The British weather has been … changeable, over the last month. I know, bad weather in Britain—quelle surprise. But honestly, the sun has been unusually fickle for late spring/early summer. Generally cold, dull and damp, we’ve been blessed with just one or two gloriously warm and sunny days—“picnic weather,” as we like to call it. It’s a good metaphor for the last year, for reasons which hardly need mentioning any more. But the clouds very briefly broke—both metaphorically and literally—in May, when something akin to normal swing dancing finally returned to these shores.
Jazz fans and dancers, travelling from towns near and far, converged in a Cheltenham park where a huge gazebo had been erected, housing a small stage and a sizable L-shaped dance floor. The bar was open, there were no marshals, no isolated squares—demarcated in tape or chalk—within which dancers were obliged to stay, and no masks required (you can always count on a stiff breeze in England, whatever the season). The Honeymoon Swing Dance Band played two brilliant sets, with an interstitial of recorded dance music. And although there was no changing of partners—households are still forbidden from close contact, for now—it was as close to old-fashioned social dancing as I’ve seen since 2019. We even did the Shim Sham which, I’m entirely ashamed to admit, I’d largely forgotten.
There was no official announcement, no royal edict declaring the pastime “legal again,” but it felt like a watershed moment. And it very likely wasn’t the first such event in the UK, but it was the first dance I’d attended since last summer—which feels like a very long time, when you previously crammed in a class and a social each week, plus several festivals a year. It’s hard to overstate the anticipation, exhilaration, relief, and optimism that I felt on that outdoor dance floor, trying my best to remember the right form and footwork, after a barren year for swing dance.
Sure, my wife Kris and I “attended” a few online festivals. And we’ve occasionally made time for a record and a shuffle at home—when the ennui invoked by a year of limited social contact allowed. And yes, we’d attended a couple of outdoor dances last summer, before the UK was plunged into its second lockdown (of three, so far), but we didn’t know anyone we were dancing near, having recently moved 150 miles from our stomping ground of the previous ten years. This time, we bumped into old friends. That might not sound significant, but it was a little sliver of a former life, when greeting pals at dances up and down the country was a sincere and regular pleasure. It’s almost as though—after months of speculation, frustration, and latterly resignation—social swing dancing might soon become possible again.
Of course, there is the risk of a new variant, an uptick in cases, and a fourth lockdown here. But when your premier has allegedly been heard saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than close the UK economy again—however distasteful and disturbing that comment might be—then perhaps there’s reason to believe that we really are a giant leap closer to the return of unrestricted, uninhibited social swing dancing once more. So to those who’ve had a glimpse of social dancing sunshine, wherever you are in the world: I share your joy. And to those who have yet to see it, or who aren’t bubbled with a dance partner with whom to bask in it: hang tight—the dark clouds hanging over your dancing life clear a little more every day.