How Swing Dance Can Create Connection Despite Distance

Laura Keat’s first job was as a professional horseback rider and instructor. Horses were the family business and she fell into an equestrian career at a young age. This early work experience brought valuable skills and knowledge to the table when she embarked on her next career as a competitive performer and swing dance teacher.  

“Partner dancing is very much about rhythm and flow and influencing or matching your partner. Horseback riding is very much a partnership sport too. You have to match the flow and rhythm of your horse and then be able to influence it in order to have a successful ride. A lot of that carried over.”

Laura’s first exposure to swing came at a time when she was still working in the horse world. In high school, Laura volunteered as a chaperone to take her church’s youth group out for a night of swing dance in downtown Denver. That next year she was exposed to swing dance again. 

“I went on a cruise with my high school choir and it also happened to be a Lindy Hop cruise out of Los Angeles. That was the first time I saw Lindy Hop. Lindy Hop is a bit more intricate and improvisational than some of the other swing dances. I think that’s when I fell in love with it. That was in 2001.”

By 2003 Laura had started to teach swing and in 2006 she moved from her hometown in Colorado to California to pursue dance full time. Currently, Laura lives in Colorado and until recently had generated most of her income by traveling to teach at large conferences. Now, due to recent pandemic regulations, Laura has made a pivot and teaches swing classes online.

In a lucky turn of fate her dance partner, Jeremy Otth, who usually resides in California, had come out to Colorado in mid-March for a workshop they’d intended to teach together. The class was canceled at the last minute but her partner stuck around. 

“Once we realized our entire work in April was canceled my partner and I started to do some live streaming videos. Instead of charging a certain amount for class, we just said if you watched this and found value in it we would love you to send over a donation or a tip of five dollars.”

Laura misses her life of travel and conferences but has thrown herself into this new medium. She now offers online workshops and private lessons.

For Laura, the most rewarding thing that dance has brought to her life has been the ability to support others in their own emotional and personal growth. She continues to do so despite the logistical obstacles.

“I can’t tell you how many private lessons I’ve done with couples that ended up kinda being couples counseling in a way. Couples learn how to work through hard times and issues and disagreements without being mean to each other or themselves. They learn how to set up boundaries. It’s fascinating how partner dancing ends up growing people emotionally through the process.”

Laura misses the socialization and sense of community that swing offers but is learning to adapt and overcome this challenge as well.

“We’ve been doing ‘meetups.’ On Saturday I arranged one for follows only. It was an hour of ways to practice solo dancing, to hone in your skills, then an hour of social time. After we had a cocktail hour. People broke into groups and talked about anything from personal life issues and the quarantine to dance issues and all these ideas that they’ve been working on and developing in their dancing. In a real live dance experience, you would go to a club and maybe have a drink and dance then sit on the side and chat with a friend or go back to the bar and hangout. We’re trying to find a way to recreate that but out of people’s own homes.”  

Laura very much looks forward to being able to pick up where she left off. She wants to get back to in-person, face to face connections. But until that time comes you can find Laura online working to share the joy of dance. 

Want to learn more about Laura’s journey? Like her Facebook page @elevatedrhythm.

Laura’s Tools for Online Streaming:

  1. Logitech 1080p Webcam: We use a webcam for the full body shots and for giving face to face instruction.
  2. iPhone: We’ve found that a good smartphone camera has been the best quality for dancing. The phone is more focused on our legs and our feet so that people can get a close up look at our feet. With the Logitech if we move too fast when we dance the movement can be blurred, whereas my iPhone camera is better with movement.

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