t’s Friday night in downtown Kalispell and in the alley behind the Kalispell Grand Hotel three girls search for what has come to be known as the Sassafras Ballroom.
The ballroom, on the second story of Sassfras artists cooperative on Main Street, is not the easiest place to find. It’s nestled between the hotel and a florist shop, with the entrance in the alley.
The girls look around curiously and then they see what they’re looking for — a paper sign with a silhouette of two dancers taped to a door.
And that’s when the fun begins.
On this April evening a crowd of about 60 people has gathered to learn the basics of East Coast swing and then to enjoy a bit of social dancing. Pete Milne, 23, and Joe Juneman, 24, both of Kalispell, go over some of the basic rules of social dancing and the basic steps of swing. The two friends have been dancing for four years, but only got into swing dancing in February of last year.
“Everybody, to a certain extent, is scared of the dance floor when they are beginning,” Milne said. “Scared of asking somebody to dance, or getting out there yourself, especially when you feel like everybody is watching you.”
But he warns the dancers that although politeness is key, wallflowers are the ones who don’t get to dance.
“So, don’t be bashful,” he said.
There are rules to social dancing. If you bump into another couple, you pause to apologize and then continue.
“Just make sure you are polite about it,” warns Milne, “and it will be forgotten.
“Leaders, pay attention to what is around you, especially when you have a lady in your hands.”
The males have to accept responsibility, Milne emphasized.
“It’s not good, and it doesn’t make you look good when you are the lead that runs your girl into the side of a wall or into another couple,” he said.
Milne and Juneman love to dance.
“We went to our first workshop in Spokane, and we haven’t stopped since,” Juneman said.
They have decided to share their passion by organizing these events.
The crowd is decidedly young. Two preteen girls laugh as they twirl, and along the back west wall a group of young men congregate. Throughout the room couples pay attention to the instructors and then step out onto the floor for a song.
The age of the crowd may be a result of the way this event was promoted, using Facebook and word of mouth. And they got results. More than 60 people came for the lessons and before the night was over the Sassafras was filled.
People came from around the Flathead. One couple came from Eureka, another person was from Missoula.
Milne and Juneman were wowed by their unexpected success.
“At one point we thought we weren’t going to get enough people to come to cover the expense of renting the space,” said Juneman. “But if we have as much success with our next event we are going to have to look into renting more room.”
The next dance is not yet scheduled, but Juneman said they are looking at the end of May or early June. He said people can find them via Facebook by searching for “Swing Dance Kalispell.”
In the meantime, people can enjoy swing dancing at the Bigfork Inn, 604 Electric Ave., starting at 8 p.m. every Saturday. Beginning in June the Bigfork Inn will offer dancing on Fridays and Saturdays.
Additionally, Eastside Stomp, a collective of swing-dance teachers and enthusiasts from the Seattle area, will offer a two-day workshop on the YWAM campus in Lakeside the first weekend in May. This will include two days of lessons and two nights of social dancing for $60.
For more information on the workshop, call (206) 992-3244 or visit www.eastsidestomp.com