Brian Gardner and Goth Swing Dancing in San Francisco
I once thought that it was impossible to get goths to actually dance with, rather than next to, their current romantic interest. But the San Francisco-based Swing Goth proved me wrong.
As founder Brian Gardner explains, the history of goths and swing dance actually goes back quite a ways. "Back in the 90's during the swing revival a bunch of my goth friends and I used to go to the swing dancing events. I don't remember how or why, but at some point we just started dancing at goth clubs too. I was in Pittsburgh at the time, but over in San Francisco Lee Presson started a band (Lee Presson and The Nails) that was dubbed 'Gothic Swing' by the local paper. So, when I came out here there were a bunch of goths that knew how to swing dance and even more who wanted to learn, but didn't want to go to the normal swing nights and dance to traditional music. So, when they saw me dancing to our music, they got excited and I started the club for them."
Given the fact that people often don't dance at clubs not because they don't want to, but because they feel as if they don't know how to do so without making a fool of themselves, you might assume that very public dance lessons would be even more terrifying. But in fact Swing Goth events demonstrate that the opposite is true — learning in a group seems to take some of the pressure off. Of course, a good teacher always helps. Although Gardner learned to dance at traditional swing nights and initially taught much the same way, the way Swing Goth does things is a little different. "I've completely re-approached partner dancing instruction for the modern age and for the alternative community," Gardner explains. "I want my students to develop their own personal flare, so I teach based on upper body connection rather than based on footwork, although we do include some default jitterbug footwork. The result is that people are freer to dance to more kinds of music and to add their own personal flare."
All Swing Goth events begin with a dance lesson. Gardner and partner (usually Kyna Wise, a dancer with quite the appropriate pedigree — her father Ray played Leonard Palmer on Twin Peaks) assemble the attendees, ask them to partner up and give instruction that's focused more on interaction than on technical details. Although they do cover the basics, the experience is more about gently teasing out people's desire to dance and reassuring them that they can, than anything strict or competitive. It isn't necessary to turn up with a romantic partner either. There's a system in place to make sure that everyone who needs a dance partner finds one. Overall it's a reassuringly low pressure, playful sort of experience, perfect for those who'd like to dance but are a little nervous (or for those who already know how but could use a refresher).
After everyone is feeling a little more sure of themselves, the actual dancing begins. This is where the whole concept starts to make sense. Goths are a theatrical lot, and being encouraged to dance to music they actually like seems to bring out everyone's inner diva.