Sunday, April 20, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

School swing dance club breaks down barriers

Staying in Step

Abigail Bishop, 15, and Nate Weber, 14, practice in Western's commons area on swing dance moves they learned in Western High School's Swing Dance club on Jan. 17, 2013 in Russiaville, Ind. (AP Photo/Kokomo Tribune, Kelly Laffert)

RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. — Abigail Bishop had dreams of becoming a professional dancer until she was sidelined by scoliosis.

Doctors told the little girl she had to give up dance until she was done growing.

Well, the Western High School sophomore has finally reached her full height. Bishop said she gave up her dreams of becoming a dancer in hopes of one day becoming a missionary in Japan instead. But that doesn’t mean she forgot about her love of dancing.

On Thursday afternoon, Bishop locked hands and eyes with freshman Nate Weber and shimmied through the high school commons.

Left sway. Right sway. Back sway. Rock step. She let her feet move with the beat. She giggled every once in a while when she messed up a step.

Dancing isn’t the same anymore, she said. It’s much harder now.

“My hips are twisted,” she told the Kokomo Tribune. “I have to do things different. You have to work with what God gave you.”

But in the swing dance club, her scoliosis doesn’t matter. Members don’t care where you came from or what you’ve been through, she said.

There are only a few questions they ask.

Do you understand the dance move? Do you need help?

And occasionally there’s one more.

Are you having fun?

For Bishop, the answer is always “yes.”

She didn’t hesitate to talk about how much she loves the club.

“It’s the best thing ever,” she said.

Senior Alex Roberts worked for two years to launch the club at Western.

Two years ago, teacher Jessica Coble had Roberts in Japanese class. The class finished their work early one day, so Coble rewarded students by teaching them a few dance moves. Coble spent four years perfecting the swing dance in a club at Ball State University. When she passed a few of those moves on to Roberts that day, he fell in love. He immediately asked her to help him start a club at school.

She was a new teacher then, and she just didn’t have the time, she said.

But he didn’t forget. This year, he brought it up again. He said he wanted to start the club before he graduated. Coble said she was worried there wouldn’t be much interest in it.

She offered him a challenge. She would sponsor a club if he could find 20 people by the end of the day who would join. The day was already half over.

“I wanted to prove a point to her,” Roberts said, with a smile.

He solicited the help of his girlfriend, Katelyn Myers, and got those signatures in one class period. And 46 students showed up to the club’s first meeting.

At the second meeting on Thursday, 14 couples practiced a new dance move. Roberts called it the “man turn.” It involved waving and swinging your partner around. Some students couldn’t get it quite right.

As Roberts walked around, he offered tips and words of encouragement.

“Oh, wonderful,” he said, as he watched one couple try the turn.

He told one student to think less and feel more.

“Just let go,” he said. “Just feel it.”

Roberts reassured them. He said he had a hard time with this move, too.

For the next 30 minutes, teens spread out through the high school commons area and danced with their partners. Weber and Bishop laughed and chatted as they repeated the steps over and over. Just a few weeks ago, the teens didn’t know each other. Then they became dance partners.

“Now, we’re like the best of buds,” Weber said.

As the pair worked on the “man turn,” they worked up a sweat, too. Weber said dancing is a great form of exercise. It’s also a stress reliever for him and many of the other members.

“If you’re bullied or picked on at school, you come here and it’s all gone,” he said.

Group members have grand plans of showing off their moves at the high school’s prom this year.

For many of the students, swing dance is a great alternative to modern dance moves, Coble said. There are students who are afraid of it at first, but Roberts doesn’t know why.

“It’s fun, and you don’t look lame doing it,” he said. “That’s what people are afraid of.”

Weber isn’t among those worried students. He said he’s proud of what he’s learned. In fact, when he becomes proficient at swing dancing, he said he’ll be showing off his moves at every school dance and wedding he attends. And if he can’t find a partner, he’ll make one.

“Even if someone else can’t do it, I’ll go up to them and teach them,” he said.

Myers and Roberts said they don’t need a formal occasion to dance. In fact, they don’t even need an occasion at all.

“Me and him will be in the mall, and we’ll just start dancing,” Myers said.

It’s all about the love of dance. That’s what their club is all about, they said.

Weber said joining the club was “kind of a spontaneous thing” for him, but he’s glad now that he did.

“This turned out to be awesome,” he said.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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