‘Tis the Season to Swing

By Graig Graziosi

Photo by Liam Bouquet/ The Jambar.

Some people write Santa Claus letters and some people sit on his lap, but the Youngstown Jazz Collective is more interested in dipping, spinning and swinging with Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.

The Youngstown Jazz Collective, a Youngstown State University student organization promoting jazz and jazz education, is hosting the Swingin’ With Santa holiday dance, offering participants the chance to swing dance with Santa Claus and help the group raise money for future shows and events. The event takes place Dec. 1 from 7-9 p.m. in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Student Center. A $5 cover fee will be collected at the door.

Other than the opportunity to swing with Santa himself, the event will include a live jazz band consisting of members of the collective, alumni and faculty, as well as food and an environment suited for people of all ages. The event is open to everyone, regardless of current affiliation with YSU or knowledge of swing dancing.

Lauren Eisenreich, the president of the Youngstown Jazz Collective, hopes the success of last year’s event will be topped by this year’s dance.

“Last year’s event was fantastic. We had four times more people than we anticipated. About 200 people came and everyone had a great time. Some people even asked us if we’d be holding the event weekly,” Eisenreich said.

Innovation and a centralized location, according to Eisenreich, were major factors in the group’s success.

“It was so successful in part because it’s a new idea. A lot of people were going out into the community to swing dance, but we brought it to campus. Anyone can do it; you don’t need to be a good swing dancer or a jazz aficionado,” she said. “You can just come and have fun, it’s very inclusive and a great atmosphere.”

David Morgan, professor of jazz studies and the organization’s adviser, said he believes that while swing dancing may not be as popular as it was during its revival in the mid 2000s, there is still a huge interest in the activity.

“Last year there were a couple of hundred people who came … it actually surprised me,” Morgan said. “The dancers came out of the woodwork, like people who really seemed to know what they were doing. I think there’s a novelty to the old music and the old dances.”

The band will be playing Christmas and Hanukkah music along with a wide variety of jazz selections.

While the event provides participants an opportunity for a unique holiday experience, Swingin’ With Santa also gives the students of the YJC the chance to flex their entrepreneurial muscles.

Morgan believes it’s important for music students to work towards business goals that compliment their musical skills.

“If [a music student] wants to make it, they have to learn to sell themselves. The Youngstown Jazz Collective gives students a vehicle for coming together and reaching goals that they set for themselves,” Morgan said.

Kent Engelhardt, coordinator and professor of jazz studies, agreed with the sentiment, believing the first Swingin’ With Santa event to be a prime example of the achievements students can attain when working together toward a goal.

“I was so proud [the Youngstown Jazz Collective] were able to work through all of the logistics and putting together the musical product. … It became a real world entrepreneurial activity for them,” Engelhardt said. “My wife and I went out [to the event] and I was so impressed … I was surprised by how many people were in the room. The Chestnut Room was mobbed. There were students from the YSU Dance Club, young people, old people and I thought ‘Wow, this is really cool. They did it all themselves.”

Aiming to grow their success from last year, Eisenreich hopes to see 300 attendees and believes the second Swingin’ With Santa event will be better than the first.

“It’s our second year, we’ve worked out the kinks, and we’ve got some really excited people coming out to the events … we’re excited for a great event this year,” she said.