Worth Talking About: Upstate Swing

Upstate Swing

If you are from Greenville, you have probably heard about the Tuesday night swing dance at the Handlebar.  Those of us who have experienced it will tell you that, once you start, you’ll be hooked for life.  For my first post in my interview series, Worth Talking About, I am talking with Paul Hoke of Upstate Swing.  Paul and his wife Ansley teach a variety of swing styles and host a weekly dance for the bargain price of $5.  For more information about swing in the upstate, check out Paul’s website at http://www.upstateswing.com/, or check out the Upstate Swing dancers’ event listing on Facebook.

O & R: What initially got you interested in swing dance?
Paul: After college I wanted to learn some new skills and hobbies like flying or dancing.  I had a friend that gave me $50 for a graduation gift and said go take dance lessons.  And you know $50 wouldn’t buy a very safe pilots class.
 O & R: Where did you learn?
Paul: I’ve taken classes from Boston and DC to LA. The classes I’m most proud of were with the late Frankie Manning, who was one of the originators of dancing to swingin’ Jazz music back in the 1930’s. He traveled the globe teaching up until his passing in April 09, one month shy of his 95 birthday.
Also, YouTube should get some credit.  When I first started learning the only way to see Frankie performing was catching a swing dance scene in a 1940’s movie playing on TCM, usually at 1-2am.  Now you can see his most famous clip any time of day or night.
 O & R: What different types of swing do you teach?
Paul: OK, this may be technical or just a dance geek answer.
In 1930 you had swing music and people dance to it differently all over the US.  Swing was the teenagers music and the teens in Harlem were dancing Lindy Hop.  The kids south of LA were dancing Balboa and here in SC they were probably dancing a mixture of The Charleston and Big Apple Dance which in the 1950’s mixed with swing moves and became known as Carolina Shag.
I perform and teach all of these dances and a dance called Collegiate or Double Shag.
O & R: What is the most challenging part of teaching swing dance?
I hear this statement way too much and my answer is always the same.
How many lessons have you taken?
None, is the answer 90% of the time.
So convincing guys how ridiculously simple the basics are is a challenge.
They will spend hours at batting practice or at the free throw line then claim
they have no rhythm but very few will take a 45 minute dance lesson.
O & R: What tips would you give to those people with two left feet who are thinking about learning to swing dance?
Paul: Lesson ONE you should be dancing for fun! Studios often get to serious
about perfecting your dancing skills and the lessons are dry and boring.
Learn the moves and the style of swing you like, some teachers can be
pushy about you learning the style they prefer.

O & R: Any favorite dancing moments?
 Paul: June 1999, Ansley, my wife, came out for her second time to a dance at the Handlebar when it was in the Mills Mill Building. My teaching partner was absent so I just asked Ansley if she would help with the lesson. We were married a year later and now she is required to help me teach.
Performing for the 2000 Super Bowl Pregame show with Tina Turner and Travis Tritt in really ugly costumes.
Performing on stage at NewSpring church right before the sermon. I suppose I like the irony, after having attended Bob Jones Univ for a stint.
In Aug 09 I’ll be helping with a flash back scene for Army Wives, a TV show on the Lifetime network.
O & R: Hey, weren’t you dancers in that Notebook movie?  How’d that come about?
Paul: Several actor friends told me about auditions for swing dancer for a movie in Charleston.  We danced with about 20-30 other people and just happened to dance right next to, and get stepped on by the principle actors. After editing we were only in the film for 5 seconds, so hit slow motion on the scene with the first date montage or you‘ll miss us.
O & R: Anything else you want to say about swing dancing in the Upstate?
Every year I’m amazed at the growing dance scene.  I thought this would be a fad that would lose its interest after 3 years and I’m glad to help more people get on the dance floor for the first time.


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