James Madison University Swing Dance Club Vice President TJ Oxbrough began teaching himself swing dancing in high school, and by junior year he was choreographing school productions. But he said being self-taught meant his form and technique were never quite on par with his expectations.

In September, Oxbrough began attending the Friendly City Dance Room’s Swing Dance Open Social nights, where his passion for dance was reignited and his skills refined, he said.

Joseph Graves, also known as Swing King Joe, began passing on his passion for swing during open socials at the downtown dance studio four months ago. The opportunity is offered every second and fourth Friday of the month.

“I went to one and I’ve since gone to every single one offered,” Oxbrough said. “The biggest thing that I’ve kind of learned and gained from these socials is an obsession of swing dance. … It’s my favorite form of dance only because it’s the most thrilling and it’s the most social form of dance.”

For the social nights, Graves leads a free evening of fun and instruction from 7 to 10 p.m., with the first 30 minutes of class dedicated to complimentary lessons before everyone gets into the swing of things.

Styles of music and dance during the socials range from Lindy Hop and Charleston to West Coast Swing and Modern Jive. Graves said his playlist is a 50-50 split of contemporary and classic music, but all of it is sure to get your body moving.

“It is energetic, fun and engaging. You cannot swing dance slowly and casually for very long,” he said. “It’s very engaging physically and it engages you just enough where you know you have a workout but you’re not collapsing on the floor.”

Dancers are encouraged to bring athletic shoes for dancing and comfortable clothing that’s not too loose since movements are quick and occasionally airborne.

The dance room has always offered a variety of Latin and African partnership dancing classes, but co-owner Phillip Fusaro said swing was a popular request.

“Prior to the pandemic, there was a pretty big following in town for swing dancing, and we definitely got a lot of request for it,” he said.

During the pandemic, client numbers have fallen, so Fusaro created a GoFundMe this week with a $5,000 goal to help the business ride out the financial strain of the pandemic.

“We have been building community for a long time, and the best engine we have found often involves dance,” Fusaro wrote on the website. “But this has been harder to do over the last year, and your support will help us to regain lost momentum to have amazingly fun dance events.”

As of Thursday evening, the fundraiser brought in $135.

Graves gave Fusaro his first swing lesson 13 years ago, and Fusaro said his mentor has since mastered the art form.

Interested participants are asked to register in advance at www.friendlycitydanceroom.com/classes so Graves knows how many people to expect, but Fusaro said there has been no problem with overcrowding.

Oxbrough said going to the dance room every other Friday night has provided great stress relief during a difficult year.

“As someone who’s been scared of being in a college town during times of COVID, I’m really happy with how they’ve handled COVID,” he said. “I actually give them a lot of credit to make sure that happens.”

Contact Kathleen Shaw at 574-6274 or kshaw@dnronline.com. Follow Kathleen on Twitter @shawkareport

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