Swinging Spurs troupe brings competitive country dance style to life

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For some, it started when they were in high school. Or when they got serenaded. Or three weeks ago.

The members of K-State’s Country Two-Step and Swing Club joined for different reasons, but they stay for the fun and competition.

The club was originally started by Ariel VanHouse, senior in accounting, three years ago. She became interested when a fraternity serenaded her scholarship house, Clovia.

“I thought, ‘How come K-State does not have a club like this?'” VanHouse said. “It is a big (agriculture) school. We should have a club like this.”

VanHouse decided to be a part of filling that void.

“We used to have it on Monday nights, the ‘downer days,'” VanHouse said. “Our main objective was to cheer people up (with) stress relief and physical activity. It also helps people meet people.”

They’ve since moved the dance night, which they hold in the K-State Student Union Courtyard, to every Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Last fall, some of the club’s members decided to create a competitive performance group known as the Swinging Spurs, a branch-off from the original club.

The push to create a competitive dance troupe from the club came from its adviser, Donita Whitney-Bammerlin.

“I suggested we have this team because there is a lot of talent and a lot of things people would like to watch,” Whitney-Bammerlin, academic program coordinator in the department of management, said. “I also thought they could serve as ambassadors to K-State and also advocate for the arts, music and dance, and then showcase some of our student talent.”

Thomas Weeks, captain of the competitive troupe and junior in communication studies, said that Whitney-Bammerlin encouraged the Swinging Spurs to form and utilize her network of professional connections to not only find performances, but also to make connections of their own.

“Having the previous idea of the students, plus her having a better network, (she was) able to reach out to other people and find other events to perform at,” Weeks said. “She was really the building block we (needed) to put it together.”

The members of the Swinging Spurs currently fund most of the costs to perform themselves. However, Weeks said he hopes the club will eventually be able to financially self-sustainable, allowing for performers to be reimbursed for travel expenses to shows and other costs.

“It really does take a lot of time, and hinders other people’s ability to get an outside job and do other things” Weeks said.

The troupe usually practices two nights a week for between two and four hours at a time. However, practice can take up to 10 or more hours a week when the troupe is preparing for a performance.

“We are always busy, always booked up, which only confirmed my original idea that there was a need for entertainment,” Whitney-Bammerlin said.

The group performed five times last fall without advertising. The first performance was at the College of Agriculture’s barn party. After the performance, the group gave dance lessons to the attendees. The troupe will perform at Union Program Council’s Dancing with K-State Stars on Feb. 25.

The members of Swinging Spurs, while all originally active in the Country Two-Step and Swing group, were chosen by four judges. Using a set of auditions, the troupe chose 15 members whom are now included in the performances.

“Judges are completely independent, so we do not judge ourselves,” Weeks said. “We bring in outside talent. People from the community who have a background in dance or coaching or instructing.”

Ben Bellar, senior in agricultural technology systems, serves as the troupe’s equipment manager and sound technician. He said that the group enjoys trying to perfect past song lists but also looks forward to coming up with new routines.

“They are hoping to come up with a couple new dances this semester, hopefully one to (a) Granger Smith song,” Bellar said.

Last semester, the performance song list included “Hicktown” by Jason Aldean, K-State’s “Wabash Cannonball,” “Cotton Eyed Joe” by Rednex and a Christmas song.

Many members said they enjoy the socializing and developing the skills they have gained from swing dancing. Kellie Young, junior in geology who got started with swing dancing in high school, sees the activity as a life-long hobby.

“I think that swing dance and two-step is great, because most things you do in life competitively or do actively, you will not be able to do those for the rest of your life,” Young said. “But I think I will be able to dance the rest of my life. I just like to think that I can dance at weddings anytime, I go out and I can dance. This is something I can do for the next 50 or 60 years.”

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