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Want to learn to swing dance in Kansas City? Here's where to take your first steps

Arial view of a crowd of people swing dance on a large dance floor.
Ardian Lumi
Around Kansas City, there are both social dances and group classes that welcome beginners.

Kansas City has been swinging since the 1930s and a vibrant dance community keeps the tradition active. Whether you're a beginner or pro, KCUR put together this guide to the different styles of swing dance, and the meet ups, classes, and organizations that the city has to offer.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

The wide open spaces of Kansas City had a heyday during the Swing Era, but the signature dance of the day is still a popular pastime.

Whether you’re nostalgic for the 1930-40s, loved the swing revival in the 1990s or are just discovering this lively dance now — the joyous release of swing will always be in style. (Swing is an umbrella term for a variety of styles danced to jazz.)

Across the Kansas City region, you can find classes, organizations, informal dances and competitions to educate and celebrate the tradition. And throughout the week, dancers can find numerous ways to learn or enhance their skills in a variety of styles, or just enjoy opportunities to get together with fellow enthusiasts.

So all you jitterbugs out there, get ready to cut a rug with this line up of swing styles and local events.

Lindy Hop

Members of Kansas City Swingout dance the Lindy Hop at Front Range in Waldo.
Kansas City Swingout
Members of Kansas City Swingout dance the Lindy Hop at Front Range in Waldo.

Perhaps the most popular swing style is the Lindy Hop, which originated in the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in the 1930s. The high energy, uptempo dance was evidently named in honor of aviator Charles Lindberg and is defined by the high flying “swingout.”

If the athleticism of the swingout intimidates you, don’t worry. The Lindy Hop’s basic movement is an eight-count repeated sequence, with moves built into the framework as your progress.

(The term “jitterbug” — as applied to both the dance and the dancers — is attributed to bandleader Cab Calloway, as he watched all the hopping and bopping on the crowded dance floor.)

The endurance of the style is shown in the 2021 music video for Jon Batiste’s “I Need You,” when dancers leap from a 1940s-inspired photograph and dance with the Grammy Award-winning artist.

Kansas City Swingout hosts a Lindy Hop workshop at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on Feb. 24. No experience or partner needed to attend and the workshop is $15.

Kansas City Swingout is an organization of swing enthusiasts dedicated to growing and teaching the Lindy Hop community.

“The community…is wonderfully accepting and supportive,” says Ariel Lacey, who has been swing dancing for six years. “It’s also inspired me to dig deeply into the history of Black and African American music and social dancing, which has become a passion all its own.”

“Lindy Hop holds a space where I can be playful, creative, and connected to others in a way that feels safe and supported,” says Lacey, who also serves as Kansas City Swingout’s director of safety and community engagement. “Swing jazz and blues are such incredibly expressive forms of music, and dancing allows me to explore those feelings through movement.”

The group hosts regular get togethers on Thursdays at Equal Minded Cafe on Troost Avenue with lessons and social dancing for $10. The lessons rotate which steps and skills are taught, so if you miss one month you can pick it up another time.

The group also organizes social dances on first Tuesdays at Front Range in Waldo and third Tuesdays at Johnnie’s Jazz Bar & Grill at the Power & Light District.

West Coast Swing

From Harlem, the popularity of swing dance proliferated and ended up featured in many movies of the era. A Hollywood version of the Lindy Hop evolved into West Coast Style, another popular style practiced in Kansas City.

West Coast Style (WCS) is a more compact dance, with one partner staying relatively stationary, and often involves improvised steps.

KC Modern Swing hosts Modern Swing Mondays at El Torreon, which has been a ballroom since the 1920s. There is a $15 entry fee, which includes classes and social dance. Intermediate starts at 6:15 p.m. and beginners’ class starts at 7 p.m., followed by the dance.

For beginners, or those new to the scene, their website explains the structure and etiquette of the event. Comfortable shoes and clothes are a must.

You can join weekly Social Swing classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at C.A.S.T. KC in Overland Park, which includes leveled classes, practicum and open dancing. The classes and social dance nights are each $15, but the formats change depending on the time of month.

You can also check out The Ballroom KC’s social dance nights (also at C.A.S.T. KC) on Fridays. The events include a group class first, featuring different dance styles each week, then a social dance which includes many different styles.

Group classes for WCS and another style, balboa, are on fourth Fridays. These events have a $15 cover charge.

East Coast Swing

Couples dance in a large open room with a blue wall in the background.
Kansas City Dance Club
Local organizations and dance studios host group and individual classes.

East Coast Swing (ESC) is another Lindy Hop derivative. Rather than coming from the dance hall, it developed in dance studios. The steps are somewhat simpler than the Lindy Hop and can be danced to a variety of music and tempos, in a more circular form, and a good place to start for folks coming from a ballroom dance background.

You can try out this style at the Kansas City Dance Club in the West Bottoms on Tuesday nights for “Intro to Swing Dance” with the KC Swingsters. Drop-in sessions are $15 or free for KCDC members, with a 45 minute lesson and 15 minutes of practice time.

Beginners are welcome and you don’t need to bring a partner. Wear sneakers and work out clothes.

Some local studios offer private lessons in many different types of swing dance, including East Coast Swing, like the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in North Kansas City, or the American Ballroom Dance Studio in Lenexa.

Get into the swing

Dancers pose in a line, wearing red, white, and black outfits in the style of the 1940s.
Lexie Casey
KC Swingsters
The KC Swingsters are a performance ensemble who dance a variety of swing styles.

There are many more styles of swing than those three and part of the fun is building a vocabulary of steps. You can also try other variations like balboa, shim sham, jive, and Kansas City boogie woogie.

Swing, like many styles of dance, has evolved and incorporated moves from other styles. And as you get to know the full variety, you’ll meet more people in the community. It’s a social dance, after all, and having fun is the whole point.

There are also places to just enjoy dancing, like fourth Fridays at Johnnie’s Jazz Bar & Grill, with music from Alex Abramovitz and his Swing’n Kansas City Jazz Band.

Swing is part of the competitive circuit, as well, enjoyed by dancers all over the world. Follow Central Swing Time to learn more about regional events in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, as well as their meet up in Oklahoma City in April.

Feeling confident about your dance skills? You could try out for the KC Swingsters on Feb. 25. This group performs a variety of styles, including Lindy Hop, Charleston, West Coast Swing and East Coast Swing.

Updated: February 26, 2024 at 10:51 AM CST
This article has been updated with new event times and prices.
Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen is a freelance writer in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Learn more at Proust Eats a Sandwich.
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