Jazz hosts swing dance, sendoff for Essentially Ellington

By Annika Prom, Lifestyle Editor

All jazz ensembles hosted a New York-themed swing dance on Saturday, April 29th as a fundraiser to help send off Jazz Ensemble 1 (Jazz 1) to the 22nd Annual Essentially Ellington Competition & Festival (EE) on May 10th.

The HUB was adorned with lights and tables with well-known street names from New York. Jazz Ensemble 2/3 (Jazz 2/3) opened the night with a performance which was soon followed by a swing dance tutorial led by dance instructors F.J. and Catherine Abaya.

Dance instructors F.J. and Catherine Abaya can also be found teaching swing, ballroom, Latin and salsa dancing at the Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion, Edmonds Heights and the Verve Ballroom.

Everybody was happy and that’s the most important thing. It’s not just reading a sheet of music and playing the parts, it’s about feeling it.”

— Selena Williams

Families, friends and band members gathered around to learn Triple Time East Coast Swing, which was described by F.J. Abaya as being the most versatile of swing dance styles. He emphasized the importance of shifting weight while doing the rockstep, keeping the beat and following the signals given by the lead dancer.

The Abayas thought the participants learned the dance quickly, which is why they taught triple time swing rather than single time.

“They’re a very talented group. I’m very impressed with how they got everything,” Catherine said. “I find that musicians take the dancing really well because they understand beats and timing, so we went ahead and tried the harder [dance] which is East Coast Swing.”

Afterward, Music Boosters showed a video featuring the aspects of the EE festival, the meaning of jazz and the EE experience. Jazz 2/3 then performed as the audience took their new swing dance skills to the dance floor.

As Jazz 1 transitioned onto the makeshift stage, band director Darin Faul said the purpose of the swing dance was more than just a fundraiser.

“Music is meant to be danced to,” Faul said.

He reflected on his teaching career and the band program’s history with EE. Having first attended when he was 26 years old, Faul said he learned that attending EE is a “life changing event” and that being accepted to enter the festival goes beyond the efforts of this school year alone.

During the preparation process, Faul said his students have focused on “going deeper into music” and disseminating the works of composer Duke Ellington. He also told the audience to not ignore the racial inequalities that come with composing music as a black man, as they are still present in society.

“[The students] have worked harder on this than they have on anything else in their life,” Faul said. “We do invest time and energy into understanding music.”

The Music Boosters presented a video where former MTHS alumnae and EE attendees shared their experiences and gave advice for the upcoming event. Much of their advice to Jazz 1 was to take advantage of their environment and resources to learn about jazz and to ask any questions they have, addressing the fact that they will be learning from some of the most famous composers and musicians in the U.S.

Jazz 1 then performed for the rest of the night with sophomore Jazz 2 member Jackson Marrott filling in for senior Dylon Rajah, who could not attend the swing dance.

As the swing dance neared to an end, one last video arranged by Music Boosters was shown to the audience. The video was a slideshow of photos of Jazz 1 members along with personalized messages of encouragement from their friends and families for when the band takes on N.Y. Finally, Jazz 1 closed the event with “Leap Frog.”

By then, senior Selena Williams said she couldn’t feel her pinky toes from swing dancing. After being a dancer as a child and learning the moves from the last four years of annual swing dances, she easily adjusted to triple time swing.

“Everybody was happy and that’s the most important thing. It’s not just reading a sheet of music and playing the parts, it’s about feeling it,” Williams said.

She enjoyed taking a break from performing on a stage and instead being in a different scene where the audience can also dance and not just listen to the music. Williams felt the swing dance helped Jazz 1 ease her tension and nervousness for when EE comes around.

“It gives us a chance to wind down a little bit before we actually do the big performance [at Lincoln Center],” she said. “It’s honestly a bigger experience than any of us have gotten the opportunity [to live]. We’re just trying to process that this is actually happening still.”