Enter Irvine Auditorium, look for the most run–down elevator you can find, go up to the fourth floor, and keep walking left until you hear the sounds of sweet jazz and rambunctious laughter: that’s where you’ll find the West Philly Swingers every Tuesday during their weekly social dancing. Recognized as Penn’s official swing dance troupe, the West Philly Swingers continue to share their passion for the timeless style of swing dance with Penn’s students and beyond.
“The fact that it’s a social dance is the big thing,” says Nick Cruickshank (C '19), former President and current Communications Director of the West Philly Swingers. “Once you learn the basics of swing, you can dance it with anything. We can put any song on, whether it be jazz or mainstream pop, and go connect with someone and dance with them.” Focusing on participation rather than performance, West Philly Swingers’ “social dancing” involves connecting with your dance partner in order to create the steps and movement on the spot.
With both social dancing sessions and traditional rehearsals every week, the West Philly Swingers provide Penn students with a truly one–of–a–kind dancing experience. “West Philly Swingers is interesting because it is the only swing–dancing college group in the country that focuses on the show. Other groups are entirely focused on social dancing,” says Bryce Carpenter (C '19), current President of the dance troupe.
But being a swing dancer takes more than just repetition and practice. “A lot of it is improvisation,” says Yuwen Wong (C '22). “A lot of swing is the relationship between the lead and the follow, and the lead can really initiate the movements. I think that’s what I love most, it’s always different and you never know what is going to happen.”
However, the bonds formed between members of West Philly Swingers extend beyond when the curtains are drawn and the music is off. “The dance is really fun, but besides that, they make an extra effort to make you feel like it’s a place you can be yourself,” explains Wong. The group fosters a tight–knit community and emphasizes acceptance over everything, spending frequent late nights together at the West Philly Swingers’ House and attending community social dances in the Philadelphia community.
“Whether it be hanging out as a troupe watching Planet Earth or We Bare Bears, or random cartoons, and no matter how stressful life is, the family time we spend together is so precious and has been so incredible amidst all the other Penn things that go on in our daily lives,” explains Abby Burns (N '19), a four–year member of the West Philly Swingers.
Whether it be to hone in on your swing dancing skills, to find a community of accepting friends, or just to meet a diverse group of people, the reasons to join West Philly Swingers are wide–ranging. “One of my favorite things about West Philly Swingers is they aren’t susceptible to a lot of social pressures," says Lucia Huo (E, C '20), a new member of the group. “You don’t have to go to any BYOs or do anything, in fact. You can do whatever you want; as long as you make an effort to be there, you are a part of the family.”
At the end of the day, the group is about much more than dance. “It’s just an escape. It’s a total step away from the Penn mindset,” says Cruickshank. “You can’t win swing dancing. You come here and it’s just a group of people who come to have fun and hangout with some friends. It’s such an eclectic group of people I would never have met and creates such a fun family.”
No prior experience necessary, the West Philly Swingers is a club centered on learning, improvising, socializing, and most of all, bonding. From its intimate house sleepovers to its lively social dances, West Philly Swingers is a community you surely won’t find anywhere else.