Dancing the Night Away

It’s like a scene out of a college party movie: Music blasts through the rafters of a large, rustic cabin in the woods while a couple dozen students twirl around the dance floor. Meanwhile, a few others mingle on the fringes, connecting with friends. It’s well past midnight, so beverages are flowing freely to keep the party going.

Unlike the stereotypical party, though, this bash lacks booze and bad behavior. Instead, caffeine, conversation and crazy moves keep things light at the annual Bradley University Lindy Exchange (BULX) at Camp Wokanda on Peoria’s north edge. It’s the traditional last dance to wrap up a weekend of FUN for several dozen college students from around the Midwest.

“I’m not one to party, and the exchange is so much more fun than any night out,” said Stephanie Dierks ’20, president of the Bradley University Swing Dance Society. “Events like this show you don’t need to be doing that to have fun.”

Camp Wokanda is a small part of the collegiate swing dance culture, which features weekends, or “exchanges,” at universities around the U.S. Traditionally, host colleges find a nontraditional venue for one of the dances. These hot spots can be barns, restaurants, rivers and other places. And, as Bradley students learned from study abroad experiences, dance culture transcends geography and language barriers. Here are tales from unique spots to cut a rug.

Peoria — the “spooky cabin in the woods“

Jenna Krukowski ’16 led the charge to find a spot for Bradley’s first dance. After some anxious moments hunting for a location, BULX ’13 started a tradition that outlasted winter snowstorms before the date moved to warmer spring weather. Krukowski recalled:

“I count Camp Wokanda as a victory in the midst of a venue crisis. Venues at that time are a little hard to come by, especially ones with a dance floor. … That first BULX was the absolute best. So many of us were crowded in this cabin, probably on our second or third winds by that point, dancing and stomping along to the music. You could feel the energy in the air radiating off the floorboards.“

Illinois State — Denny’s

A few miles down I-74, the Illinois State Lindy Exchange entertains workers and overnight diners at the Bloomington Denny’s. The fall event is an enjoyable way for Midwestern college students to kick off the school year.

“It’s not every day that someone decides a large crowd is going to dance in a restaurant at midnight for the next four hours,” Dierks said. “People who walked through got a good laugh seeing a bunch of people dancing, and the staff didn’t seem to mind. I bet the other patrons had a good story to tell their families after seeing us in the room.”

Michigan — KissME in Ann Arbor

For dancers wanting a summer road trip, KissME in Ann Arbor (Keep it Simple and Swing Michigan Exchange) is a Bradley favorite. It’s marked by an iconic Sunday afternoon dancing in the Huron River with a live band playing water-themed music from the shore. As Yenitza Castillo ’18 described it:

“Everyone is laughing and smiling because, after a long weekend of workshops and real dancing, this is our time to have fun, be silly and dance with our new and old friends. The water isn’t too deep, but it’s definitely challenging since you have to watch out for rocks and have a current working against you. That complicates the moves and steps, but people tend to be more relaxed and less concerned with the moves. It’s more about having fun and enjoying the water on a hot day.”

Germany — the Freiburg library

For some of Bradley’s adventurous travelers, swing became a universal language to connect with people during study abroad semesters. Students have explored dance scenes in Italy, Spain, Denmark and England.

Blake Glueck ’19 made the most of his semester in Freiburg, Germany. The city’s popular dance spot happened to be outside a library, where a fountain once stood. The paved-over landmark made a perfect dance floor. In addition, it was a diverse group as young adults would travel from nearby Switzerland and France to socialize every Tuesday night.

“Language was optional because dancing is universal,” Glueck said. “You could see instructions in two languages, but if you didn’t understand them, you went with the flow and picked it up. It was amazing how similar their dance styles were to mine.”

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