The art of swing – West Coast style |

The art of swing – West Coast style

Susan Wood
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune Swing dancers Steve Dorman and Patty Purple practice a no-handed dip for the Mountain Magic Swing Dance Convention at the Horizon Casino Resort this weekend.

You don’t have to be a swinger to like swing dancing, but it helps some to have a relationship rhythm.

Steve Dorman and Patty Purple have become partners on and off the dance floor, moving to West Coast Swing with the grace of seven years of practice.

They say it’s unnecessary to mix love and dance, but that’s how they met.

“We’ve known couples who have broken up who continue dancing together, if the guy’s ego can handle it. I’d hate to think if we broke up we’d never dance again. Dancing is the glue that keeps us together,” Dorman said, while rehearsing some moves for the Mountain Magic Swing Dance Convention at Horizon Casino Resort this weekend.

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The convention, which starts Friday and ends Sunday in the Sequoia Ballroom, features the Hustle and the Nightclub Two-step and West Coast Swing – the California state dance.

The East Coast Swing is known as the traditional Tommy Dorsey style.

“West Coast Swing is slower, smoother and sensual,” he said, demonstrating a few moves the couple has honed.

West Coast Swing encourages creativity, and the couple has invented a few moves.

There’s the tango dip in which her leg wraps around his.

The “pink panther” move presents an act of faith on Purple’s part. In two turns, she throws her weight backward and Dorman catches her.

“People see that and wonder if I’ll drop her,” he said.

The couple dances to music ranging from the blues guitar of Bonnie Raitt to Shania Twain’s high-energy country style.

“When people see our dancing, I want them to see the music. It’s music interpretation,” Dorman said. “We’ll dance to Janet Jackson, J-Lo and ‘Mustang Sally’s’ popular.”

Along with hitting dance clubs when they can, Dorman, 55, and Purple, 41, have traveled hundreds of miles to get their dance fix at conventions like this one.

He’ll teach another round of classes in beginning dance in January. Two-hour classes run for six weeks on one night per week. Dorman will take all ages – left-footed and all.

“You keep at it, and you’ll learn to dance,” he said.

To those who teach and compete, learning to dance has sometimes proven more intimidating for men. They not only have to learn, but they also have to master the art of leading.

The couple has competed for over five years.

“If you dance with other people, you’ll learn faster,” Purple said.

And many men won’t find themselves bored, according to Rainer Herm, the president of the Biggest Little Swing Dance Club. About 15 of the 100 members in the Reno-based club come from South Lake Tahoe.

“Men have a harder time learning. But women like men who know how to dance. I’m a busy guy,” said Herm, who has been swing dancing for 14 years.

More than 400 people have booked hotel rooms to take part and be in the heart of a hobby that spun out of the country western craze in the 1980s.

The history of swing began in the Roaring ’20s when the Charleston hit the scene. It was named after the town in South Carolina. The 1930s brought ragtime and blues to the music scene, then the 1940s ushered in the era of big band – when Glenn Miller was king. After the freestyle of the 1960s came and went, John Travolta hustled more interest in the night-owl activity in the 1970s.

The 1980s mainstream introduction to country swing lasted through the 1990s.

And just recently, dancers say the movie, “Shall We Dance,” re-energized interest in the activity. The story spins Richard Gere into the world of ballroom dance competitions.

It’s the fifth year Horizon has hosted the event.

“Each year it seems to grow,” said Ruby Turner, who works in the sales department. “And it’s a great activity in this weather.”

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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