The idea came from a long car ride to Los Angeles. Senior Lily Bartholomew, NAU Swing Jacks president who has been dancing for a year and a half, and Eric Santoro, owner of Flagstaff Rhythm and Roots, were on their way to Camp Hollywood, an internationally recognized swing dance event where professionals and newcomers come together for a weekend celebration of all things dance. They decided to come up with their own version for Flagstaff—the Valentine’s Dance Exchange.
“While driving, I had the idea we should have a big dance party for all the different dance groups at NAU and in Flagstaff, and from there, the brainstorming spiraled,” Bartholomew said. “Eric whipped out his computer and started typing. We were getting so excited about this potential event. I would shout out things like ‘we need fruit platters and Latin dancing!’”
The Swing Jacks set the idea in motion and planned a night that brings swing, Latin, tango and hip hop dance styles to one space. Beginner dance lessons, performances by the dance groups, social dancing and food are all included in the ticket price. It will be a tribute to the art of dance and a chance to grow the Flagstaff dance scene—a scene that Santoro and Bartholomew both love.
“I needed to get out of the house and stumbled upon dancing on the square,” Santoro said. “I sat down on the steps, content to watch these people dance. Then someone came up to me and told me I had to dance. I said I didn’t know how and she said, ‘I’ll teach you.’”
Two and a half years later, he now runs his own dance company, teaches swing and is vital to passing down the tradition of swing within the NAU Swing Jack Club.
“I was annoyed with my life,” Bartholomew said. “I had saved a little flier from the Swing Jacks, all the way from orientation my freshman year. I was scared to go alone and I kept trying to get my friends to go, but they were too busy. One night I was fed up, so I put on a cute skirt, went dancing alone and met all these amazing people that are now my family and friends.”
The NAU Swing Jacks Dance Club meets at the Downtown Diner every Saturday to preserve the traditional partner dances of swing born in the late 1920s. Each night features a lesson focused on one type of dance style—Lindy Hop, East Coast, Charleston, Balboa or Shag—followed by a social dance to practice and meet new people.
“Swing means the world to me; it’s the ultimate form of escapism. There’s so much to think about while you’re dancing, that you couldn’t possibly be worried about any issues going on in life,” Santoro said.
While some people hesitate to try dance, the 2020 Valentine’s Dance Exchange is meant for people to try something new.
“You can walk into any dance scene here and people will welcome you with open arms and be willing to teach you,” Bartholomew said. “Anyone who comes, especially to the NAU Swing Jacks, is part of our family and we take care them. We have such a wonderful time together every week.”
She encouraged people to be brave, take the leap and try something new.
“There’s nothing like the feeling right after a dance you enjoyed, when you’re both breathing heavy, are sweaty and tired, but just shining joy. Maybe you don’t know their name, but, in that moment, you had such a connection to another human being. You were in rhythm to the music together and moving as one. Partner dancing is so beautiful, it builds strong connections between people.”
The NAU Swing Jacks Dance Club, in conjunction with Flagstaff Rhythm and Roots, are hosting the 2020 Valentine’s Dance Exchange from 7-10 p.m. on Feb. 15 in Ashurst Hall. The event brings together dancers of all styles in the Flagstaff community for a night that celebrates a collective love for dance. Tickets for the event are sold at the door. General admission is $15. Students and military are $10 with a valid ID.
Jacklyn Walling | NAU Communications