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The City Journals

You Can Dance If You Want To

Jun 01, 2016 09:17AM ● By Cassidy Ward

By Cassidy Ward | [email protected]

Ogden - There is something charming and utterly American about social dancing. The happily raucous sounds of a big band coupled with the aesthetic and stylings of suspenders and puffy skirts evokes a nostalgia so sweet you can practically smell the apple pie. The scene evokes feelings of a bygone era, a time that certainly had its problems but is nonetheless dipped in rose colored glass giving it the power to evoke a yearning for a simpler time, even in those who weren’t present for it.

Mark Hollingshead is doing his part to keep that spirit alive right here in Ogden City. Hollingshead has created a non-profit organization, the Lindy Hop & Swing Dance Society of Ogden, with hopes of building a healthy and vibrant social dancing scene in Ogden. A lifelong dancer, Hollingshead was taught by his mother to country line dance at the age of seven, then began breakdancing at the age of ten, he tried his hand at performance dancing but found that didn’t bring the same enjoyment as dancing socially. 

Having grown up in Las Vegas, Hollingshead was a part of a vibrant local dance scene, often making friends with the bands that would come through, playing lounge gigs for a few weeks at a time, then traveling with them to Southern California to dance while they played. This unintentional cross-pollination served to introduce to him the varying types of dancing that are favored in different geological locations. 

“Down there, people were like, that’s pretty cool what you’re doing, what is it? And I’d tell them East Coast Swing with some style added to it and I’d ask them what they were doing and they’d say Lindy Hop and I’d never heard of it. This was in the early days of the Internet, I was able to find Frankie Manning’s instruction videos on VHS tape and teach myself from that,” said Hollingshead.

Now residing in Ogden, Hollingshead finds the city lacking the active social dance scene of his youth and has endeavored to build one from scratch through grassroots efforts. Hollingshead teaches free introductory classes at the Pleasant Valley Library, East Coast Swing is taught on the second Saturday of every month and Lindy Hop on the last Saturday of every month. If you want to build a social dancing community, first you must amass some dancers. 

“I started teaching lessons just so I could build a group of dancers that I could then go out and dance with. Right now you have to go down to Salt Lake to find a regular space for dancing. I’m trying to work with different places to start throwing dances,” said Hollingshead.

Lessons have been taking place at the library since November and have seen increased and repeat attendance. The introductory class teaches participants to get used to the rhythms of Swing and Lindy Hop as well as introduce them to the movements. Hollingshead remarked that most people never try dancing because they don’t have anyone to dance with or they think they have two left feet when in reality all they need is some minimal instruction to get past that, then a whole world of dancing opens up to you.

“We always do our classes as group classes so that you don’t need a partner. The classes are free so people can always try it out and see how they feel about it and then make a better decision instead of never trying in the first place,” said Hollingshead.

Hollingshead dreams of increasing the scope of his organization as well as the options for social dancing in Ogden. He envisions intermediate and progressive courses and has approached the Eccles Center about hosting lessons there. Those more advanced lessons would be paid courses with all proceeds going either to Eccles or into a fund that would be used to rent venues and pay bands to play so that community dancing events could take place. 

“I’d like to be throwing a New Year’s dance every year with live music,” Hollingshead remarked. “I’d like it to be at the Union Station, you could have a band in the station hall doing one style of swing, then in the Browning Theater have another style going on.”

Introductory lessons are every second and last Saturday beginning at 4 p.m. and going until 5:30. Dancers of all ages are welcome. The Pleasant Valley Library branch is located at 5568 South Adams Avenue, Washington Terrace.