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North End Swing keeps ‘swinging’ after more than a decade

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | March 27, 2022 12:00 AM

It’s a cold Friday night as people show up to Noble Dance in Kalispell to get moving. Nervous at first, they learn some basic moves and slowly begin to branch out on the dance floor.

Even after their first lesson, it’s easy to tell they are getting the swing of it. This is how North End Swing founder Hana Head describes her beginner’s lessons for swing dance.

“We offer the basic class at the beginning to get everyone on the same page, so that when a song plays they have some baseline to start with and they aren’t just out there making it up feeling like a fool…so now we all know the same base and we can build off of it in our own ways,” she says.

Head started swing dancing at age 19. She and her brother were invited by friends to go listen to live music and dance at the Bigfork Inn. Once she started swing dancing she was hooked immediately and continued to drag her brother back to be able to learn all of the moves. Even though it was the first time Head learned to swing dance, she grew up loving and learning other kinds of dance — particularly Celtic dancing as a child. But something about swing kept her coming back for more.

“I love the music, I love the styles of the era, I love the culture of the era. I’m very musical, and it’s fun to play with the stuff that’s in the music and there’s so much variety and so many styles you can interpret. ” Head said.

Twelve years ago Head and a group of her friends started North End Swing. There’s been a few disruptions since that beginning, but she said with the help of a few volunteers they are slowly building the group back up.

Head and her fellow instructors focus on teaching good technique. At their beginning classes they start with teaching East Coast Swing style, then the Lindy Hop and Balboa. She said the Lindy Hop is her personal favorite because it has a lot of variety, but it requires knowing a good bit of technique and practice.

Balboa is a style of dance that Head describes as “dancing in a hug,” another style of dance they wait and teach after the dancers have become more acquainted with swing and are comfortable dancing closely with someone else.

She disagrees with the notion that people can’t dance, she says all they have to do is learn.

“One of the things I like to encourage in my classes, even from the beginning, I like to encourage good technique. Because if you know two or three moves with good technique, you can dance with anyone there and you’d have a good time,” Head said.

The social aspect of swing dancing is one of Head’s favorite parts of the dance. Other dancing styles are often solo or choreographed. But beginners in Head’s classes will switch partners in order to get a better feel for dancing with others.

“The swing dancing we do is entirely social, so it’s lead and follow. There’s that interaction between you and your partner. You’re both listening to the same song but maybe he is playing off of this riff and you’re playing off the bass line, and you can play against each other or with each other and kind of have a conversation with that dance,” Head said.

This conversation isn’t a monologue, either. Head said even though it’s a lead/follow dance, it’s still about the back-and-forth. The lead doesn’t entirely dictate what the dance is like — the follow can interject and say ‘this is what I heard in the music,’ creating a collaborative effort on the part of both dancers.

North End Swing has regulars who appreciate the opportunity to meet and dance.

Sami Baier has danced nearly her entire life and has been with North End Swing for nine years. She enjoys the program because it gives her an opportunity to get out and dance, meet new people, and watch young people learn to dance.

“It’s a wonderful thing for social gathering — clean, healthy social gathering. We need more things like that, where you don’t have to worry about drugs or alcohol. We have all sorts of families come, after COVID shut us down we lost our big ballroom, but we’re coming back and it’s important to get out and dance, speak to each other and have that connection,” she said.

Head said the program allows for any age to participate, but she does recommend only bringing children when they are old enough to appreciate what’s happening or to participate themselves. She said it’s exciting when kids who start out sitting on the sidelines get fascinated and join their parents.

Kia Ricchi is also an active participant with North End Swing. She said there are many options in the Flathead Valley if people are interested in knowing more about dance, including salsa lessons at Casey’s in Whitefish. She said dancing is a healthy, fun activity especially during the winter when the weather limits outdoor excursions.

“Dance communicates emotion, and it requires physical skill and social etiquette. After a year of lockdown, fear, and inactivity, dance may ease us into a better, post pandemic society,” Ricchi said.

North End Swing meets for their beginner lessons on the first and third Fridays every month at Noble Dance in Kalispell. On the fourth Tuesday of every month they host a social dance at the Kalispell Senior Center. The cost of both classes is $10 per person and attendees are asked to bring smooth-soled shoes and water.

For more information, visit https://www.neswing.com/

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Instructors Emilie Erler and Hana Head dance during a social dance and beginner lesson held by North End Swing at Noble Dance in Kalispell on Friday, March 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Participants dance during a social dance and beginner lesson held by North End Swing at Noble Dance in Kalispell on Friday, March 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Hana Head goes over a few steps with a participant during a social dance and beginner lesson held by North End Swing at Noble Dance in Kalispell on Friday, March 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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"AK" and Hana Head dance the Lindy Hop during a social dance and beginner lesson held by North End Swing at Noble Dance in Kalispell on Friday, March 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Nathanael Probert and Sarah Etzler dance the Lindy Hop during a social dance and beginner lesson held by North End Swing at Noble Dance in Kalispell on Friday, March 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Justin Krauss dips "AK" during a social dance and beginner lesson held by North End Swing at Noble Dance in Kalispell on Friday, March 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Participants practice East Coast Swing during a social dance and beginner lesson held by North End Swing at Noble Dance in Kalispell on Friday, March 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Nathanael Probert and Hana Head dance the Lindy Hop during a social dance and beginner lesson held by North End Swing at Noble Dance in Kalispell on Friday, March 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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