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The traveling swing dancers of the Southeast
Statesboro Swings Out attracts dancers up and down East Coast
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Maddie FitzGerald, 20, of Atlanta is decked out in bold footwear to match her footwork during the Statesboro Swings Out dance workshop. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Every year in April, a three-day dancing event invites people to swing into spring — literally.
    With workshops, competitions and social dances, Statesboro Swings Out draws together a close-knit community of dancers from up and down the East Coast. They come from university dance clubs and the “dance scenes” of the Southeast’s larger cities, carpooling to travel hundreds of miles and crash on the couches of other dancers they may never have met, all for the love of swing and Lindy Hop dancing.
T his year’s Statesboro Swings Out blended informal dancing opportunities with intensive hour-long classes. Divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced to accommodate dancers of differing experience, the classes worked on everything from technique to style to dancers’ communication with their partners. At the end of the day, the dancers reconvened for another big social dance to show off what they’d learned and to watch the Jack and Jill competition, a dance-off between the
10 best dancers on the floor, randomly matched into five couples.
    Statesboro Swings Out is known for coming up with creative themes for each year, such as “Happy Dance Fun Time,” which focused on having fun with one’s dance partner during the dance, and “I Swing Out So Hard,” which helped dancers develop aspects of their technique. This year’s iteration was called “#FollowLove,” taking dancers’ usual focus from the “lead” — the dominant partner in the dance — to the “follow,” the responding partner. As coordinator Megan Bowen said, the event’s organizers wanted this year to emphasize the conversation between partners for a more fun, dynamic dancing experience.  

If you host it, they will come
    The event began in 2009 as a workshop hosted by the Swing Cats, Georgia Southern University’s swing and Lindy Hop dance club. Bowen was club president at the time. She organized the first event, called “Statesboro Blues,” to bring in a few instructors from Atlanta to focus on blues dancing.
    “We figured it was just going to be a local thing,” Bowen said. “We didn’t even do pre-registration; we just posted on our Swing Cats Facebook page that we were having it.”
    It was quite a surprise, then, when the teachers showed up with about
75 people in tow, from as far as South Carolina and Florida. 
    After Bowen graduated, she restarted the event independently — though with a lot of participation from the Swing Cats club — in 2011, renaming it “Statesboro Swings Out”. “#FollowLove” was SSO’s fifth iteration, and like the last three years before it, the event drew in a crowd of about 120 dancers from throughout the Southeast region.
    “It’s nice to bring events like this to our small club,” Bowen said. “This is the kind of thing that, for me, generated excitement about learning how to swing dance.”

Swing dance subculture
    Though it may not be a particularly visible community, swing dancing has a full-blown subculture.
    “It’s got its own leaders, it’s got its own hierarchy, it’s got its own guidelines and etiquette and rules and, really, even style of dress,” Bowen said. That style of dress, by the way, is typically described as “hepcat,” a term from the 1940s that now refers to a vintage look often associated with today’s hipsters.
    A serious and enthusiastic swing dancer can tell you the names of their favorite dancers and instructors. They have a specific vocabulary for swing moves, such as “swingouts,” “swivels” and “double-tuck turns,” and they may spend hours tracking down YouTube tutorials to help them practice each one. They have their own slang; for instance, feeling “swungover” refers to being exhausted after a rigorous weekend of dancing. And many of them travel throughout their region or across the country for other events in other dancing communities.
    Southeastern swing dancers have no shortage of events to choose from. In addition to Statesboro Swings Out, which is one of the smaller events, swing dancers can attend CHEX in Charleston, South Carolina; The School of Hard Knox in Knoxville, Tennessee; and Lindy Focus in Asheville, North Carolina, to name just a few.

The traveling dance community
    Dancers have many different motivations for shelling out the money and spending the time it takes to travel to the regional events. Most are looking to brush up their skills with new partners for fresh perspective and feedback. Josie Maples, who attends college and dances in Asheville, North Carolina, and who came to this year’s SSO event, said the opportunity to travel and see new cities is definitely a draw for her. Since the start of 2015, Maples has been to four different regional events, including Lindy Focus and Nashville’s Music City Exchange.
    Another major draw for many dancers is the social aspect. Regular travelers end up making friends in the dance community that they rarely see outside of the regional events. Some of these acquaintances progress into meaningful relationships that exist off the dance floor and unite them across state lines.
    “I would say most of the people I meet through dance I only see at dances and I don’t even really talk to outside of dance,” Maples said. “But there are a few people who have crossed those lines and actually become really good friends. … The dances can be a really good home base to see everybody.”
    Nick Plotts, 27, of Duluth, has been to six events this year — including SSO — and said he’s aiming for an even dozen before the end of 2015. Plotts was a member of the Swing Cats when he attended Georgia Southern as an undergraduate. While SSO may not be the biggest event around, Plotts said he tries to attend every year. 
    “I get to see my friends who are still here in the area — friends who I’ve made through dancing and friends who used to be Swing Cats and who now come back because this is their homecoming,” Plotts said. “It’s really a lot of fun for me to do the traveling and see the different friends I’ve made through the years because of dancing.”