Jitterbugs’ Night Out
What: Omaha Jitterbugs’ Vintage Jazz and Swing Dancing
When: 7:30 p.m.-midnight Fridays. Lessons: 8-9 p.m.)
Where: Fraternal Order of Eagles Ballroom, 201 S. 24th St.
Cost: $5 ($10 for live music events)
Info: (402) 978-8101; Jitterbugs.org
Parking: Word is you’ll get towed from the parking lot catty-corner from the building.
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Who spent last Friday night swinging? This girl!
Swing dancing, to be clear, at the Omaha Jitterbugs' Night Out jazz and swing dance.
The flowing skirts were twirling like whirligigs on the floor of the Eagles Ballroom, home of the Omaha Jitterbugs' weekly event.
Friday was particularly spirited as the night doubled as a USO fundraiser. Men and women in uniform, as well as costumes fashioned to look like uniforms, filled the ballroom floor along with dancers keeping time to the UNO Big Band.
Founded in 2001, the Omaha Jitterbugs have a civic energy on par with their rhythmic prowess. The nonprofit works to pass along the joys, technique and art of dancing to the rhythmically minded through classes, workshops, weekly ballroom parties and special events. It's an active and social approach to leisure that's a nice change of pace in our digital age. No one texts while doing the Lindy Hop.
While jazz and swing culture has early to mid-century roots, this is not necessarily your grandma's Charleston. The Jitterbugs skew toward younger adults. The 20-40 age range comprised the bulk of Friday's Jitterbugs, although all ages are welcome. Most weeks, a DJ provides the soundtrack, but a live band takes the stage for extra-enchanted evenings.
The scene at Jitterbugs' Night Out is lively and stylish, with plenty of throwback hairstyles and vintage shop jackpot clothing to create a nostalgia-meets-new vibe. The fashion does its part to liven up the event, so embrace the excuse to dress sharply. This devoted columnist was most jealous of the ladies spinning 'round in full skirts and dashing heels. Jeans don't twirl at all.
And just like at the bowling alley, the dedicated ballroom practitioners always bring their own shoes. You don't wear your street shoes on the dance floor or your dance shoes on the street, buster. Didn't your grandma teach you better than that?
Now social dancing can feel intimidating to a beginner, but quash that anxiety. The Jitterbugs are remarkably supportive and engaging to newcomers. Skilled dancers with the patience of saints gladly slow down their fancy moves to take novices out for a confidence building spin. All you have to do is try, and you're technically dancing, right?
Also helpful are the 8 p.m. pre-dance lessons on Fridays. There's a big crew out there practicing, so relax. Everyone is too busy to be watching you. And if you're still nervous, the Eagles bar downstairs will gladly provide a little liquid courage. As well as some charming Eagles members who seem quite delighted to have some fresh faces around.
It's a big week for jitterbugging, as in addition to the weekly Night Out, the troupe hosts its Sugar Foot Stomp tonight at Downtown's House of Loom ($5; 8 p.m.). Held the second Thursday of every other month, this 21-and-up engagement is a symphony of live jazz and DJ music, cocktails and dancing in an attractive venue.
In the spirit of the season, the Jitterbugs host free dance workshops throughout December (Jitterbugs.org for details). With expert instruction, you'll have the steps down in no time.
Just try it. That's all those Jitterbugs ask.