(CBS SF) – Dancers from all over the world are flocking to the Bay Area this weekend for Boogie by the Bay, a West Coast swing dance convention taking place in Burlingame.
Event organizer Andy Bouman said about 1,500 dancers from as far away as France, England, Australia, Singapore, Korea and Brazil will fill the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport beginning tonight.
Top West Coast swing dancers will be performing and teaching workshops at the event, including Benji Schwimmer, who won the second season of the Fox TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2006.
The term “swing dancing” conjures images of World War II-era Lindy hop and girls in polka-dot dresses being tossed in the air by their partners.
West Coast swing is different. It is danced in a slot, mostly to contemporary music and blues, and is smooth rather than bouncy.
Bouman said there are a number of tales as to how West Coast swing evolved, but the one he feels is most likely is that after WWII, when the big band era wrapped up, the music changed.
Clubs started hiring smaller, bluesy bands and the change carried over to the music, he said.
“I think the dance is driven by the music,” Bouman said.
While West Coast swing is not as popular as a dance like salsa, those who dance it are fiercely devoted and describe the hobby as an addiction.
At a convention like Boogie by the Bay, there are workshops and competitions during the day, followed by performances and social dancing at night. The social dancing can go until 7 a.m. or beyond.
“People will dance until they can’t move, and sometimes they will stay up even later,” Bouman said.
Red Bull and other energy drinks are popular in the scene, and Bouman said he, too, depends on caffeine to power through.
“I think people have different strategies,” he said. “Some people can exist on a little bit of sleep.”
He said he thinks part of the appeal of West Coast swing is that it is a partner dance that can be danced to “a lot of what people are hearing on the radio these days.”
Popular songs include Top 40 hits by Rihanna, Jason Mraz and Usher, as well as timeless classics by Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson.
People also like that they can bring creativity to the dance, Bouman said.
“I think that because it’s a street dance, there’s a lot more freedom than you have in ballroom … followers feel like they can add more to the dance, it’s not all controlled by the leader,” he said.
He invited those interested in trying West Coast swing to take some classes at the convention on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when there will be free beginners’ workshops from 9 a.m. to noon taught by champions including local instructor Melissa Rutz.
“These workshops are designed for anybody who is new to West Coast Swing or wanting to review the basics,” he said.
Those wanting to just stick their toes in and check out the scene without feeling the pressure to dance can purchase a spectator pass and watch the champions perform on Friday or Saturday night.
The full schedule can be found online at www.boogiebythebay.org.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)