By William Chamberlin
The Mission district swing dance event, the Rent Party, sets the pace to party like it’s 1929. Co-organized by Dave Madison and former City College student Kyle Barbour, this weekly event provides a Lindy Hop and blues-themed dance party for experienced dancers and amateurs alike.
The Rent Party is held every Saturday night at the Oberlin Dance Collective dance studio and has been drawing, at times, more than 100 dancers every weekend since it began in September 2009. In addition to the Rent Party, the dance studio, which has been in operation in the mission for 37 years, hosts a wide array of activities including theater, dance company and school events.
Barbour and Madison want to help dancers “take dance to where they never knew they could take it.” The two promoters have gotten many ideas from the Thursday night swing club the 9:20 Special, San Francisco’s longest running swing dance club.
“We really want to see the Lindy Hop scene thrive,” Barbour said.
The Lindy Hop dance style formed in the mid twenties in Harlem behind the then massively popular Charleston and is more loose in form. Typically a two-person, fast-paced dance, the style has several forms depending on the skill level of the dancer. The Lindy Hop moves range from a two-step with twirling to faster-paced swing moves done by higher skilled dancers.
“Lindy Hop is the greatest expression of pure joy I think I could feel,” Barbour said.
The music at the Rent Party is often a DJ spinning classic jazz including hits by Count Basie and Duke Ellington. They also offer a blues room for slower dancing with strictly blues music.
There is a $7 cover charge and free water is provided for the thirsty dancers. Group participation is encouraged and lessons are offered every Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. one hour before the dance begins at 9:30 p.m.
“The Rent Party is a good place to take lessons,” long time salsa and Lindy Hop dancer Brian Routhier said.
At a recent Rent Party on Jan. 30 the crowd numbered around 70 people ranging in age from 16 to mid 50s with most dancers in their 20s. The dress was casual T-shirts and jeans. There was a shared sense of purpose as frequent and welcome partner changes were happening with nearly everyone participating.
“It’s very comfortable, very relaxed and I get to meet a lot of people,” said City College student Maria Crispi, who has been attending the dance frequently.
There was a spirit in the evening like that of old films: a simple level of kindness, made evident by the large number of participants who left their belongings on the floors and in the hallways unattended in complete confidence, an uncommon practice for a Saturday night in San Francisco.
The Rent Party is a throw-back; a great place to get familiarized with swing and blues dancing and mix up an otherwise mundane weekend.