Arts and Entertainment

Swing the night away | South Whidbey jazz students perform for Sweetheart Big Band Dance

Dancers turn their partners during a song at the annual Sweetheart Big Band Dance last year. About 150 people attended the annual Sweetheart Big Band Dance in 2013, which helps students from the South Whidbey High School and Langley Middle School jazz band programs attend the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in February.  - Record file
Dancers turn their partners during a song at the annual Sweetheart Big Band Dance last year. About 150 people attended the annual Sweetheart Big Band Dance in 2013, which helps students from the South Whidbey High School and Langley Middle School jazz band programs attend the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in February.
— image credit: Record file

The night awaits for dancers to feel the rhythm of South Whidbey’s finest music students.

Jazz bands from South Whidbey High School and Langley Middle School will perform swing tunes, blues and dance music during the Sweetheart Big Band Dance from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, in the new commons at the high school.

The dance has been a staple for the bands and has grown every year to include a larger space for people to show off their moves. At the all-ages event, people can enjoy free refreshments, prizes and swing dance instruction by Walter Dill. Dozens of parents and volunteers also help to put the event together.

The event is a great outlet for community members to dance and for the bands to raise money, said Jess Monett, middle school jazz band and band teacher.

One of her favorite parts of conducting is seeing people enjoy themselves.

“We get a lot of people to show up and dance,” Monett said. “Everyone is smiling and there for the right reasons.”

Dill said seeing young and old get together to boogie down is inspiring. Having taught dance for 30 years, Dill finds it reassuring to see parents dance with their children.

“That hasn’t happened a lot over the last couple of generations,” he said. “I love an environment that encourages families to do this together, and this one definitely does that.”

Dill will give a short swing dance workshop during the event and then have people break off. The high level of skill from the students in both bands is the cherry on top of a delectable evening.

“A lot of people don’t understand how good these kids are,” Dill said. “(Chris) Harshman is a phenomenal teacher who really inspires kids.”

Dill praised the dance as a good way for the community to support the schools’ music programs.

The dance benefits 45 students from both the high school jazz band, directed by Chris Harshman, and middle school jazz band with their travels to attend the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho.

The students are hoping to raise $2,000 in ticket sales for festival transportation costs, which are needed at the end of February.

In the meantime, students have rehearsed many swing tunes that people can look forward to, Monett said.

The dance is an opportunity to practice performing, but also to enjoy the music performed by students, she said.

“They really do like it because they can dance,” Monett said of those who attend.

For the jazz students, the big band dance serves as a warm up for the upcoming Hampton Festival beginning Feb. 20.

The event provides an important experience for the students to perform in front of a live crowd.

“It’s a nice, supportive audience they get to perform for,” Monett said.

Well-established musicians, teachers, conductors and many other students will fill the festival for the South Whidbey musicians to impress, said coordinator Jude Janis.

Ticket sales from the event helps finance the cost and provide scholarships for students traveling to the festival, she said. The goal is for every jazz band student to attend, even if they are unable to afford transportation costs.

Band is a big part of their lives, she said. Because of reduced funding for arts programs, both in and out of school, events like the Sweetheart Dance helps fund high-caliber programs, even in a small district, she said. The program benefits greatly from community businesses such as longtime supporter Joe’s Island Music in Langley, Janis added.

The students have consistently done well at the festival, taking home several first-place wins in their division and several recognitions for both middle and high school bands.

“Its kind of like their sport,” Janis said.

For Janis, it’s a community event for all ages to get together, where people from swing dance groups and senior citizens turn out for the jazz tunes and dance floor.

Last year, the dance was attended by about 150 people. Janis said she hopes at least as many people attend again.

“There’s a sweetness about having an all-ages group come out for the event,” she said.

 

Dance to swing tunes

Sweetheart Big Band Dance is from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, in the new commons at South Whidbey High School, 5675 Maxwelton Road, Langley.

Tickets cost $10 or $30 for families of four or more. Tickets are available at the door or from any jazz band student. For more details, call 360-929-9362.

 

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