Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Jumptown UW goes swinging ’60s

In Madison, the urge to dance the night away might eventually subside after experiencing the beer-sloshing, uninvited grinding of State Street clubs.

But Jumptown, an organization dedicated to promoting swing dancing at the University of Wisconsin for the past decade, can put the swing back in your step.

Jonathan Jacobs, co-president of Jumptown, caught the bug after hearing a live performance at the Memorial Union Terrace by the Twin Cities Hot Club, a gypsy jazz band from Minnesota. “I was like, ‘I love this music; why not start dancing to it?'” he said in an interview with The Badger Herald.


The foundation of swing dancing lies with the Charleston, a craze of the roaring ’20s. It was developed in Harlem as a reaction to stuffier styles of ballroom dancing. The basic step resembles fast-paced walking in place, with arms swinging forward and backward as the opposite leg steps forward, bouncing to the rhythm of swing music. The step developed into the Lindy Hop in the 1930s.

According to Jumptown’s website, it’s a versatile dance, ranging from fast-paced and athletic to slow and sexy, allowing dancers to develop their own style and show off their self-expression.

“It’s really friendly and low key – and it’s a great way you can meet people and social dance,” Jacobs said.

Learning the moves

Jumptown typically offers a four-week series of dance classes at Grace Church, located at 116 W. Washington Ave. Topics have included “Introduction to Lindy Hop,” “Guided Practice and Moves” and “Tricks for Beginners and Intermediate Dancers” and will recommence in February.

“[Jumptown] helps cultivate dancers and introduce them to [the art of] dancing,” Jacobs said.

Partnered with the Lindy Connection, a Madison community swing group, Jumptown also hosts a free weekly dance at the Brink Lounge on East Washington Avenue, Wednesdays from 9-11:30 p.m.

Dancers can come with or without a partner or any experience. 

“The idea is that it’s social dancing – we actually have it so that you rotate people and you’re not with a specific partner,” Jacobs said. “It’s for everybody, and you don’t need any experience beforehand.”

UW grad student Amanda McMillan recently started attending the weekly dances after learning east coast swing dance in Pennsylvania. 

“I realized that dancing was a life-giving catharsis for school stress,” she said. “It’s a great group of people and wonderful music.”

Jumptown also offers a monthly dance on Friday nights at Dance Fabulous on Lake Street with a free intro lesson in east coast dancing, what Jacobs refers to as “an easier version of swing.” 

“It’s an easy thing to pick up; almost anybody can do it,” he said.

Listening to the beat

Music that accompanies swing dancing comes from the heyday of jazz in the ’30s and ’40s. Jumptown uses selections from Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Django Reinhardt and other jazz giants of the era.

While most rock and pop music places an emphasis on beats one and three of any given measure, jazz brings out two and four, providing the foundation for its rhythm and dance.

The most famous examples of swing include Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” and Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” But listeners should also YouTube lesser-known hits like Duke Ellington’s “Rockin’ n’ Rhythm” or Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump.”

Although hits from the jazz era like these can’t be heard on most FM radio stations today, they remain classics for the jazz community – and with good reason. With an up-tempo feel and vibrant melodies, they can serve as a prescription for nearly any case of the blues.

“The music is timeless,” Jacobs said.

Taking it to the next step

Some students and community members from Jumptown and Lindy Connection take recreational dancing to the next level to compete nationally, most recently in Minneapolis and Austin, Texas.

“You have to be really athletic to be good at swing, so it’s a kind of exercise,” Jacobs said. 

Competitions are sometimes choreographed or with a partner, both pre-chosen by the participants or assigned by the judges. 

“These competitions range in levels,” he said. “It’s kind of encouraged that people just try it. It can help you work harder on your dancing; it gives you a goal.”

Through national competitions, Jacobs said he’s met people from around the country and around the world.

“The community is small, but it’s global. And it’s a way you can communicate with each other,” he said, referencing a past dance partner from France. “I might not know the language of the person I’m dancing with, but you can still connect with that person without words.”

Dancing the night away

On Friday, Jumptown will perform at the Majestic Theatre as part of the Mad Men Soiree, beginning at 8 p.m.

Although the “Mad Men” era heralds ’60s swank and style, the early part of the decade still celebrated jazz. At the soiree, vocalist Joe Scalissi will perform music of Dean Martin, while DJ Nick Nice will provide other selections from the “Mad Men” era.

“It’s just a nice way for us to collaborate with the community and hopefully get people interested in swing that wouldn’t have been,” Jacobs said.

The most dapper apparel to don is encouraged at the 21+ event, with complimentary hors d’eouvres from Bluephies and fancy vintage cocktails available for purchase. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.

Jacobs said he hopes the event will catch the eye of jazz and dance lovers, with an ultimate goal of getting more jazz events happening in and around the city.

“[Swing dancing is] a really good way to connect with people, and it’s a fun way to socialize,” Jacobs said. “Dancing makes people happy.”

For more info about Jumptown and its dances and classes or more info about this Friday’s Mad Men Soiree at the Majestic, go to

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