by Jasmin Shirazian
Monday nights come to life for swing dancers at Redwood Raks World Dance Collective. After finding out Cal Poly Humboldt offers swing dancing as a class this semester, it became a goal for me to find out about the community here. From 6 P.M. to 7:50 P.M., Professor Phillip Nicklas teaches swing to students in the kinesiology building. Afterwards, he rushes to Redwoods Raks, where he can be found at Monday night swing. He recently mentioned this to his class, leading a few students to join in on the ever-growing swing nightlife.
Swing dancing began in Harlem, New York during the 1920s. Most dances came from Black communities, coming in many styles and forms, such as the Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, and so on. Luckily, the art continues to thrive, including in Humboldt.
I watched as people were asked to dance, being swept up off the floor and twirled in fervent circles. I even found myself on the floor after a wonderful man named Tony asked for my hand. He quickly showed me how to do the Charleston and I tried my best to follow. Professor Nickolas was there to keep the spirits up as he DJed through the whole night.
Growing up here, Nicklas has been dancing since 1996, 2 years after graduating high school; his first Lindy Hop lesson was actually at Redwood Raks. He began teaching in 1997 after joining the military and finding out he was the only one with knowledge of the dance.
“I love teaching swing dancing,” says Nicklas. “I notice I’m just in a great mood after I teach.”
Many of the students who take his class agree that they can feel his love and passion for the art. Somerset Miles Dwyer, a first time swing dancer, has been taking Nicklas’ class this past semester.
“I used to dance a lot when I was younger, and I wanted the opportunity to learn how to dance with a partner,” says Dwyer. “[This class] is a fun way of getting to dance with a lot of different people, and finding someone you like dancing with. People have a lot different styles, and that can teach you a lot more.”
Other students, such as Kaya Knutzon, struggle with the time that the class is at, and thus prefer going to Monday night swing at Redwood Raks.
“I joined swing dancing due to pressure from my roommates, but I just thought it would be a really cool skill to have,” says Knutzon. “I’ve definitely learned a lot with the amount of times I have gone, there’s a surprising amount of moves you don’t realize are going on. I don’t think I’ll take the class next semester, but I’ll definitely be going to the out-of-school activities.”
All in all, it seems like swing is alive and well in the Humboldt community. It was really refreshing to see such an array of skill, and it felt nice to not be judged due to my lack of talents. It’s nice to know that if there’s nothing to do on a Monday night, swing dancing is always an option.
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