Wednesday, 09 June 2010 12:01

Dancers take the floor for swing lessons at the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 451 hall in the Holabird Business Park on Wednesday nights.     photo by Heather Perlberg

Charm City Swing offers lessons, fun

by Heather Perlberg

    An eclectic crowd trickles into the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 451 hall to the sound of swing music most Wednesday evenings.
    People of all ages from across the state come together for weekly lessons at the Holabird Business Park location or drop in Monday evenings at the group’s other spot, Club Baltimore on Pulaski Highway.
    “We just wanted to inflict our hobby on others,” said Sommer Gentry, who founded Charm City Swing, with her husband, Dorry Segev. “We think [Charm City Swing] is a success as long as a bunch of people are dancing.”
    Segev and Gentry met swing dancing over 10 years ago and eventually got married. Segev, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Gentry, a math professor at the Naval Academy, used to commute to Washington D.C. for dancing. They started Charm City Swing in Baltimore about five years ago.
    Gentry and Segev “do a good job of making it accessible and affordable to people. No one seems to be competing with” anyone else, said Sarah Sullivan, who has been teaching with Charm City Swing for about a year. “All of the teachers and organizers  create a sense of community that draws people in.”
    The 7:30 Wednesday evening lessons at the VVA hall are part of an eight-week session featuring hour-long periods of instruction for beginner, intermediate and advanced dancers.
    Even when the advanced students took the floor the atmosphere remained casual, with partners rotating frequently and teachers offering advice when appropriate. 
    Swing dancing “is a way to have a conversation with someone without talking,” Gentry said. “You learn to communicate by touch.”
    Dancers in the CCS community are very approachable, according to Robin Choate, a Bowie, Md., native who has been with CCS for about two years. After taking lessons at the University of Maryland, Choate said he was still not sure he fully understood swing dancing.
    “One eight week session with Colleen and I was like: ‘Oh, that’s what it’s supposed to be like,’” said Choate.
    Colleen Vernon in one of Charm City’s core teachers, along with Sullivan, Michael Sequin, and Nina Gilkenson.
    Most instructors dance in competitions and all have many years of experience.
    Sullivan, a recent graduate of Goucher College in Towson, started doing the Lindy Hop when she was very young and has explored the swing dancing scene on several continents as well as in a collection of U.S. cities.
    Swing dancing “can universally connect people,”  said Sullivan. At Charm City Swing “there’s no hierarchy based on who are the good dancers and who are the beginners.”            Gentry recommends that novice dancers first come to a drop-in lesson on Monday before signing up for a longer session.
    Every week after the lesson, the space opens up to dancers of all levels from 9 to 11 p.m. Glenn Crytzer and the Syncopators, a swing band from Seattle, will play at Club Baltimore on June 28.