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With swing dancing, Gig Harbor teens make Tuesday nights fun again

Swing dancing the night away in Gig Harbor

Liam Collins and Hailey Hodgson dance to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" @ The Boatyard. A group in Gig Harbor led by Collins started a swing club night in town every Tuesday.
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Liam Collins and Hailey Hodgson dance to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" @ The Boatyard. A group in Gig Harbor led by Collins started a swing club night in town every Tuesday.

Maybe there is something in the water, but people in Gig Harbor — especially the younger generation — are bringing swing dance back into vogue.

Leading this movement is Liam Collins, a senior at Gig Harbor High School, and Hailey Hodgson, a 2017 graduate of Gig Harbor High School. The two fell in love with swing dancing in a serendipitous occasion when they and their Gig Harbor High School jazz choir did a spontaneous performance at Swing 46, a swing dance/big band club in New York City last April.

“They had a band there and we danced while the band was performing,” Collins said. “We fell in love with it. We continued to learn with it and progress with it.”

At the summer concerts in the park, the pair let loose. Ron Roark, managing director at the Gig Harbor Marina & Boatyard, saw them from afar and later told them they should consider organizing a swing dance night at The Club @ the Boatyard.

Roark shared their passion for dance with Chance Busey, the Boatyard’s assistant marketing director, who also happens to be a big band/jazz enthusiast. Busey helped Collins and Hodgson bring their idea to fruition.

On Tuesday night, the two debuted swing dance night, complete with dance lessons, appetizers, and live music.

“They were tenacious as heck,” Roark said of Collins’s and Hodgson’s drive to make the swing dance night happen. “I’ve really admired their entrepreneurial spirit. If they can make it go, it will be a nice addition to the club.”

Busey said it just so happened that right before he met with Collins and Hodgson, he had suggested during a boatyard managers meeting bringing swing dancing to the Club as a way to attract more young adults and youth.

“It’s been cool to watch Liam and Hailey,” Busey said. “I’ve been pleased with how they have come together to take initiative to get this thing off the ground.”

Busey is a significant supporter of big band music in schools. A graduate of Gig Harbor High School in 2012, he played lead saxophone from eighth grade all the way through college — a total of nine consecutive years.

“I love jazz,” he said. “And now I lead sectionals every other week at Gig Harbor High School.”

In Collins and Hodgson, Busey sees something of value to support and empower.

Tucker and Harley Ewell demonstrate a swing dance move. Chance Busey Courtesy

“I think swing dance is coming back and is here to stay,” Busey said. “I have two left feet; however, I love the gracefulness of really good swing dancing. There are few cooler things than watching swing dancing.”

Collins said he and Hodgson have witnessed swing dance gain popularity among people their age over the past year.

“Those who are new to it seem to latch onto it, because it’s fun for everyone,” Collins said. “For our generation, especially, there is no partner dancing. This is something for our generation to come to and have a partner dance.”

In Gig Harbor, Collins admits Tuesday nights can be bland.

“This is something to get people to dance and socialize and interact and experience the art of dance and of the music,” he said.

Hodgson is thrilled that there will be live music. She and Collins made it a point to bring in live music.

“My parents said they had live bands at their school dances, so we’re excited to have live performers,” Hodgson said.

On Tuesday night, Vocal Motion, Gig Harbor High School’s jazz choir directed by Wayne Lackman, performed.

Upcoming live performers are to be announced. The next swing dance night is Dec. 5. Admission is $10 and includes a lesson, live music, and food. Collins and Hodgson teach a lesson at the beginning. Friends of theirs who have swing dance experience are on hand throughout the evening to provide additional coaching.

A search for swing dancing on Google generates a number of articles about the resurgence of this 1920s-era phenomenon, as well as videos showing dancers. In towns across the U.S. swing dancing is enjoying an awakening. And in Gig Harbor, it is no different.

“From all of the stuff on social media, a lot of people are excited and want to show up. All ages are talking about it and (the Gig Harbor) City Council is talking about it,” Collins said. “We’re putting up flyers around the school and all around Gig Harbor. We’re expecting a good number (to show up).”