During May, I start my new job and live alone in temporary student housing. I tell myself that I’m staying in each night because I want to catch up on new Marvel shows, not because I have no one to see. My friend Megan asks me if I want to go swing dancing. Terrified at the thought of dancing with strange men, I say no.
During June, I move into my new place with Megan and two of her classmates. I spend hours building Costco furniture and asking all the get-to-know-you questions that they’ve already asked each other during their years of study. Over crock pot dinners, they try to talk about things that aren’t hyolaryngeal excursions or affrication, but they haven’t quite learned how yet. Megan tells me that I’m still welcome to go swing dancing. I say I’m fine.
During July, I’m becoming friends with my roommates and coworkers, but I still feel the canyon of unfamiliarity that comes with new relationships. My roommates tell me that they want to have three of their swing dancing friends over for board game night and that I can join if I want to. When I hear their guests’ voices from my bedroom, I hype myself up in the mirror I can say hi. I laugh with them over Codenames and Fluxx, then ask if I can join them for swing dancing the next week. Megan says, “Of course.”
The Grand Rapids Swing Society meets every Tuesday evening at Rosa Parks Circle. In the center of high-rise buildings made out of glass, metal, and brick, a hundred people gather to dance. Of the last six times I’ve gone, it has never been cloudy. Sunlight glides over the rooftops in a radiant sheet.
The night starts with a tutorial for newcomers. Steve, the man who runs the event, walks everyone through the basics. This is the rock-step, the girl turn, the boy turn, the dip. Then, with those basics covered, he’ll add a couple intermediate moves—the bow and arrow, the window, the girl tabletop.
It’s my first time, and I am all too aware of the fact that my inexperience is going to make me no fun to dance with. I can’t think of myself as anything other than a hindrance or a burden.
The first guy to approach me is a shorter brunette in his early forties.
He holds out his hand with a friendly smile, “Would you like to dance?”
I cautiously take his hand. “I’ll warn you that this is my first time here.”
He shakes his head, voice light. “Everyone has to start somewhere.”
I quickly see his expertise and miss almost every cue. While he walks me through the basics, he also switches to moves where I stand there and he dances, which goes much better. The song ends, and I walk back to my group, my cheeks flushed from more than just the cardio. Yet, before I walk away, he thanks me for the dance.
I’m surprised by the casual, instinctive kindness of this partner, wondering if he is just a particularly thoughtful person. But every partner all night patiently teaches me the basics, literally guiding me by the hand, not an ounce of annoyance to be found.
After going for a couple weeks, I start to recognize the regulars. Justin has a calming presence, and David’s freestyling will keep you on your toes. Someone with green hair leads with a serious expression but a free playfulness. Even if I don’t know everyone’s names, there’s a comforting familiarity in recognizing someone and knowing something personalized about them, like “They’re an intermediate who dances East-Coast. He’s good for beginners, but keep your shoulders loose.”
After graduating this spring, I’ve felt disconnected to the city. Sure, I’ve lived in Grand Rapids for four years of undergrad, but I never left campus, and post-grad life looks so unrecognizable from college life that there’s hardly any comfort in knowing where a couple coffee shops are. With the Grand Rapids Swing Society, I have found a community in which there is consistent kindness, a growing familiarity, and unconditional welcome, and that is something for which I cannot express enough gratitude.
So thank you, Grand Rapids Swing Society. I’ll see you again on Tuesday.
Tiffany Kajiwara graduated from Calvin in 2022 with majors in literature and writing. Now, she continues to live in Grand Rapids and works at Baker Academic Publishing as a marketing assistant. In her free time, she enjoys crocheting, thrifting, and psychoanalyzing cartoon characters.