Jazz music wafted throughout one of the upstairs rooms Sunday afternoon at Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Corvallis.
As more than 30 people watched him demonstrate basic swing dance moves, Phil Manijak spoke enthusiastically into his headset.
“Five, six, seven, eight and step!,” Manijak said. “Remember, it’s important to work on communicating with your partner and keeping your energy up!”
Five minutes later, everyone switched dance partners and learned another move. Manijak is one of the co-founders of the Corvallis Swing Dance Society, which formed in December to provide swing dance fans opportunity to step, kick and turn.
“We were having to go to Portland or Eugene to swing dance,” said Michelle Jordan, the society’s other co-founder. “There’s a lot of good dancers in this area so it made sense to start this.”
Sunday’s event was the second the Corvallis Swing Dance Society has hosted. It held its first swing dance lesson/dance in January. Many of the participants were returnees, and their reasons for taking up swing dancing varied.
Some wanted to learn a new dance form, some wanted to meet new people and others simply wanted the exercise. For example, Trevor Bramwell took a minute to catch his breath after the lesson before he went back onto the floor for the dance, beads of sweat dripped from his forehead.
Bramwell, a computer science sophomore at Oregon State University, said he became interested in swing dance after he attended a few dances with friends about a year ago.
“For me it’s a good way to take a step back into the swing dance era,” Bramwell said. “To the 20s, 30s and 40s, because that’s when swing dance really caught on. So it’s like going back in time.”
Bramwell dressed the part, too. He was one of the few participants who looked like he could have stepped out of a bygone era. He wore a tie, dress shirt, slacks and a vest. Most of the dancers dressed for comfort, which fit the casual atmosphere of the event.
Manijak said people don’t have to be expert dancers to enjoy swing dancing. He said most people are able to pick up the rhythm of the music and moves quickly.
He said the biggest challenge for most novice swing dancers is learning to communicate and be comfortable with their partners. Several participants said staying relaxed is the most difficult aspect of swing dancing for them.
“I do a lot of ballroom dancing,” said Roger McDonald of Corvallis, who manages Odd Fellows Hall. “It’s much more rigid than swing dancing. So I have to remember to keep loose.”
The swing dance events have proved popular enough that Manijak said the Corvallis Swing Dance society will host one every second Sunday of the month through June.
“They are going great,” Manijak said. “People are having fun and that’s main thing. These are pretty wholesome. You don’t need to go to a club and have alcohol. It’s relaxed and you get to meet a lot of new people doing it.”