In the movie
Shall We Dance
, Richard Gere plays a middle aged man who hits a midlife crisis, signs up for lessons from Miss Mitzi’s dance studio, trips a few times, improves, then falls back in love with his wife. Consider it this generation’s
This Sunday, Dr. Michelle Suber and Warren d’Aquin will bring their Big Island version of Miss Mitzi’s dance studio to Maui. Except they’ll be teaching “Let’s Swing: Introduction to West Coast Swing” instead of ballroom dancing.
Suber says West Coast Swing is a smooth, sophisticated style sometimes confused with other forms of Swing Dancing.
“When most people hear Swing Dancing they interpret that to mean Lindy Hop, which looks more similar to East Coast Swing,” she said. “It’s different in that in West Coast Swing, the partner who follows, usually the woman, steps in the same direction as the lead partner in the first count of any pattern. In East Coast Swing, both partners rock away from each other.
“It sounds like a technical difference, but it’s actually an important differentiation. And the fact that it’s a slot dance makes it different too. This means that it’s like two people dancing on a diving board instead of going in ovals or circles. It makes the dance much more smooth. The music, too, is more modern.”
Enthusiasts can dance West Coast Swing to any form of music in 4/4 time, usually in the range of 85-115 beats per minute. Thirty years ago, West Coast Swing was mainly danced to blues music.
“Today it’s become a very modern dance, and appreciates a wide variety of well known, contemporary music like rock and hip hop—in addition to classic swinging blues music,” Suber said.
I actually met Suber at my birthday party last November. For most of the evening she was a bit of a mystery guest, laying low on the outskirts.
Then, in true Maui style, the party went late and someone broke out a funk CD. We began dancing, and it wasn’t long before Suber was center stage.
She took my hand, and right away I realized that she was a better lead than most of the guys I’ve danced with. This Big Island diva had so much presence the dance floor quickly cleared.
“No doubt you have a dance background!” I told her afterwards. Little did I know that this background dated back to age three.
“I started with tap, ballet and jazz, and was a competitive gymnast through my childhood and young adulthood,” Suber said. During her second year of medical school in Portland, Oregon, she taught basic ballroom dancing, Fox Trot, Waltz, Cha Cha, Tango, Rumba and Swing.
Suber moved to Waimea in 1998 to pursue her practice as a naturopathic doctor. At that time she noticed that there were very few people doing any dancing in her area.
“I realized if I wanted to have anyone to dance with I better get on the stick and start dancing!” she said. Today she teaches more than 300 students a year.
I asked Suber if she saw any correlation between her work as a naturopathic doctor and a dance instructor.
“Absolutely,” she said. “There’s the pleasure, the civility, the motion, the continuous learning and that wonderful, playful connection we get to experience with our dance partners and the music. It is one of the most fun ways to stay healthy I’ve found.”
By contrast, her dance partner has only been dancing for four years. “[D’Aquin] started dancing when he ran into some people on the Big Island doing West Coast Swing,” Suber said. “He thought it looked really fun and took it on like a star. Since then, he has become an excellent dancer and teacher. He’s a natural.”
Suber and d’Aquin are both certified by the Golden State Dance Teachers Association and have completed the Judges Certification Program at the U.S. Open Swing Dancing Championship.
On Maui, they will be teaching an introduction to West Coast Swing for beginner and experienced dancers alike. The class will introduce participants to the basic patterns in West Coast Swing, which they can then practice at the dance party following the lesson.
“In our classes here on the Big Island, about 75 percent of the people come to class on their own,” Suber said. “We have everybody in the class changing partners throughout the class. In the class, you’ll dance with everyone… Come solo or with a partner, it doesn’t matter.”