For Phillip Kunz, 2017 went out with a swing.
He stood in the centre of a long hall with his dance partner, wearing suspenders, a newsboy cap and a headset microphone. A circle of onlookers stood poised around them, each partnered and prepared to learn a little swing.
Kunz took his partner’s hand and began to dance. Slowly.
Their feet moved: rocking back, then stepping. Coming closer, they stepped to the side. Then the other side. And again. His audience followed; some awkwardly, some expertly.
Kunz continued. Rock, step, step, step; and again. His hands moved for the first time, pulling his partner in towards him. Then a spin, a sultry sashay up the dance floor, a pivot, and a walk back.
There was no music — it was a demonstration and introduction for newbies in the crowd. When he finished, the swing music came on and the dancers hit the floor.
“It looks formal nowadays, because comparing it to club dancing, it obviously looks much more structured,” Kunz, 31, said about swing dancing. “But for its time, it was considered the very casual dance.”
Plus, he added, “everyone that does it has a really good time.”
That was clear on Dec. 31, during Royal City Swing’s New Year’s Eve party, where sprightly men spun dressed-up ladies around the floor. Kunz, after his role as teacher was over, demonstrated the moves he had learned in his five and a half years since he started dancing.
A lanky Cloverdale banker — a commercial account manager for agriculture at BMO — Kunz doesn’t look like a natural jitterbug.
“People who know me through work can’t picture me dancing,” he said. “I’m pretty reserved probably, so I guess it’s a bit of a shocker for people that know me.”
But he always had the itch for dancing, and five and a half years ago decided to give it a shot. By happenstance, he landed in the swing dance community.
“For about the first month, it was a labour of love,” Kunz said. “It still is, I’m not a natural at all … So it was a lot of people being very kind to me, and patient and encouraging. And that’s why I kind of stuck with it.
“That, and I loved it right away, even though I couldn’t do it.”
Although he first started in Abbotsford at Suburban Swing, he eventually started dancing with New Westminster’s Royal City Swing. For a while, Kunz was dancing every weekend night: Fridays in New Westminster, Saturdays in Vancouver and Sundays in Abbotsford.
“If you’re really into it, you can dance almost every night,” he said. “It’s kind of like a little counterculture.”
Every night is a big commitment, however, and Kunz has downgraded his dancing days to just Friday nights, although he has upgraded his skill level.
“I don’t remember the date or the time, but I can remember feeling like I was in control of certain moves and actually being able to decide ‘I want to do this’ and have it go with the song,” Kunz said. “It doesn’t always work — it’s touch and go — but when it does work it feels pretty good.”
Now, Kunz is practiced enough to teach different swing dances during Royal City Swing’s Friday gatherings. He doesn’t do it often — he’s only taught a handful of times — but he loves it. His next lesson is on Jan. 26, and Kunz is inviting people to come try it.
“The music is incredible, and just the whole vibe and atmosphere whenever you walk into a lively dance,” he said.
“The first class is definitely the most intimidating, because you’re coming not knowing anything. But if it’s like me and it grabs you right away, you fall in love with it and stick with it and see where it takes you.”
Kunz will be leading the beginner lesson on Friday, Jan. 26, from 7:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The floor then opens up for dancing until 11:45 p.m. Royal City Swing is located at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall, 318 Keary Street. For more information, visit www.royalcityswing.com.