Dancing The Jitters Away

“I wanna learn shim sham. Why you wanna? So I can shim sham with you.” The opening lyrics to “ The Shim Sham Song” by The Bill Elliot Swing...

“I wanna learn shim sham. Why you wanna? So I can shim sham with you.”

The opening lyrics to “ The Shim Sham Song” by The Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra play as Kathryn Presler and Taylor Hostler count off, “Five. Six. Seven. Eight.” The dancers around them follow their lead and do the first steps of the shim sham: single, single, double.

“And hips!” Hostler instructs.

The shim sham is a fast-paced swing dance that begins with solo moves — including kickbacks, scuffs and the Shorty George — and ends with a partnered freestyle.

During her freshman year, Presler, president of the Jitterbug Club, took her now-boyfriend to “How-To Jitterbug” where the two hit it off as dance partners. They began dating shortly after.Th at event was her first introduction to swing dance and the club, and it was enough to get her hooked.

The Jitterbug Club, one of several dancing clubs on campus, invites students to attend meetings and learn various styles of partner dancing. New dancers shouldn’t fret about stepping on a few toes or missing a beat, though, because the hour-long dance lessons are geared toward beginners.

“I like swing dancing so much because there’s so much you can do with it,” Presler says. “There’s not really any wrong way to do it, so, I love that! You don’t always have to know every step to be good. There’s always something to learn, always something to improve.”

The club, which was established in the early 2000s, starts each meeting with a beginner lesson and finishes with free dance: a time designated for students to review specific dance styles or to simply gather and bust a move. The Jitterbug Club teaches a vast range of swing dances including the East Coast, the Lindy Hop, the Charleston, the Balboa, the Blues and, of course, the Jitterbug.

Swing dancing consists of American Rhythm dances that originated in the late 1920s combined with the evolution of swing jazz music in New York’s Harlem district. Social swing dance is characterized by six-beat and eight-beat patterns. The Charleston is one example of a swing dance that can be performed solo or with a partner. It’s characterized by fast-paced steps, the swaying of the hips and engagement with the dancer’s whole body.

“I like Charleston because it is a fun, upbeat dance,” Presler says. “You can go quite fast or you can slow it down depending on the song.”

Presler teaches lessons with Hostler, the vice president, and schedules other instructors to lead the weekly meetings. The pair also plan group trips to SwingColumbus events to engage with the swing dancing community and learn new routines. The club organizes social dances at least once per semester; last year, the club hosted a 1920s-themed dance on Dads Weekend.

The Jitterbug Club occasionally coordinates with other groups, such as the Ballroom Dance Club, to teach students new steps and dances. In September, the Ballroom Dance Club’s faculty adviser, Andrew Pueschel, taught Jitterbug Club members how to dance East Coast Swing, a fast-paced, social partner dance that originated in the 1940s.

Pueschel, a professional ballroom and Latin dancer, accepted a position at Ohio University
in fall 2016 and noticed the absence of a ballroom dancing organization on campus. He created the Ballroom Dance Club, which held its first meeting in October 2016, to emphasize the benefits of partner dancing.

“Partner dancing is something where not only is it a safe place to take risks in terms of socialization and physical activity, coordination, mental ability, it’s something that anyone and everyone can do,” he says. “And it is enjoyable.”

The club meets only a few times a year due to the small membership size, which Pueschel hopes to increase by making the workshop-based meetings free. The meetings feature partner ballroom dancing, which consists of about 20 different dances. Pueschel wants students to have fun and be successful, so he teaches styles of dance that have easy routines, such as swing and salsa, but also teaches students how to waltz, cha-cha and do the Argentine Tango.

He hopes the organization will compete in partner dancing at the collegiate level in the future.

“It is a dream of mine to have a competition team via ballroom but at this time, we have to get regular membership up first,” he says.

Pueschel and Presler encourage students of all different backgrounds and skill levels to join in the fun and enjoy the benefits from the physical and social aspects of partner dancing.

“Ballroom dancing and social dancing alike, it’s a free area for anybody to learn,” Presler says. “It doesn’t matter how much or how little you know. It’s just a good space for anybody to come out and try it.”

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