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A Brief History of Swing

by Keely Locke
Contributors: Matt Jones, Janet Benaski, Darby O'Shieles

The resurgence of swing dancing began in California, with Steven Mitchell and Erin Stevens seeking out Frankie Manning from retirement to teach them.

Soon, swing dancing, especially the lindy hop, spread like wildfire across the country.

Lindy hop and swing were introduced to Austin by dance instructors who thought that the dances would be fun to teach. Previously, there had been only country and western dance lessons. The first swing lessons took place at the Split Rail.

In the beginning, besides these lessons, people got moves from watching movies with dancing in them, making up new moves and sharing them, and taking private lessons from ballroom studios. The early underground swing scene was promoted solely by word of mouth, and the teachers and lessons were a central hub of information for swing dancers.

In late 1992, the first one of the neo-swing bands from California played the Contintental Club on a Monday and Tuesday night, in front of 25-30 curious, non-dancing onlookers.

This was Royal Crown Revue, and it was clear that there was more to partner dance music than country-western and rockabilly.

Timeline

Summer 1993 Olivier Giraud forms 8½ Souvenirs — his tribute to Django Reinhardt and gypsy swing music.
Spring 1994 8 ˝ Souvenirs begins playing every Wednesday night at the Continental Club during Happy Hour. This is the first regular swing show in Austin and it becomes the start of a two-and-a-half year run. Austin swing dancing begins in earnest at this point.
1994 Electrolux breaks up and the Merchants of Venus forms from the remaining members. Later in the year, the The Lucky Strikes begin their move from Tony Bennet lounge knock-off to swing band
Summer 1995 Rocket 69 forms and begins their jump blues run with an every Tuesday night gig at the Carousel Lounge.
Spring 1996 Big Town Swingtet forms. Swing dancers begin showing up at Nash Hernandez shows at Don's Depot to wait patiently for the two or three swing songs played every night.
March 1996 The Merchants of Venus begin to play every Friday Happy Hour at the Split Rail Saloon.
May 1996 Paul Sessums becomes sole owner of the Split Rail. He finally agreed to turn Thursday nights into Swing Night, and allows Matt Jones to start teaching swing dancing lessons before the show. Matt switched from teaching country-western and cajun dancing to swing, after a trip to Europe sparked his interest in swing. Darby O'Shieles, who was teaching with him, stayed with Matt after the change. The Merchants of Venus and Big Town Swingtet agree to play on Thursday nights. This is the first regular night-time swing gig in Austin, and the first nightclub swing classes.
June 1996 The Ritz upstairs lounge opens and begins to occasionally book swing bands.
July 1996 The Split Rail adds a Monday night Swing night. The Merchants and Big Town switch over to play on Mondays. The Seth Walker band moves in to play jump blues on Thursdays.
August 1996 Laura Malloy joins Darby O’Sheiles and Matt Jones to teach lessons.
October 1996 Paul Sessums closes the Split Rail. This was a big blow to the budding swing scene. Classes and swing nights moved to the Black Cat Lounge — another Sessums' venue. The Speakeasy opens and begins to book swing act, and the Caucus Club opens.
January 1997 Matt Jones, Darby ‘O Sheiles and Laura Malloy officially form Four on the Floor. They start a two month run at the Continental Club on Thursday nights, teaching swing dancing and hiring a swing band to play afterwards. This ends in March of 1997.
February 1997 Four on the Floor begins teaching Lindy Hop every Monday night at the Black Cat Lounge.
March 1997 8½ Souvenirs discontinues its regular Wednesday Happy Hour gigs. Indigo Swing plays Austin for the first time at the Continental Club on the Monday and Tuesday before SXSW weekend.
April 1997 Four on the Floor starts the Wednesday night swing classes at the Carousel Lounge. The B Side of the Bitter End opened and started to book swing bands. Frankie Manning comes to Houston to teach his first Lindy Hop workshop in Texas. Several Austinites make the trip and are immediately won over to lindy hop.
June 1997 Four on the Floor moves Lindy Hop classes to Tuesday nights at the Skylight Gallery on East 5th St. The Rhythm Hot Shots from Sweden comes to Austin Texas for the city's very first Lindy Hop workshop.
Summer 1997 Rocket 69 discontinues their regular Tuesday night gig at the Carousel Lounge. Seth Walker begins playing swing every Wednesday night at the B-Side. Execudance begins teaching swing dancing on Tuesday nights at the Speakeasy.
Fall 1997 The Caucus Club begins to book swing bands, and becomes a major player in the Austin Swing scene. Big Town Swingtet breaks up and the Jivebombers form a band with some of its old members.
December 1997 Four on the Floor began to teach swing dance lessons on Monday nights at the Caucus Club.
February 1998 Four on the Floor presents the first annual Texas Swing Riot. The Day Jobs form this year.
April 1998 The Day Jobs begin playing at the Caucus Club on Monday nights after Four on the Floor swing classes.
June 1998 The Caucus Club puts down a new dance floor. Four on the Floor moves its Lindy Hop classes to the Caucus Club.
Summer 1998 The B-Side drops live music.
Fall 1998 Dessau Hall begins to book Thursday night swing shows. Jive After Five provides lessons. The U.T.Swingtips, Austin's first swing performance group forms. Paul Sessums, one of Austin's original swing patrons, is killed in a car wreck.
November 1998 Austin borrows San Francisco's "Lindy in the Park", setting up their own version in Little Stacey Park on Sundays. 10 people show up on the first day.
January 1999 Four on the Floor moves its Lindy Hop classes from Caucus to the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs due to overwhelming numbers.
February 1999 Four on the Floor presents the second annual Texas Swing Riot, a roaring success.
May 1999 The Merchants of Venus break up, and much to the chagrin of underage dancers, Dessau Hall discontinues its swing nights on Thursdays until further notice. Due to Dessau Hall abandoning Swing nights, Austin dancers decide to take matters into their own hands. "Lindy in the Dark" is organized. Dancers gathered to socialize and dance from 8:00pm to 10:00pm every Sunday night at Waterloo Park Gazebo. This happened every week until the summer temperatures got unbearable.
June 1999 A group of Austin dancers got together to form the Austin Swing Syndicate.
November 1999 The Caucus Club decided due to the lagging attendance at the Day Jobs Monday night gigs, they are going to turn the club into a techno bar. Dancers pleaded their case, and the owner decided to keep at least two swing nights a week.

Four on the floor discontinues Wednesday night lessons at Carousel due to waning class size, but adds Salsa (Tuesdays) and hip-hop (Sundays) to their repertoire of dances taught.
November 19, 1999 The Day Jobs played their last Monday show at Caucus.
December 1999 The Day Jobs begin playing biweekly shows at the Fed on Wednesdays.
February 2000 Lindy in the Park moves to Wooldridge Park.
February 2000 Four on the Floor hosts the third Texas Swing Riot, featuring Chris Yee and Julee Mertz.
May 2000 The Austin Swing Syndicate celebrates its first anniversary with the first in-state Lindy Exchange.
Swing is still alive in Austin... just look here and see! +