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One by one, nine little squares pop up on the screen, each featuring one or a duo of dancers from all across the states. Whether next to a pool, across a living room floor or in front of a cactus, Stanford Swingtime’s members each clapped, swung their limbs and smiled sunnily as they danced the Tranky Doo in their new YouTube performance.
At Stanford, Swingtime is known for their aerials, high energy and overall fun. No previous experience is required to join, just effort and personality. And just like their website says, Swingtime “bring[s] the party.”
Each year, Swingtime is led by two artistic directors who create and execute the group’s artistic vision, including finding and teaching different choreography and choosing a style and costumes.
Heavily community-driven, Swingtime likes to call themselves a family and lovingly refers to their artistic directors as the “mom and dad” of the group. Current co-directors Rachel Gardner ’20 and Gaurab Banerjee ’21 understand the “busy and stressful” culture of Stanford and try their best to support their members as if they were real family, making them feel both welcome and comfortable.
“We value the community so much. If somebody doesn’t come to rehearsal, it’s not our job to yell at them — it’s our job to figure out what else might be going on,” Rachel said. “Whether they have an injury or have a midterm coming up, and they’re stressed or feeling behind on whatever is going on, we want to also be there for them in that.”
Within the wide range of swing dance, Swingtime specializes in Lindy Hop, a partner social dance that originated in Harlem in the 1920s and traces its roots to African American dances. Stanford offers a variety of social dance events available to anyone on campus. Although social swing dance itself involves plenty of improvisation as well as lead and follow partner work, Swingtime focuses on their cohesive group performance first.
“[Lindy Hop] is just a very high energy style of dance. It’s super goofy, it’s super fun, there’s none of the controlled procedure of the other styles,” said Maya Ziv ’20, a past artistic director of Swingtime.
Although Ziv used to train in classical ballet before joining the group, she quickly fell in love with the community and the group’s “fun and goofy” vibe.
“We love to just make people laugh and smile. When we’re on stage, that’s the dream,” Ziv said.
Ziv’s freshman year roommate, Julie Plummer ’20, is an active fan of Swingtime’s performances, calling them “beloved on campus.”
“They have this insanely happy, fun, quirky, excited energy [that] draws in the audience,” Plummer said. “That’s the magic of Swingtime and why people love them so much — because they transport their audience and give everyone the permission to just have fun and embrace the spunkiness of their show.”
One of Plummer’s most vivid memories includes watching her friend Ben LeRoy ’20 perform “insane aerials” in one of Swingtime’s spring performances during her sophomore year, where LeRoy “climbed up the legs and arms of other Swingtime members like they were stairs,” and then “somersaulted off the top of someone’s shoulders to the ground,” all to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has complicated participating in a partner and social dance such as Swingtime’s Lindy Hop. Richard Lin ’20, one of Swingtime’s previous artistic directors, said that one alternative Swingtime has dabbled in is solo jazz dancing, a swing style performed by a single dancer without a partner.
As a group, Swingtime is currently unable to return to campus, and Gardner and Banerjee have started hosting online group rehearsals. The transition was by no means easy, and navigating through uncharted territory has proven to be an obstacle for both the directors and members.
For example, not everyone could participate in their first online performance, “Tranky Doo,” due to the spatial restrictions of practicing from home.
“If I get the count off by one or if I get the styling off, I might not notice it. Because if you have somebody else who’s dancing with you there or anybody else, we could point [it] out to each other,” Banerjee said. “You don’t have that feedback when you’re at your house because you’re trying to watch a video of instructions and correct yourself.”
Motivation and putting Swingtime’s well-known energy and facial expressions into a dance has been an obstacle as well.
“As performing artists, one of the biggest pieces is our audiences. We run off the audience’s energy,” Banerjee said. “When you’re two and a half minutes in out of a four-minute performance, you’re already going to be super tired, but you don’t necessarily realize that with the energy coming off of the several hundred audience members cheering and clapping.”
“You’re still going to be super happy and jazzed up and excited instead of recording a 30th take trying to get [the choreography] right,” Banerjee added.
Elise Robinson ’20, a graduate student who performed in Swingtime’s online “Tranky Doo,” also noticed the difficulties of practicing alone, such as specific styling variations and insufficient practice space. However, seeing the end result of their online performance video “was all worth it.”
“It was definitely missing the ‘in person,’ but I’ve literally never laughed more working with performance groups. It’s just a really fun group of personalities,” Robinson said.
Lin calls Swingtime his “happy place.”
“The group has always been a source of joy when everything else is stressful,” Lin said. “Even though we’re not dancing at these rehearsals all the time, it’s because we’re also close to each other, and we’re mostly catching up and chatting.”
And when members graduate, they still keep in touch through group chats and occasionally return to join a social dance.
Although their options are limited, Gardner and Banerjee hope to integrate more innovative methods to continue shaping the future of Swingtime, particularly in the virtual setting of the fall quarter.
“It’s very isolating and a really hard time right now, and doing any rehearsals over the summer was because we wanted to make sure that our tight community can stay connected even as some people are facing housing insecurities or doing remote internships by ourselves,” Gardner said.
On the bright side, Gardner thinks virtual performances pave the way for a greater number of performers, such as family members who might want to participate.
“Also, if we want to host workshops or something like that, we’re not limited by rehearsal space in the same way that we were before,” Gardner said. “There’s actually a lot of freedom and room to experiment here.”
With “Tranky Doo” being their first virtual performance, Gardner and Banerjee feel as if they “have learned a lot” and hope to use this experience to improve their future virtual performances.
“All of our [Stanford students’] end-of-year performances, which most of these [performing] groups have been rehearsing with the goal of being able to show what they’ve been working on, were suddenly scrapped,” Banerjee said. “Trying to make this online type of performance happen is a great way to give these performing artists and ourselves a way to still perform and not let that kind of work be for nothing.”
Banerjee hopes that Swingtime’s online transition can “inspire other groups to be able to do the same” and showcase the possibility of continuing the performance aspect of performing arts groups that rely heavily on in-person appearances.
“But more than anything,” Banerjee said, “sharing this type of video [is] a way for us to bring joy to people.”
This feeling was echoed by Ziv and Lin, who both felt at ease handing off the torch of artistic director to Gardner and Banerjee. Over the last four years, Ziv has watched Swingtime grow and expand and feels “proud” that members have become more dedicated, technique overall has improved and, most importantly, the “community has also gotten stronger.”
“It’s fun to see these things go hand in hand,” Ziv agreed. “Now that we’re putting out videos and content online, I hope we can find ways to goof off and have fun and laugh even though times are crazy and wild and miserable, and I would just love for Swingtime to bring some joy both to the members and also [to] anybody who interacts with us.”
Contact Alysa Suleiman at 22alysas ‘at’ students.harker.org.
This article has been corrected to reflect that Maya Ziv is not a current co-chair, Swingtime does not work with outside professionals to provide inspiration and the “Tranky Doo” is the name of the dance routine, not the song. Additionally, this article has been updated to reflect that alumni occasionally participate in social dances. A previous version of this article stated that alumni “occasionally return to join a dance.” The Daily regrets this error.