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7th November 2016

Societies spotlight: Swing Dance Society

Verity Longley, Chair of University of Manchester Swing Dance Society, talks to Rachel Oelbaum about t-shirts, being queen and — of course — dancing

I meet Verity in the foyer of the Ellen Wilkinson building. She arrives with a mug of tea in her hand, apologising for being late. Verity’s taken time out from working on her PhD in Psychology to meet me, but she’s happy to take a break. I joined Swing Dance Society last year, which is when I first met Verity, but this is the first time she and I have talked properly. It seems fitting that this conversation is about something we both share a love for: Swing dancing.

“I’ve been doing swing dance for quite a long time, on and off. I started in Bristol in 2009. People always seem surprised that I’ve been doing it so long, like ‘why aren’t you better?’” She tells me with a laugh. “It’s a really good hobby to have when you move to new places, and in Manchester there’s a really good scene and people are super friendly.”

I ask her how she got involved with Swing Dance Society. “I went to the Freshers’ Fair last year and found the Swing Dance Society, though my sole purpose for being there was the free pizza!”

“And now you’re the President.”

“I think the official term is Chair, but I think President sounds better. Or Queen… But the reality is that lots of the old committee are still involved. Last year it was left to a few key people to do everything, but this year it feels much more like a group.”

I ask Queen Verity what her plans are for Swing Dance Society’s year ahead. Immediately, she jumps in, “one of the key things is to make a better plan of teaching, so we’ve got a bit more structure and we can keep track of what we’re doing. We also want to get outside teachers in to do a big workshop, maybe at the weekend. We’re also going to try and get t-shirts made. Hopefully it’ll happen soon, and then we can look really good when we go to events and stuff. That’s what we really want, to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Her sense of ambition is palpable, and it’s no surprise that in the first few weeks of term Swing Dance Society has seen  an average of 120 people turning up to the beginners classes each week. For those who have yet to make it, Verity breaks it down.

“We predominantly dance Lindy Hop, which is a form of… 30s style… jazz… dance? Is that right? Maybe Google the definition.”

“I think that’s right. I tell people it’s dancing from the 1920s-40s,” I say.

“Yeah, OK. 20s to 40s. It’s a partnered dance. You don’t need to bring a partner, because we switch partners throughout the lesson. Each pair is a lead and a follow, and traditionally men lead and women follow, but that doesn’t matter. Everyone can do whatever role they want. We have beginners and intermediate lessons, but we start from the very basics every week so people can join any week. It’s £3 for students for one session, and you can wear whatever you want, just something casual. You need flat-soled shoes, the cheaper the better – nothing too grippy! Cheap Primark ones are a safe choice.”

“I also want to say that it’s a safe space, and we don’t tolerate any inappropriate behaviour, which is something some people are wary of in terms of doing partnered dances. I just want to reassure people and to say that it’s fun, people do it for a laugh, and if you’re not very good then it doesn’t matter.”

I end by asking Verity to describe Swing Dance Society in three words. “Oooh that’s hard. How would you describe Swing Dance Society in three words?” Despite the fact that I wrote the questions, I haven’t actually thought about this. Eventually, we decide on enthusiastic, motivated and fun.

“But I feel like I should pick a more exciting word than fun…” she says.

“I’d say it’s very supportive as well.”

“Definitely. Everyone’s there to look out for everyone else, and I think that’s very much the thing with swing dance generally. It gets competitive at the higher levels, but it’s not like that at our level. Everyone’s very supportive. So let’s go with enthusiastic, friendly, and supportive.”

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