordinated the show so that the Swing Club could tailor dances to the ensemble’s different styles of jazz. The four dancers included Drayton Harvey ’17, his wife Amber Harvey, Caroline Petro ’18 and Sara Holston ’17.

The show began with an impressive swing display by the Harveys, before Gaetz stepped up to introduce the ensemble and the dance club. The band began the show with West Coast jazz, a style of jazz music with a less energetic tempo than bebop jazz. While the band played, Petro and Holston displayed what swing dancing to a slower tempo would look like. The band then played Latin jazz with its more frenetic rhythms, and the Harveys again took the stage to display the Latin style of swing dancing.

The separation between audience and performers faded as Petro and Holston invited people to come swing dance with them on stage. Parents were eager to try dancing with their children, who had already begun to interact with the dancers. Petro and Holston also displayed West Coast jazz swing dancing. Holston said that the style, developed in the 1930s, had been adapted to utilize smaller movements to fit in the smaller venues available in the western United States for dancing.

Grimo announced that the band was taking the audience on a journey through 20th century blues and began with a jazz style from the ’50s, before moving onto a song by Stevie Wonder that was played in Latin style. As the swing club dancers changed their dancing to fit the different styles, the children in the audience excitedly began to imitate their movements. The band also played jazz classics “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” (1937) by Benny Goodman and “Jump, Jive, an’ Wail” (1956) by Louis Prima while the swing club demonstrated the jive style, a very fast-paced and rhythmic dance.

The Harveys taught a basic swing dance move, and audience members gathered towards the front to learn the pace of the movements, identified as “swing, swing, forward, back.” The band started playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” as everyone began dancing, from parents with children to couples and friends.

“It was fun to have live music to dance to,” Karen Lens, a resident of Hanover who had come with her daughter to see the show, said.

Lens said that she had been part of a swing club before, while her daughter said that she thought the dancing was cool.

Gaetz said the show had gone well and that she had enjoyed seeing everyone get up and dance, creating an infectious energy in the room.

“I feel like it’s important to have a place where children can interact with the performing arts without feeling like they have to always stay in their seat,” Gaetz said. “At Hopstop, we encourage them to move and dance if they want to.”

The members of the Dartmouth Swing Club said that they had also found the experience enjoyable and that interacting with the audience during the show increased the energy in the room.

“It was interesting to see how many people were interested in joining us and being able to see people really enjoy the music and dance freely, because I know that’s not something you can do frequently,” Drayton Harvey said.

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