Fancy Footwork

Day or night, Columbia is hopping with people twisting, twirling, leaping, swaying and spinning their way through dances of all kinds. From salsa and swing to folk and hip-hop, there are places for all styles, ages and experience levels.

From the 1920s through the 1940s, swing dancing was all the rage. Today, it is still alive and well in Columbia through the Mizzou Swing Society. The group is open to University of Missouri students, staff and faculty as well as other members of the Columbia community. The club’s instructors offer two classes each week, one for jazzy, upbeat East Coast swing, and another for the smooth, modern West Coast swing style. Lessons are free, pre-registration is not required, and partners or previous experience are not necessary to participate.

“Our lessons attract a wide demographic,” says Claire Hough, vice president of Mizzou Swing Society. “Age and physical ability are not boundaries here. College students, retired men and women and everyone in-between regularly attend our weekly lessons as well as our special events. This provides a great social opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and bond over a common love for dancing and music.”

A typical Mizzou Swing Society lesson starts with a warm up such as pulsing to the beat of the music or a social dance. Next, attendees pair up into leads (people who initiate a move) and follows (people who execute a move). Every few minutes, partners rotate to give everyone a chance to dance with each other. After the lesson, the floor is open for people to practice the skills they just learned. Hough says the environment is supportive and welcoming.

“Swing dancing is a super fun, easy way to make new friends and exercise,” she says. “You will gain confidence, probably build some muscle, and possess a skill that spans worldwide. Attend just one lesson, and you will be part of an amazing community that is constantly learning, growing and improving. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. You won’t regret it.”

On Fridays, fancy footwork heats up the dance floor at The Industry at the Tiger Hotel. The 21-and-over nightclub is home to Latin Night where people come to master their salsa, bachata and merengue moves. The evening starts at 8:30 p.m. with lessons and shifts to a spirited dance party at 9:30 p.m. There’s a $7 cover charge for men and a $5 cover for women. Jonathan Verdejo, the promoter and DJ for Latin Night, says the evening attracts an eclectic mix of professionals, students and people from all cultures and ages.

“The atmosphere of Latin Night is really relaxed,” says Jonathan. “It is a place where anyone can feel comfortable. Every week, there’s great entertainment and music that’s upbeat and up-to-date. We have all levels of dancers from newbies to ballroom-trained experts to the naturals who learned it as children from their family and culture. The point is to learn and be social. Everyone is super friendly and helpful.”

The sounds of a string band fill the Ballroom Academy of Columbia on Peachtree Drive on the first, third and fifth Friday of each month. The energetic live music ranges from Irish jigs and reels to traditional American fiddle tunes and regional fiddling styles such as Cape Breton and Cajun. This is the lively scene of a Mid-Missouri Traditional Dancers gathering, where people come for contra dancing, a form of American folk dance that originated in England and France and has been around since at least the 1600s. During the contra, two parallel lines of dancers extend down the length of the hall. Each dancer has a partner, and each couple is paired with another couple. A caller guides participants through a series of moves, such as circle left, swing your partner, do-si-do, allemande and promenade. Renee Carter, president of the Mid-Missouri Traditional Dancers, says there are hundreds of people in the group, but about 40 people show up to each dance. No experience is required, and every event starts with a lesson for beginners. It’s a family-friendly environment where parents often bring their children to watch the action or join in on the fun. Some people attend alone and dance with several partners throughout the evening.

“Dancing creates a space for people to remain active and socialize, thus creating a community,” says Carter. “There is a core group that has been involved for many years. The traditional dances allow people to carry forth the dances from their and other group members’ homelands and also experience dance as an art form.”

Studios throughout Columbia offer dance instruction for children and adults at all experience levels. Lessons on Ireland’s traditional dance forms can be found at The Clark Academy of Irish Dance, which has a studio at the Columbia Mall. The nonprofit Jabberwocky Studios is on a mission to “celebrate the diversity of Columbia” and empower participants through the arts, including dance classes in breakdancing, swing, tap and hip-hop. The School of Missouri Contemporary Ballet is the only not-for-profit ballet school in mid-Missouri and the only school in the area to offer instruction exclusively from professional dancers. Belly dance techniques are the focus at Moon Belly Dance. Columbia Parks and Recreation has dance classes and camps for toddlers through adults. Some places, such as Dancearts of Columbia, The Dance Academy, CoMotion Dance and Columbia Performing Arts Center, have competitive programs that require a higher level of skill and commitment.

For less formal opportunities to find your rhythm, Columbia’s nightlife scene is filled with a diversity of music and atmospheres that can bring out the dancer in anyone. Two-step over to Nash Vegas, a downtown honky tonk bar where live country music keeps the dance floor packed every Friday and Saturday night. Also downtown, the Dirty Disco at The Social Room is a weekly Friday night indie dance party featuring DJs spinning songs that range from nu-disco and French house to classic hip-hop. Ying Yang is a 5,000 square-foot nightclub that caters to LGBTQ patrons, but is open to all. The entertainment venue’s state-of-the-art DJ booth and sound and light system keeps the dance party going on Columbia’s southside.

Whether you want to dance the night away or advance your skills through training, Columbia has a plethora of options to move your body and meet others who march to the same beat.

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