Swing and Contra dance take Grinnell by storm


Swing and contra dance leader Miriam Tibbetts ’20 takes a dip during practice. Photo by Ariel RIchards

Shabana Gupta

Swing and contra dance leader Miriam Tibbetts ’20 takes a dip during practice. Photo by Ariel RIchards

There are many opportunities for students to stay active on campus without taking part in Varsity sports. The Contra dance and Swing dance clubs on campus are open for all students no matter their previous experience. Both dance clubs were started by Miriam Tibbetts ’20 and John Zbaracki ’20, while Yonu Cha ’20 helps leading Contra and is very active in Swing.  

The thought of bringing more dance opportunities to campus started when Tibbetts and Zbaracki met each other during NSO of their first year. Both wanted Swing to be a club and decided to get their own dance group up and running. “Swing’s been an ongoing group for years, it died out the year before we got here. We wanted to start it back up again,” Zbaracki said.

They started off with Ballroom and, with the support of Jennifer Brown, began running a Contra dance club. They also partnered with the Theater and Music departments in the beginning to receive funding. Zbaracki said, “There was a theater performance that we donated dancers for to get access to the funds for more dances.”

When Contra dance was up and running, Tibbetts and Zbaracki would hold small sessions of Swing dancing before each Contra dance meeting. “If people wanted to they could come a little bit early and then we would go into Contra,” Tibbetts said. Soon enough Swing became an entirely separate club. “We decided that we wanted to dedicate more time to Swing instead of something that was bound to Contra.”

Cha met both Tibbetts and Zbaracki during Salsa dancing practice. She soon learned both Contra and Swing dancing and became passionate enough about Contra to take over a portion of the club. She now co-leads with Zbaracki.

Cha loves the community that comes along with Contra dance. “You dance with everyone, you always end up dancing with everyone in the line,” she said. “You switch partners, you get to know each other really well, it’s always a community building exercise.”

Tibbetts has been passionate about Swing since high school when she began learning. she picked up Contra dance while at Grinnell. “Contra dance is easy to pick up if you’re new to it. Contra has a caller and they’re telling you what to do,” she said. “You don’t need to rely so much on your ability to create and produce spontaneous coolness.”

Swing takes a level of technique that Contra doesn’t require. “With swing, I go to swing because I want to think more about technique and tricks and be more free flowing,” Cha said.

Zbaracki agrees that Swing is more complicated, and he loves the freedom that comes with it. “You can do things and work with the music and you can sort of develop something with the person [you’re dancing with],” he said. “It’s like freestyle jazz almost because you move as the thoughts progress and you dance to the music and you create something with someone as an experience.”

People of all skill levels are encouraged to join. “We always go over old things and we add in new things and we don’t want it to be intimidating to anybody,” Tibbett said. “It’s really easy to jump into contra or swing with more experienced people,” Zbaracki said “They’ll just kind of lead and just do.”

Swing meets every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Contra meets at the same time on Thursdays. If you want to know when dances are happening, sign up for the email list by reaching out to swing@grinnell.edu or contradance@grinnell.edu.