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Let's dance!

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Swing music, or simply swing, a form of American music that developed in the early 1930s and became a distinctive style by 1940, has made a sudden resurgence in popularity in the kingdom.

A couple of 'cool cats and jitterbugs' have ignited a local passion for the sound after staging regular dance classes. The craze has now led to bands being flown in from around the world to satisfy a growing demand for live sessions.

The ShakeDown Club was formed by music lover Faisal Alshammary, 27, and Khalil Radsool, 33, a DJ, event planner and promoter, for 'like-minded people' in February and members now meet weekly at Cafe Amsterdam in Adliya, a venue which is celebrating its first anniversary tomorrow in swing style.

Faisal, a plant operator who travels from his home in Saudi Arabia each week to participate and teach, said: "We are so excited. In my opinion this will be one of the best things happening this year in Bahrain."

The club is bringing Natty Congeroo & The Flames of Rhythm from London, one of the leading swing bands in Europe who often appear at major international music festivals, to perform on the night.

Faisal known to his friends as Fello, helps run dance classes with American Tosin Arowojolu, 47, from Janabiya, whose normal daytime job features civil engineering, leader training and coaching.

He said: "We are all passionate about swing dancing and its culture. It is so much fun and brings joy to our lives.

"Our goal now is to grow the swing scene even further across the region and one day stage huge weekend events. This is just the start -- we would like to host swing dancers from around the world to exchange skills and share cultures. There is a lot to learn about swing."

Swing dancing is made up of a group of styles, many featuring acrobatic and up-tempo movements. It originates from Harlem, New York with Afro-American roots.

There are hundreds of styles but the most popular is called 'the Lindy Hop'. Often referred to as a street dance, it is a fusion of many dances based on jazz, tap, breakaway and Charleston.

Proponents say its beauty is that the dance leaves plenty of room for improvisation between partners and they describe it as 'a social affair' that is interactive and expressive.

Every Wednesday evening Fasial and Tosin demonstrate Lindy Hop and other styles such as the East Coast Swing and the Charleston, while Khalil spins swing tracks on the turntables at Cafe Amsterdam.

Fasial said: "It is one of those things that you only learn by letting yourself go and doing what comes naturally. We try our best to teach the technical aspects of dance but we also focus on making it as much fun as possible. As soon as you try it you get addicted.

"I first learned my dance moves when I lived in London for a couple of years. I was a part of a swing dance club there called Mouthful O' Jam and that's where I got my inspiration from."

Faisal was taught by Gaia Hannan, 34, an American swing dancer based in London. She helped the trio come up with the name of the Bahrain club, its logo and even flew to the kingdom to help Faisal celebrate his birthday with a dance party.

Fasial said: "During our first class, we had 18 turn up and now we must have trained around 100 people and have many dedicated dancers joining our ShakeDown Shaker! Facebook group and checking out our Instagram page, ShakeDown Club.

"A few weeks ago we held a special class in which Gaia flew in from London which attracted around 50 people. I think we are growing at a good pace."

Dedicated followers of swing have been spotted attending numerous events across the island too. They recently took over the dance floor at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay's Swing Revue, as highlighted earlier in GulfWeekly, featuring a band based in the UAE.

Many also attended The Electro Swing Masquerade organised by event planner Boho Baha's Peter Yiacoumi at the InterContinental Regency Bahrain which featured the six-piece Electric Swing Circus Band from the UK.

Expat swing devotee Zerylle Lim, 28, who lives in Barbar, says she loves putting her newly-learned dance skills to the test at events.

Zerylle said: "A friend of mine on Facebook sent me an invitation to ShakeDown's swing class. It couldn't have come at a better time as I was assisting in Boho Baha's Masquerade and I thought it would be a good idea to learn a few moves.

"The class was casual, enlightening and enjoyable ... but definitely not easy. I learned that just like any other dance involving a couple, swing can only be well-executed with proper co-ordination between the two partners.

"Contrary to how many perceive it to be, it isn't necessarily the man who takes the lead on the dance floor. It certainly takes two to tango ... and swing!

"Well done and 'thank you' to the ShakeDown Club for coming up with this wonderful idea to bring swing to Bahrain. It is a great way for people to get together."

Hearts and minds are now all set on tomorrow evening's spectacular. Faisal added: "Tomorrow we won't be talking or walking ... we are going to be singing and into the swing!

"We will start with a dance lesson then Gaia and Khalil will be playing swing music before Natty sets the stage on fire. There will be great music from the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s -- a mixture of Swing, Hot Jazz, Jump Blues, Rhythm-n-Blues and more genres from that era -- the golden age of jazz music with a 2016 feel.

"Put on your best vintage zoot suit or jive dress and prepare yourself for some hot moves!"

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:May 18, 2016
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