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West Coast Swing classes to be offered Saturday

Posted: January 12, 2012 - 12:01am
  Courtesy of Van Rauch
Courtesy of Van Rauch

If your New Year’s resolution was to learn to dance, you’re in luck. A pair of dance instructors from Anchorage will be in town to offer a series of four classes in west coast swing on Saturday at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center -- also the venue for that night’s monthly ballroom dance.

Instructors Liv Froholm and Van Rauch, who are coming to town courtesy of the Juneau International Folkdancers, welcome dancers of all levels.

“We can take people who have never done partner dancing and teach them west coast swing,” Rauch said. “And if they’ve done any partner dancing, it will give them a leg up.”

The workshops will be progressive, so beginners will want to attend the first class at 9 a.m. Subsequent classes begin at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Each class is $15, and a package price for the day is $50 for nonmembers and $40 for JIF members.

Price does not include the dance that night.

The beginning classes will be based on six count patterns, and the more advances sessions will move up to eight-count. For those that understand the lingo, west coast swing is based on the following pattern: walk, walk, triple-step, triple-step. Signature moves involved are the push and the whip.

“The whip move is like the bread and butter of west coast swing,” Rauch said.

One of his favorite aspects of the dance is its inherent flexibility. Though it’s considered a ballroom dance, west coast swing can be danced in a bar or anyplace else, and can be adapted to most types of music, including blues, country, contemporary pop and funk. During the lessons in Juneau, Rauch and Froholm will feature a mix of contemporary popular music and blues.

Rauch said the dance is also open to interpretation, allowing for infinite variation.

“The great thing about it is it’s pretty much limitless in the patterns you can come up with,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any dance that opens itself up to interpretation as much as west coast swing.”

West coast swing has its roots in the Lindy hop, popular in the 30s and 40s. During the dance, the follower, traditionally the woman, moves back and forth on what is called a slot or a track, with the leader remaining somewhere in the middle; both have very active roles, Rauch said.

“She’s kind of like a pendulum swinging back and forth,” Rauch said. “You get this feeling of stretch, like a rubber band.”

Rauch said that while the dance is probably too involved to be learned “on the spot,” on the dance floor, it isn’t difficult -- just a bit more complicated than dances such as the night-club two-step.

Rauch himself became interested in dance in his early 30s, after taking a class in country western dance while living in Albuquerque New Mexico. In addition to the physical rewards of dancing, Rauch said he enjoys the ease with which dancers can meet new people when visiting cities far from home.

His dance partner, Liv Froholm, is the driving force behind West Coast Swing Alaska, a non-profit dance club. She has competed successfully in west coast swing, hustle, and night club two-step competitions. The pair got their start together in a country western dancing and competition in 2000.

On Saturday evening, Froholm and Rauch will teach during a portion of the monthly ballroom event, also at the JACC, between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. The dance will begin at 7 p.m.

Their visit is made possible by the Juneau International Folkdancers, a local nonprofit that’s been active in the community since 1979. In addition to their regular meetings, the group sponsors a monthly ballroom dance and co-sponsors a monthly barn dance. For more information about JIF, visit www.jifdancers.org.

If you go to the classes or to the dance that night, try to wear leather soled shoes, if possible, that will allow you to slide across the floor; tennis shoes can be difficult to maneuver in, Rauch said, especially for beginners.

For further information, call 364-2334.

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