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Forget your problems and get moving

A common explanation you’ll hear for why people join local dance clubs is that, in addition to the sheer joy of dance, it allows them to forget their worries for a few hours, and it helps create a fun community of friends.

Most dance clubs require learning some basic steps and routines. At Southern Oregon Swing’s intro lessons, they encourage you to breathe, stop trying to use your mind to memorize steps and just let it come. It does. Then the fun begins.

Swing is not the Glenn Miller prancing of the ‘30s, nor is it country, “Dirty Dancing” or “Saturday Night Fever.” It’s West Coast Swing, with lots of intuited male-female twirls and steps, following certain patterns but allowing lots of improv, says teacher and club leader Dave Kahn.

“It’s danced to all kinds of music — rock, R&B, country — and is good for all ages, from children to 80s, and all shapes and sizes,” says Kahn. “You can hear the jazzy and R&B sound of it. If only people knew how fun it is and how good for you, body and mind.”

The club’s website, soswingdance.com, describes it as “a popular and exciting partner dance … highly musical, which can adopt many nuances from other dance forms … extremely versatile and addicting.”

That’s a word often used by swing dancers — addicting, but in a fun way.

Their many dance events and lessons are listed on the website, and classes and social events are held in Medford, Central Point and Grants Pass.

“It’s very social, lots of music and variety,” says Maria Coghill, who has been doing it for eight years. “Both partners contribute to the dance. It’s so much more free than, say, ballroom dancing, where it’s master and servant.”

Asked what the feeling is, out on the floor and in the groove, Coghill says, “You’re able to have a conversation with each other. You can go in any direction. It’s very organic, instead of mechanical and forced.”

“I feel like I have no problems, no troubles,” says Tess Minnick of Medford, a teacher and accomplished dancer (many are). “You don’t have to think about anything else for the length of the dance.”

There are specific steps and patterns you learn to lay the foundation of basics, Minnick notes, then you cut ‘er loose on the dance floor.

Physician and health author Robin Miller, who has been doing it for eight years, says, “It’s so much fun! Soon, I realized I’d lost weight and my muscles were tighter. I was a lot happier. It’s addictive in a healthy way.”

She and Kahn last year published a book, “Healed: Health & Wellness for the 21st Century,” in which she cites several studies on the power of dance to ward off dementia and Parkinson’s. Swimming, cycling and golfing brought no such benefits. Regular reading brought 35 percent less dementia, doing crossword puzzles brought 47 percent less — but partner dancing three times a week meant 76 percent less dementia.

“It’s amazing,” says Miller. “I feel really good and focus much better. My work is so insane. You only think about what you’re doing in the dance. I advise it to my patients, and it helps with mood and bypasses damaged parts of the brain.”

Swing has its rules but, says Miller, “you can tweak them. It’s not so boxy as other kinds of dance. You can do it to jazz, rap, rock.”

And the unique sense of community that comes from dancing with people, she adds, “I can’t begin to tell you how many people have come and found friends, if they want them, some who might be lonely, they get out and get active.”

The feeling out on the floor, says Derrick Coghill, is “like becoming an instrument in the orchestra. You add another song to what you hear. You play to the music.”

The valley abounds with many dance clubs — Ashland International Folk Dancers, Star Promenaders (square dancing), Misty Mountain Cloggers among them.

The folk club has been going on Friday evenings for decades at the Ashland Community Center. It’s $5. It’s also been offering Sunday morning dance for decades. It’s centered around Eastern European folk sounds with some Israeli steps. Contra dance, grown from English and Appalachian roots, is once a month.

“The attraction is we’ve been doing it since the late ‘60s and are still doing it,” says Jan Waitt of the Folk Dancers. “It relies on everyone knowing the steps. When new people come, who’ve never danced before, we have a good list of easy dances that they can be successful with. We try very hard to recruit new dancers. They have to come often enough to learn. We have 15 or 20 people come.”

The square dancing of the Star Promenaders is Sunday and Thursday evenings in Medford, with classes (necessary) starting September through April on Sunday evenings. You have to learn over 100 moves, and it takes five or six months to master, says member Don Korner.

The dance is very popular, and there are four square dance clubs in the Medford area. They are connected with such clubs in Grants Pass, Lakeview, Yreka and they even go to dance with Portland clubs.

“It’s not complicated. There’s a caller telling us what to do,” says Korner. “You do have to be sober. If you’re not, you won’t comprehend what’s happening and you’ll screw everyone else up.

“The community is great, and you make a lot of friends. We started in 1977. My wife wanted me to do it,” says Korner. “I fell in love with it. It’s great fun. That’s why we do it.”

You’ll find details on the clubs at their websites or Facebook pages or at http://ofn.club/2018-04.

Also see dance schedules at the Evergreen Ballroom, 6088 Crater Lake Ave., Medford, http://www.evergreenballroom.com/, and the Firehouse Dance Hall, 44 N. Front St., Medford, http://firehousedancehall.com/calendar-of-events/, or call the Rogue Valley Square Dance Center, 3377 Table Rock Road, Central Point, at 541-664-2116.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


Instructor Tess Minnick shows off her dance moves at the Evergreen Ballroom. - PHOTO BY DENISE BARATTA
Dave Kahn and Tess Minnick give a swing dance class at the Evergreen Ballroom. - PHOTO BY DENISE BARATTA