Danielle Schultz — Staff Writer
Orange and pink lights flood the BJ Haan stage while audience members talk excitedly with one another. They just saw the first act of the night: Ashley Van Engen on the piano. After talking with the emcees, she walks off stage.
They announce the next act.
The crowd hushes as a heartfelt song starts playing. Two figures walk out from separate sides of the stage, meeting in the middle. They clasp hands and walk down the center of the stage towards the audience. The girl wears a red and pink flowered dress over black leggings, while the guy wears a white collared shirt with black dress pants.
Neither one wears shoes—only matching black socks.
Gracefully, they starts to dance. He slowly twirls her inside and out, switching hands effortlessly when needed. When the song picks up speed, so do they, adding jumps, dips and even flips to their performance. Each move earns a cheer from the audience.
The swing dance routine looks well-practiced and second nature, but two weeks ago, juniors Heather Vander Woude and Mitchell Siebersma did not even know they would be competing in Dordt’s Talent Extravaganza.
A shiny wood floor meets a wall covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors, black mats hanging by each door and bright rows of weights lining the shelves. Everything is silent. It is a Friday in the aerobics room.
Heather and Mitchell sit on the floor, catching their breath. Seconds ago, they had finished practicing their swing-dance routine for the third time that afternoon. With the competition the next night, they had to iron out all the wrinkles in their performance—which they choreographed an hour before auditions last week.
“We were contacted two days before auditions for variety,” Mitchell says after taking a sip from his water bottle. Because swing dance is just involves putting a known set of moves together in various ways, they were able to quickly create a routine to the song “Healing” by Oh Honey. Heather tried to arrange their sequence of moves to match the lyrics.
Throughout the routine, the chorus signals a series of faster and more complicated moves. The first chorus leads into the floor sweep and toe touch, in which Mitchell spins Heather around on the floor in an arc before she jumps back up, doing the center splits in the air. Then comes the pretzel, which Mitchell describes as a “whirling blender of limbs,” followed by a series of spins called the lariat, the tabletop, and the yo-yo.
When the song beings to reach its climax, Heather and Mitchell perform the boot heel. Heather falls parallel to the floor first one way, then the other while Mitchell supports her with both arms. Then, as she is parallel to the floor, he steps over her while switching hands, gently kicking her back up with his “boot heel” at the end. Heather procedes to complete a backflip over Mitchell’s arm.
As the last chorus begins, Heather and Mitchell lead with perhaps the most cheered and anticipated move: the fly. Mitchell grabs one of Heather’s arms and legs and swings her around him in a circle. Then the routine closes with the willow, a move in which Heather is suspended upside down in Mitchell’s arms, and ends with a basic dip.
Many of the moves are a practice in trust. Each hand, arm, and leg must go exactly where it needs to in order to pull off the moves. Despite this, it did not take long for Heather and Mitchell to memorize the dance routine—maybe four to six hours total, Heather estimates, over a couple of days.
TX is not the first time Heather and Mitchell have danced together. Three years ago, when Heather was on the Dordt dance team, Mitchell had been her partner for a co-ed routine she had performed. On top of that, they both joined the swing-dance club as freshmen.
As a kid, Heather had learned gymnastics on her own; later, as a sophomore in high school, she became a cheerleader. Mitchell also tried gymnastics when he was younger, and later, when he found out he needed an art credit in high school, he decided to learn ballet. He enjoyed dancing so much that, after graduation, he and some friends took it upon themselves to learn swing-dance.
In basic swing-dance, according to Heather, the girl follows the guy’s lead. However, it is still important to recognize cues. To successfully complete the moves, both dancers must develop muscle memory. She cites swing-dance as simultaneously relaxing and energizing.
“The point of swing-dance is to make both you and your partner look beautiful,” Mitchell says. “It’s a method of expressing music in a new way.”
And that is what they find themselves doing on stage Saturday night, performing in front of Dordt students and faculty.
As the song’s last notes fade away into the air, Heather hangs in a basic dip, supported by Mitchell. The audience cheers and claps, yelling their approval. Heather and Mitchell return upright to normal positions and head over to the empty chairs in the corner, ready to field questions from emcees Tara Anderson and Hannah Veldhuisen. Just like that, it’s over.
They wait through six other acts and two audience-participation games to hear what the judges have to say. The competitors stand in a single file on stage, waiting for the results. The emcees ask for a drum roll.
As the audience roars, Heather and Mitchell stand back with those who did not win. They are not dismayed, though. As Mitchell said earlier that week, “Swing-dance is a fun thing, not a competition.”
“We went out there and did our best and had fun,” Heather said after the stage cleared of contestants. “I was hoping it would be a dance that would be fun for the audience to watch as well.”