An ad hoc jazz group is launching in 2020
Courtesy of Jesse Newman
As the lead singer sang “Fly Me to the Moon,” more than 100 people danced among the golden lamps to inviting jazz music. Some wore flashy 1920s attire, and others wore t-shirts and jeans. Some had been swing dancing for decades, while many were trying the dance style for the first time.
“The energy in the room was just amazing,” said Renee Wasko GRD ’21, who is the student president of Yale’s Swing, Blues and Fusion dance organization. “Everyone, at some point, hit the dance floor, and it was a really happy and inclusive atmosphere.”
On Saturday, February 1, the Swing, Blues and Fusion Club and the Ad Hoc Jazz Band held an event called “Swingin’ into the 2020s” at the Sitting Room at 285 Nicoll St. – a cafe and social space connected to the venue of gym mActivity.
“The band was awesome – everyone was dancing and having fun,” said Jasmine Stone ’20, who has been swing dancing since high school. “There were people of all skill levels there, and everyone seemed to be having fun.”
Event co-organizers Raj Basak GRD ’21 and Wasko met as graduate students in their departments of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, respectively. Basak is an avid jazz musician, and Wasko said she “fell in love” with swing dancing as an undergrad and has enjoyed it ever since. Swing dancing refers to a group of dances originating from the swing style of 1920s jazz, the most popular of which is “Lindy Hop”, which formed in Harlem in the 1930s. Both art forms are based on improvisation and spontaneity; little is choreographed or scored.
Basak and Wasko realized that their interests were complementary and decided to organize “Swingin’ into the 2020s”.
“I like the idea of trying to involve more people in our community,” Wasko said. She spoke to the owner of The Sitting Room to ask him to collaborate on an event. They realized that they were both looking to create a space for local artists, musicians and dancers.
After Wasko and Joy secured space, Basak reached out to jazz musicians he knew “would be really good together.” He formed an enthusiastic band of nine musicians – which included Jarron Long ’23, Nicholas Serrambana ’21, Charlie Romano ’19, Peter Berrill GRD ’22, Ryan Petersburg GRD ’21, Hersh Gupta ’20, Ethan Dodd ’22, Wes Lewis GRD ’25, Nadeem Ahmad and Basak — to perform at the event.
“The jazz we played was very danceable, quite upbeat and easy to listen to,” Basak said. He noted a contrast between the music they played and the more avant-garde modern jazz of today.
The event drew Yale students, members of the New Haven community and swing dancers from as far away as Hartford. Attendees ranged in age from undergrads to some who said they had been swing dancing for almost 50 years. Tickets sold out long before the event started.
The event started at 7:30 p.m. with an hour-long swing dance lesson to teach beginners the basic six-beat steps. Then the band started playing. Even after the initial lesson, more experienced dancers taught newcomers how to swing through the language of social dancing.
“When you think of swing dancing and the title of the event, you think of an anachronistic old style,” Basak said. “But a lot of people said how refreshing it was to step away from today’s electronic music and get a modern take on old classics.”
The event blurred the traditional boundaries between audience and performer. The musicians watched the dancers perform and the dancers watched the musicians.
Basak emphasized the reactive nature of jazz and swing, calling it “the perfect symbiotic relationship between musicians and dancers. As the audience jumps and spins and spins, you interact with them differently.
Basak and Wasko said they hope to plan more swing dance and jazz events aimed at fostering the local community in the future.
Phoebe Liu | firstname.lastname@example.org