Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press
Beverly Barela

Swing Dance Ensemble gets the party going

UC Merced students and community members of all ages took a lesson and then practiced dancing the Lindy Hop at the Merced Multicultural Arts CenterUC Merced students and community members of all ages took a lesson and then practiced dancing the Lindy Hop at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center.
UC Merced students and community members of all ages took a lesson and then practiced dancing the Lindy Hop at the Merced Multicultural Arts CenterUC Merced students and community members of all ages took a lesson and then practiced dancing the Lindy Hop at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center.

UC Merced students and community members of all ages took a lesson and then practiced dancing the Lindy Hop at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center in Merced last Friday evening.

The lesson and dance party were part of a semester long class at UC Merced taught by David Kaminsky.  Known as Swing Dance Ensemble, it is part of the Global Arts Studies Major, an interdisciplinary major including dance, music, film, photography, design, sculpture, painting and performance studies.

Kaminsky, who is the director of the Swing Dance Ensemble, holds a Ph.D from Harvard University.  His two-credit course at UC Merced is open to all undergraduates without prerequisite. Besides academics, students learn traditional swing dances with an emphasis on the Lindy Hop. The Ensemble also organizes regular Swing Dance Parties both on and off campus, at which dance is taught to guests.

The next on-campus lesson and Swing Dance Party open to the public will take place on May 10 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m, in Room SSM 116 of the Social Sciences and Management building in the northeast part of UC Merced. The dance party will begin at 6 p.m.

During an interview with the Times, Kaminsky explained, “I teach a five-week class. This semester, I have 17 students. Their final exam is creating these two events [the off campus and on campus lesson/dance parties]. The students do the publicity and bring in the community members.  Next time, they’ll be teaching the lesson.”

At the Friday night party, Kaminsky and a dance partner showed the Lindy Hop to be an unabashedly joyful dance with a solid, flowing style. It is a couple’s dance based on jazz, tap, breakaway, and Charleston, and is known as the grandfather of swing dances. It was born in Harlem, New York City, in 1928 and evolved with the jazz music of that time. Very popular during the swing era of the late 1930s and early 1940s, it relied mostly on improvisation by its dancers, making it both fun and playful on the dance floor. A positive aspect of the dance is it was customary for anyone to learn the steps and choose their own partners, regardless of social class or color.

Kaminsky earned his Bachelor’s degree in Music from Macalester College in 1997, and his Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Harvard in 2005. Ethnomusicology involves ethnographic study of a musical tradition in relationship to its cultural setting.

He studied folk dance pedagogy at the Eric Sahlström Institute in Tobo, Sweden.  He works on folk music and dance in Sweden, and on social partner dancing in Sweden and the United States.  He is currently writing a book on social partner dancing.

The title of National Folk Musician of Sweden was bestowed on him. Kaminsky is the first American ever to receive that title.

Kaminsky taught at Earlham College, The McNally Smith College of Music, The College of William and Mary, Harvard University, and Tufts University before coming to Merced.

He began his tenure at UC Merced in 2012, and has been devoted to developing curriculum for the Global Arts Studies Major. One of the things he is focusing on currently is developing innovative new ways to teach music theory as part of that curriculum.

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