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For the Love of Dance:
Undergraduates Open Swing Dance Studio

For dance aficionados, swing dancing is often described as a joyful, high-energy, improvisational street dance. Two Rensselaer undergraduate students, who are also members of the RPI Ballroom student club, have turned their love of swing dancing into a business opportunity.

Last month, founders and dancing partners Orian Breaux and Emily McNeight hit the dance floor with new recruits and seasoned swing dance veterans with the opening of the Swing Syndicate, a dance studio located in the heart of the city of Troy.

Swing dance is a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music between the 1920s and 1950s, although the earliest of these dances predate swing jazz music. The best known forms of the dance include the Lindy Hop, a popular partner dance, along with the Charleston and the Jitterbug.

“The Swing Syndicate adds a unique flair to downtown Troy’s exciting hub of culture and small business,” said Breaux, a senior majoring in aeronautical engineering. “With a number of shops, restaurants, and late-night establishments recently contributing to the area’s vibrant entertainment scene, the dance studio aims to provide a fun and welcoming environment where novice and experienced dancers can congregate.”

Breaux said that his first claim to fame in the dance world harkens back to winning an award during a seventh-grade dance contest. At Rensselaer, as a first-year student, he participated in the Destination Dance activity as part of the weeklong program of welcome events and team-building activities known as “Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond.” The program introduced students to several dance moves, including jazz, hip-hop, and ballet from professional instructors and members of the RPI Dance Club. Shortly, after that, at a friend’s urging, Breaux decided to join the RPI Ballroom Club, where he currently serves as president.

Over the summer, in working with several area dance organizations to teach swing dance lessons, Breaux and McNeight decided they wanted to open a studio in Troy.

“With swing dance events taking place at venues like Daisy Baker’s and Rensselaer, it was obvious that Troy was becoming the heart of the swing dance community in the Capital Region,” said McNeight, a sophomore majoring in mathematics. For McNeight, a dancer since the age of 4, much of her experience has been focused on ballet and jazz. “Coming to Rensselaer, and attending the annual Student Activities Fair provided me with an opportunity to try something new.” She, too, joined the RPI Ballroom Club.

With support and financial assistance from family and personal savings, the duo are leasing a street-level space located at 212 River Street. Basic renovations to the space included new flooring, painting the walls, new light fixtures, jazz-themed artwork, and sound equipment.

The Swing Syndicate will offer affordable group and private dance lessons, workshops, and weekly social dances. Breaux and McNeight will teach classes, along with two additional staff instructors. In addition, one-time hour-long introductory classes will be offered on the last Friday of each month as part of the monthly Troy Night Out event.

Already, Breaux and McNeight are thinking big, as they have several projects planned including hosting major dances with nationally recognized swing bands at larger venues in Troy. Also, plans for a gigantic swing dance festival — requiring parts of River Street to be blocked off to traffic — are currently being presented to city officials. In the near future, they also hope to offer classes to younger students and develop an after-school program.

However, both agree that their ultimate goal — through swing dancing — is to put the Capital Region on the map.

To get a glimpse of Breaux and McNeight swing dancing, see the video at mhee#p/a/u/0/zW2xEgVtk10.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 18, November 18, 2011
©2011 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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