by Mallory Moad
They say, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” and Chris Pluhar would agree. He’s one of the founders of Fresno Swing Dance, a casual, but close-knit, group of people who are committed to creating a community centered around swing dancing. Chris says, “Our goal is to get Fresno County dancing!” There are no membership dues and no auditions. All that is required is to “just show up and have fun” while sharing a love for Lindy Hop, Charleston, Fedora hats, jump blues, big band, and artists like Cab Calloway. In other words, all things related to swing.
There was a time when access to swing dancing in Fresno was only available through limited instruction offered at a handful of dance studios or Fresno and Clovis Adult Schools. This was the situation Chris and Kellie Townsend found themselves in ten years ago when they arrived from Santa Cruz, having left a vibrant swing dance scene behind. They eventually came to the realization that if they wanted to keep dancing, they’d first have to become dance teachers in order to have others to dance with. Their first class series took place at CSUF, with a total of three students. Over the years, the locations have changed a few times and the number of participants has increased to fifty or more, thanks to DIY publicity. “Facebook has been a really effective way to build our community and keep people informed of dance-related events.”
When Kellie left the group to pursue other dance-related interests, Chris continued with the help of people whom they had taught to dance. Although he may be the facilitator of Fresno Swing Dance, “The glue that holds the core group together is that we’re all addicted to swing dancing!” That’s a pretty happy dependency if you ask me.
So once a week, Fresno Swing Dance holds Toe-Tapping Tuesday from 7:15 to 9:30 at Cal Arts Academy. Previously known as Wednesday Night Swing and Java Jump depending on the venue, this regularly scheduled event is part lesson, part social dance, part crazy party. In addition to providing footloose fanatics the opportunity to strut their stuff, it’s a good way for beginners to learn, and those who are experienced to brush up on their techniques. There are celebrations of milestones such as birthdays, graduations, and the longest distance traveled to attend that evening’s festivities, and once a month, music is provided by a live band. It’s affordable, too. If you’ve been inspired by something you saw on Dancing With The Stars, you can give it a whirl without breaking the bank—or having to deal with grumpy judges or tacky costumes. You can get a one-hour lesson, regardless of your level or ability, and an hour of open dance for $10. The cost for the open dance only is $7, but the friends you’ll make and the good feeling you’ll be left with: priceless!
Currently, there are twelve people who are regularly involved in Fresno Swing Dance. They teach, organize, and keep things running smoothly in general. Although none of then are professional dance instructors, they all share a deep love for swing dance and have a wide range of dance-related experiences. Chris got his first taste of swing from the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association in the late 1980s. He then moved on to the Swinging Slugs dance club at UC Santa Cruz. Krista Baer describes Fresno Swing Dance as a true community that made her feel welcome as a newcomer when she joined in October 2016. “There was none of the clique-ish behavior” she had encountered elsewhere. Veronica Stumpf discovered Fresno Swing Dance six years ago while writing a blog about Fresno. She sums up her feelings this way: “Some people have church. I have swing dancing.”
You may have seen ambassadors from Fresno Swing Dance going places and doing things around town. They can be found almost anywhere there’s danceable music, including Gazebo Gardens, Clovis Farmers Market, Art Hop, and Central California Big Band Society dances. They were recently featured in a music video for local jazz band, Scats on The Sly, and have performed at events for the Fresno Grizzlies, Fresno County Public Library, and Fresno Philharmonic.
The members of Fresno Swing Dance appear to be powered by positive energy. When asked if anyone ever gets cranky or in a bad mood, Chris says, “That’s like asking if you ever get cranky about eating chocolate cake. It might not be great chocolate cake, but…it’s…still…chocolate…cake!” From Pasadena to Santa Cruz to Fresno, “It’s been a long slow process of creating this community, but we’ve done it for the joy of dancing, and I think that shows through.” One thing’s for certain: it’s definitely got that swing!
My name is Mallory Moad—may I have this dance?