Published August 6, 2015
Alok Bedmutha evolved from an undergraduate wallflower to an outgoing and adventurous upperclassman when he made the choice to support a friend.
“One of my friends from class invited me to a dollar dance hosted by UB Swing,” Bedmutha says. “I was trying to be supportive, so I said I’d go.”
Bedmutha arrived at the dance dressed in a T-shirt and shorts. Suddenly, he was surrounded by students in suits and dresses. He was out of his element, but joined in the fun when asked to gather in a circle.
“They started to do the steps and I thought ‘OK, I can do this,’” says Bedmutha, who is about to enter his junior year. “Then they got the music going and I’ve never felt that way when I’m dancing. I got lost in the music and lost in the dancing. I didn’t notice the time pass; I was just there in the moment.”
Swing came to life during the explosion of music and culture of the Harlem Renaissance. It is a fast-paced, quick-step style of dance, filled with lifts, aerials and turns. The style grew throughout the 20th century and split into different genres, varying from East Coast swing to West Coast swing with the Lindy Hop and Charleston in between.
Bedmutha immediately immersed himself in UB Swing and began attending the weekly meetings, held every Wednesday from 6:30-8 p.m. The first half-hour of each meeting is dedicated to members teaching each other new moves. After that, the Student Union on the North Campus echoes with fast-paced jazz, big band and blues.
Today, Bedmutha is the president of UB Swing. But he faced many personal hurdles, including building his own confidence, before he rose to the position.
“I’ve gone through some tough times in the past couple years,” he says. “I kind of withdrew into myself and I didn’t feel like putting myself out there or trying to open up. I used to be an introverted person and I wouldn’t really leave my own comfort zone.”
Bedmutha views swing dance as the driving force behind his personal renaissance.
“I’ve become a lot more outgoing,” he says. “Swing really helped me open up. It helped me be more confident in who I am. Over the past year, I’ve gone everywhere. I never used to be able to put myself in a completely different environment.”
Bedmutha continues to see the weekly swing dance meetings as an escape from personal problems and the daily pressures of school.
“As cheesy as it sounds, I dance away my problems,” he says. “Swing helped me accept my struggles. I’m happy this is the path I took.”
Theresa Morog, a senior math major and former secretary and vice president of UB Swing, followed the path to swing when her older sister brought her to one of the weekly meetings.
“When it came time for me to start at UB, my sister forced me to go the first week of my freshman year,” Morog says. “I have been going every single week since.”
Morog has no background in dance, but she can pinpoint exactly what made her keep coming back to swing every Wednesday: Besides the push from her sister, she loved the energy and the feeling of acceptance of UB Swing.
“What made me come back was the energy of the people, the music and the dance itself,” she says. “Everyone there is very encouraging, and it can be intimidating just starting out like I did. Everyone there is willing to help you learn.”
For Bedmutha and Morog, UB Swing is more than just a dance club. It is a place where students connect over a shared experience, despite their different majors or backgrounds.
“We have history majors, dance majors, English majors, computer science majors and engineers,” says Bedmutha, who sees swing dancing as a way to overcome those differences and connect with others.
“We don’t treat it as a club or strictly as dancing — it’s a very social place,” he adds. “It’s a place where it’s friendly. I’ve met a lot of people who are my closest friends.”
“Swing Club really wants to build new relationships and keep them, and newcomers are always welcome,” Morog says. “I have built friendships from this club that I will keep after I leave college.”
It doesn’t take much for club members to form a connection. Once students hit the dance floor, all labels are forgotten. The music brings them together.
“Everybody comes together and we just dance,” says Bedmutha. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what you do, or where you are on the ‘social ladder.’ You can just come in and dance, and everyone has a great time. There are no barriers. There are no walls between groups.”
Bedmutha and Morog agree the social aspect of swing makes it popular again with younger generations.
“I go swing dancing downtown on Tuesday nights at Swing Buffalo,” says Morog. “When I first started going, it was mostly people out of college and older than I was. Now, I go and you can see a wide range of ages there, and a lot of them are new and younger kids.”
Morog associates the increase in young people discovering swing with organizations like UB Swing and Swing Buffalo. The organizations were started and are led by passionate people who enjoy sharing what they love.
“Swing is a universal language,” says Bedmutha. “Even though it’s an old style of dance and it’s old-fashioned, it has a very large following today.”
UB Swing hosts two end-of-the-semester events during the fall and spring. Members book a live band and encourage participants to “get in the spirit of swing” — abandon the trademark college student sweatpants; don a dress or suit for a night. The fall 2014 event attracted more than 100 people.
“I think it’s on the rise,” Bedmutha says. “We get more and more people interested every year. I think the younger generation is at the point where they want to try something different, something that challenges you. I feel like this style of dance, because it’s so outside of what’s normal, people are really starting to warm up to it.”
Bedmutha warmed up to swing dance right away. That personal transformation that freed him from his introversion likely will lead to even more experiences that previously passed him by.
“It is just one of those things where you go to the club and it’s not just about the club. It’s about the people,” says Bedmutha. “The people that I have met have opened my eyes to what was possible, what I could do, and it hasn’t been easy but it’s been so worth it. Now that I’ve done swing, I understand what it means to love what you do and be all about it.”