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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Fortunato

Cape Town Swing

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

The Frankie Manning Foundation is inspired by the dedicated Lindy hop leaders around the world and asked them to share a little about their scene. We asked them to describe the current scene in their region, what it was like getting their meetup started, and what their thoughts successes and challenges to continuing and building the community. Muriel Gravenor from Cape Town Swing shared her experiences with us!

1. Can you describe the Lindy hop scene in Cape Town?

Our scene exists mostly under the umbrella of Cape Town Swing. We offer weekly classes in four locations around the city, monthly topical workshops and regular social dances with DJs and parties with live bands– but a lot of our energy is spent on community-focused projects that are perhaps less visible at a first glance.

Between 2016 and 2020, we ran five editions of Mother City Hop, our ‘flagship’ international event that attracted lindy hoppers from around the world. We’ve since put this event on ice, to focus on growing our local community. Instead, we run two annual dance weekend getaways that are smaller and more community-focused.

We run several large projects, including Echoes of Sophiatown, a project focusing on South Africa’s swing-jazz heritage, celebrating the artists and music from the 1940s-’60s. The project was crowdfunded and one of the spin-offs from it is a band called The Pebble Shakers, playing the music that was transcribed from this era.

Along with the growth of the scene generally, our team of “teaching-curious” has also grown. We now have a large group of dancers with a diversity of skills to bring to the table: different dance and movement backgrounds, facilitation and pedagogical experience from other domains, and valuable social and community perspectives. We’re leveraging this growth and diversity of voices to co-create a “teacher development pathway” for Cape Town Swing.

2. How long ago did Cape Town Swing start? What was it like getting started?

The scene got started in 2011 with a local dancer who picked up some swing dancing from his girlfriend at the time and shared his experience with friends and at electro swing parties that were all the rage at the time. Soon after, Jeannie Elliott happened upon one of these parties and realised that people wanted to learn to swing dance. Jeannie taught weekly lindy hop, solo jazz and charleston classes for beginners and intermediates, and the scene grew steadily from there.

Meanwhile, a small group of dancers were organising themed swing dance parties under the banner of the Cape Underground Swing Syndicate. In 2013, a few more people joined and collectively the team decided to change the name to Cape Town Swing.

We believe that it’s this community focus that brought us to the place we are now: a large, active, and loving community of people where newcomers get excited to jump in and participate.

Photos by Lindsey Appolis

3. What are the most effective means and what are the challenges of continuing and building the community?

Our greatest challenge is perhaps that we are geographically far from other lindy hop communities. As a result, our dancers almost never travel to other lindy hop events, and we rarely have experienced swing dancers or instructors in town unless we organise for them to be here. The resulting lack of “pollination” between our scene and others means that our dancers improve at a slower rate than they might otherwise. On the flip side, this distance means that we feel more able to find our own voice as a community, with less influence from others. Plus, our very special locality has opened beautiful windows to explore synergies between swing jazz history and our own South African heritage.

We would be remiss not to speak to the challenge of racial diversity and class disparities, in a country where people of colour make up the vast majority of the population – and yet, our swing dance scene continues to be majority white. We have visited and revisited this topic countless times over the last 10 years, initially with a solution-driven desire to diversify the scene with quick-fixes such as scholarships for less-privileged (and often non-white) individuals. However, time and thought and many conversations have led us to realise that the problem of racial diversity in a community such as ours is much more complex than it might seem at a glance.

Our biggest and most successful shift in the financial model is perhaps our “membership” that includes any number of classes at a one’s level, and discounts on workshop, private lessons and camps. This membership model has resulted in significantly higher class attendance, faster dance development, and community growth generally.

In general, our approach is to keep an adaptive mindset, knowing that a system only works if it works for those who use it. As such, we’re continually tweaking our systems. Front of mind is to regularly express gratitude (privately and publicly) for the contributions from our community members.

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