Mother-of-four Loralie Young swing dances her way through life. Writer Joanna Mayhew talks with the 27-year-old founding member of Swing Penh about the distinctive retro dance style. Photography by Charles Fox.
What are the origins of swing dancing?
Swing dancing is a social dance that was born out of dancehalls of the [US] east coast in the 1920s. Many styles and forms of the dance have emerged since, but the most popular today is the Lindy Hop, which originated from the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. The dance began to fade away after World War II, as different styles of music and dance became popular. [Then it] experienced a revival that lasted from 1997 into the early 2000s. Swing is still alive and well in the world, and a community of swing dancers can be found in almost every major city in the world, even the Penh.
What made you decide to start Swing Penh?
Robyn Zellar founded Phnom Penh Pswings in 2009 and taught swing dance classes until she left in 2013. After she left, the lack of swing in the Penh was just heartbreaking. There was a group of us that wanted to see swing continue on, and Swing Penh was born.
Is it difficult to learn?
Swing is easy, and swing is hard. Learning the basic steps is easy. Once you get past the basic steps, and those turns and passes just aren’t enough – and they won’t be – it can definitely be hard. The original Lindy Hoppers, like Frankie Manning and Dean Collins, definitely set the bar high. There is a lot of room for personal creativity and style. Anything goes on the dance floor. But proper hydration is definitely necessary – it’s a full-body workout.
What role does the music play?
The awesome thing about swing music is that it can be slow, it can be fast, it can suck you in and make you want to cry, and it can get you fired up and want to own that dance floor. There’s a lot of different styles of swing, and a lot of music that can be danced to that isn’t technically swing. But there are just those particular songs that when you hear them, you just have to dance.
Is dress a big part?
There’s not any specific dress that you “must” wear for swing. Vintage is always fun, and it’s a great opportunity to show off some style, but it really is up to personal choice. As long as you can move in it comfortably — preferably without flashing anyone — it works. Same goes for shoes. You can buy really expensive dance shoes if that’s your thing, or just come in flats or kicks. I find it hard to dance in flip flops as they tend to fly off mid swing-out — one of the essential moves in Lindy Hop — but I’ve seen it done successfully.
What drew you to swing dancing?
I had my first swing dance lesson in high school. I went to a local dance school that offered an introductory course to different ballroom dances. But I didn’t actually get swing fever until I had my second “first” lesson, taught by the founder of Phnom Penh Pswings, during a dance party in 2009. It was fantastic. I remember being completely envious of the more experienced dancers. After having a few lessons, I was hooked.
I am a mother to four kids, so that takes up the majority of my time. [But] my husband, Luke, is very supportive, and helps to watch our kids every week so that I can get my swing fix. I’ve always loved music, and have been musical since I was little. Swing was a great way to express the music through motion. There’s nothing better than dancing to a song with a great beat and losing yourself. I always feel like I am on top of the world, invincible and look awesome, even if I don’t.
What’s kept you in Cambodia?
I grew up here. My parents are still here, as are my parents-in-law, so family is the biggest reason. I’m originally from the US, but I’ve been here since 1992. Although I’ve been back to the States on several occasions, I would definitely consider Cambodia my home.
What more can we expect from Swing Penh?
Swing is growing more and more popular with the expat community. Oddly enough, Phnom Penh is one of the few places in the world where swing has only caught on in the expat community, and not the local. We are definitely hoping to grow the scene in that way. We have a wide range of people from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. We are a fabulous mish-mash of people looking to have a great time. Swing dancing is by nature very open to new people. Since Phnom Penh is such a transient city, we have a lot of new people, and we say a lot of goodbyes. But there is always a core group that keeps swing alive and kicking.
The Swing Hard, Speak Easy night is held every Thursday night at CodeRED. Swing Penh offers both drop-in beginners classes and intermediate classes for more experienced dancers. Prices vary. For more information, visit www.swingpenh.com.