Melissa Grady had always loved the glamour and romance of the 1940s.
Visiting vintage festivals with her mother, she quickly fell in love with the swing dancing that was always on display. With swishing skirts and high-kicking lifts, it really appealed to the 27-year-old.
It was while at one of these festivals that Melissa and her mother, Sandra, decided it was time they took up lessons with The Swing Dance Company in Fareham. That was a year ago – and they haven’t looked back since.
Melissa says: ‘We always admired the style of dancing. We loved the classes when we first came along, so kept coming back. I’ve always loved the 1940s and you can really can soak up the atmosphere and get involved when you’re there.’
Having begun in the jazz era of the 1920s, swing dance developed in America, with one of the most recognised dances of the time being the Lindy Hop, based on a mix of tap, jazz and the Charleston.
With TV shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and popular live acts like singers The Three Belles, who are University of Portsmouth graduates, the dance is more popular than ever. And Portsmouth is showing a new generation of dancers exactly the way to do it.
The Swing Dance Company was started just over 10 years ago by Hilsea-based Brooke Garvey, who had moved down here from the Midlands.
When he was just 21, Brooke was co-erced into attending swing classes with his sister and some of her friends, but he soon fell in love with the style.
He says: ‘It took quite a while before I was any good at it, but then I moved down here and I couldn’t find anything that was quite the same.’
That was when the 36-year-old started teaching swing classes in Chichester to friends and colleagues – and it proved more popular than he ever imagined.
Brooke says: ‘I got a lot of feedback from my teaching and I realised how much people were enjoying it. It was after about a year that I decided to turn it into a full-time business, and since then we’ve kept going. That was in 2002.
‘It’s a really enjoyable way to spend your time. I now run the business with my wife, Debbie, who I actually met because she came along to one of the beginner classes during the very first year.’
The company offers Swingeasy classes in Fareham on a Tuesday and in Chichester on Mondays, as well as private tuition. Dancers have been involved with the world-famous Goodwood Revival and have gone into schools and colleges to teach swing dance.
Brooke says: ‘The original offering was a 10-week course starting with beginners, and then we introduced higher levels. Then we started putting on dance events for our customers too. We’ve put on events at the Admiral Lord Nelson School in Portsmouth and we’ve taken workshops into schools.
‘For example, last year at Harrison Primary School in Fareham we helped them produce a school DVD which was based around the Diamond Jubilee, so it was all about the 1950s. Every year in the school worked on it and we brought it all together. It’s a living history lesson really.’
It’s a particularly energetic style of dance, and visitors to the classes love how fit it gets them without slugging away at the gym.
Brooke explains: ‘It can be as energetic or as gentle as you want it to be. You don’t have to dance at a 100 miles an hour.
‘If you’re a beginner and you’ve never danced before, you can still do it. It’s a good way of keeping active, so it really suits people who aren’t into competitive sports. A lot of people say they are doing exercise without realising it.’
Brooke adds: ‘A lot of people enjoy it because they can spend quality time with their partner too, and in our modern lives at the moment it’s sometimes difficult to do that. It’s important to people.’
And, of course, people love the glamorous sense of travelling back to an era when we weren’t glued to our iPhones.
‘People love the retro side of it,’ explains Brooke, ‘and they love to dress up in 1940s and 1950s clothes. It attracts a lot of interest.’
But The Swing Dance Company isn’t alone as other classes are popping up across the area, including weekly sessions at The Entertainment Hall at St James’ Hospital in Milton, Simply Balboa in Horndean and Swing 4 All in Southsea.
Jason Foster, who lives in Southsea, started up Swing 4 All with Jemima Hewett around a year ago when he started offering classes in The Fat Fox. The 31-year-old says: ‘We started to get a lot more people interested in our classes so we moved to the Southsea Community Centre about six months ago.’
Jason learnt to swing dance, including types such as the Lindy Hop and the Jive, after he finished university. And he’s loved it ever since: ‘I found that style of dance much more rewarding and challenging and I prefer the music. It’s quite an exciting theme and you get to meet a lot of people doing it.
‘There are even Lindy Exchanges, where you visit somewhere and do all the tourist things in the day and then you dance at night. I’ve been to Oxford, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Amsterdam doing them.’
With just under 30 people turning up to the weekly classes on a Thursday, this style is getting more and more popular, as Jason explains.
‘I think people like the music and some people want to get into the vintage and retro theme. They like to dress up and go to things like festivals. When everyone dresses up its like an experience from the 1940s. I think we also have quite a lot of young people coming each week, more so than other classes.’
He adds: ‘We offer deals for students such as 10 lessons for £20. Although obviously we’re open to any age of people who want to get involved.’
Swing 4 All also puts on the Southsea Swingout, which is taking place at the Groundlings Theatre on March 16.
Jason explains: ‘It’s a dance we put on for everyone to get involved and all the money goes back into the area.’
For more information on The Swing Dance Company go to theswingdancecompany.co.uk.
Swing dance moves
Arm Jive – Partners face each other and hold hands, and rock their arms to the music, going backwards and forwards. The arms must be doing it in opposite directions.
Turn and Re-turn – The leader puts his left hand in the air and turns the follower clockwise in a spin, and then anti-clockwise so they are facing each other again.
First Move – Partners face each other and then step away from each other. They step back so they’re side by side and then the leader spins the follower back until they are facing each other again.
Pass Through – The leader steps across in front of the follower, while the follower puts their hand on the leader’s back. They change sides and end up in a different place.
Yo-Yo – The follower and leader face each other holding their right hands and the leader brings his right hand to their left shoulder and the follower steps in. The leader then extends their right arm out which brings in the follower. The leader then turns the follower round so they face the opposite direction.
Dancing and teaching with The Swing Dance Company has helped Elena Taylor through thick and thin. The hairdresser, from Stubbington, first began dancing at the classes 10 years ago and a couple of years on began teaching.
She says: ‘A friend of mine said she wanted to learn so I went along with her. I really liked what was going on, so I thought I’d give it a go. I love how friendly it is. The social side is great and you get exercise without really thinking about the fitness.’
About five years ago, Elena had cancer and she believes that getting back to dancing made all the difference.
‘Meeting up with everyone and dancing really helped me. It made me get up and go out the door. People were so amazing, it just got me back on my feet.’
George and Julie Proudfoot
Married couple George and Julie Proudfoot, who live in Fareham, have been attending swing dance lessons with The Swing Dance Company for the past 10 years.
They both love the partnership of the dance, but it wasn’t easy to get George to go in the first place, Julie says.
‘I forced George into it! I always wanted to give it a go and after the first time we did it I thought “I could do this.” Then I didn’t need to force him. He loved it.’ The couple love how easy it is to get out of the house and dance. George, 69, says: ‘It’s a great form of exercise and it’s totally different to what a lot of people do. We love the social side of it and we’ve met a lot of people.’
Julie adds: ‘We’ve been on trips away too where we all go dancing. We went to the Isle of Wight for the weekend and it was all rock and roll dancing.’