I first met Scott Angelius and Kelly Arsenault at Remedy over coffee and with little prompting got that they like the vibe in Knoxville. Scott, who is originally from Fort Worth, but more recently lived in Austin said that Knoxville reminded him of that weird and cool Texas city.
By contrast, Kelly was born and raised here. She danced in the Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble and Circle Modern Dance before moving to New York City, which is where she first focused in on swing dance. As she pursued it professionally, she moved to different cities and danced with Mickey Fortanasce, her dance partner at the time.
I expressed some surprise that swing would be big in New York. I’d always associated it more with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys or with the Carolina coast. It turns out that swing dancing originated in Harlem in the 1920’s. Other variations include Balboa, Lindy Hop and Charleston. The Carolina Shag is a variant of the Lindy Hop and the music and dance evolved together as it spread across the country. While the different styles of swing dancing have become more homogenized, the couple told me that in the past it was possible to determine whether a person learned in Paris or the west coast or elsewhere by how they danced.
I expressed surprise, once again, that such a strong scene might be found in Paris. Turns out, it’s actually quite strong throughout Europe, perhaps owing to strong infusion of arts generally into the culture there. There was an explosion in the popularity of the dance starting in 1998 and traceable to a Gap commercial. Europe soon followed, though the top level instructors in those early years were from the U.S., though that is less so, now. One of the biggest swing dance scenes in the world is actually in Seoul, South Korea.
Kelly and Mickey won a contest in California and as a result were invited to dance in Berlin, which spurred their travel even more. Kelly realized that teaching, being an accountant, and traveling were very difficult, so she focused on dance. Scott, meanwhile, had established his presence in the Austin scene with his company The Lindy Project and hosting the Lone Star Championships there.
Kelly says she is really glad she left east Tennessee because it gave her a perspective on the world which she really appreciates. Eventually, she told Scott she felt family and the mountains of east Tennessee calling her and he readily agreed to move to Knoxville. His full-time job in Austin involved economic research and the company agreed he could simply do the job from Knoxville.
Scott had only been to Knoxville once before agreeing to the move. He and Kelly were both attracted to the downtown area. Though she grew up in west Knoxville, Kelly had fallen in love with cities and Scott noted that while Austin had a cool downtown, he lived so far out of the center city he didn’t have much chance to enjoy it. Kelly had also fallen in love with old homes. After touring a home only via the internet on an ipad, they bought their current residence in Old North.
They moved just this past September and immediately established K-Town Swing (like their FB page here). Scott watched the Austin scene grow from a small group in which one company started, then another. Eventually, there were as many as five hundred people at a weekly event. The couple would like to see the same thing happen in Knoxville. They’d like to see people of all ages – both the UT students and younger people currently involved – as well as older dancers and long-term Knoxville residents.
Scott and Kelly are very busy, continuing to travel, but maintaining a very active presence in their new hometown. You can see them this Saturday at the Rossini Festival. They will perform and teach a lesson on the Market Square Stage right around 3:15 PM. Their next round of monthly series, featuring Intermediate Lindy and Balboa classes, start May 7. The monthly series cost $50 per person for a total of four classes when you register online. There are also student discounts and dance packages available.
I attended one of their classes and found it to be an energetic, fun-filled experience, though with some intense teaching. Partners are swapped about the room, instructors demonstrate, educate and mingle with the students. The classes are held in the large room in the back of Remedy Coffee.
Never tried it, but want to give it a go? They offer a Beginner’s Bootcamp each month, with the next falling on May 23. You may register alone or with a partner and the cost is $50 ($45 pre-registration). But you are a reader of Inside of Knoxville, so how about a break on that price? How does free sound?
I’ve got a free pass for two people to take the Saturday Bootcamp (any month through September). We’ll use the same system as the Rhythm n Blooms giveaway: Send an email to Knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com. Include “Dance Giveaway” in the subject line and a good phone number in the subject line. I’ll keep it open until 8:00 PM tomorrow night and pick a winner. I’ll notify you and make arrangements to pick up the certificate.
Finally, here are a couple of videos that give you an idea of what they are up to. The first is a beginner’s bootcamp recap and the second features Kelly and Scott dancing with his dance team. Enjoy.