Photos by Hayley Young ::
Words by Michael Augusta ::
Outlaw Swing is a free-style form of dancing that incorporates elements of two-step and traditional swing…and whiskey drinking. It’s not about proper form or learning a prescribed series of steps. When I first took lessons (Western Swing) I hated the formality of it, so after I learned the basics I quit and just started going out “honky tonkin” with friends and practicing what I learned. Once you get out there and do it you develop your own style. As for the name Outlaw Swing – it’s because we disregard formal rules and routines and just go out there to dance, drink, and have a good time.
A proper gentleman knows how to dance properly. Seattle has an amazing country music scene. Not the “top 40” new country bullshit that’s popular these days, but real-deal, old school honky tonk music. I’ve been part of that community for 10 years now and there are few things more fun than a good night of honky tonkin’. Partner dancing is a great way to meet people and engage with them on a physically intimate, yet platonic, level. It’s also great exercise. However, partner dancing is a dying art. It used to be that everyone learned to dance in school and could at least do a rudimentary waltz or two-step. Nowadays, twerking and dub-step count as dancing – it’s a sign of the coming apocalypse. My mission is to introduce people to partner dancing in an updated, less formal, more approachable format…and maybe save the world at the same time
Did I mention the whiskey? Outlaw Swing is first and foremost about having fun and being social. The group lessons pictured are a great way to learn the basics and get your feet wet with more advanced moves. When I teach, I break it down into segments – the “basic” step that acts as the starting/reset point, followed by turns and other moves. The idea is to learn to combine the different segments into a cohesive dance routine that varies depending on the individual’s skill level and the song that’s being danced to. If you enjoy the group lessons and really want to step up your game, I highly recommend private lessons.
The group lessons have been held at Underwood Stables (Fremont) and Conor Byrne (Ballard). Since Underwood will be moving to a yet-to-be-determined space, we decided to have lessons there exclusively through the end of October when the space will close. After October, we will likely move back to Conor Byrne but are also planning to have lessons at The Royal Room (Columbia City) as well. I would certainly teach elsewhere and we will be actively looking for new locations. For private lessons, I either have them at my place or at the “student’s” location. It’s best to have a location with wood floors.
I look for songs with a very straightforward country beat – mainly two-step or western swing. The kind of music that make you want to tap your feet. I’m sure people are sick of it by now, but I love playing anything by Buck Owens. It’s perfect for learning Outlaw Swing. I also like to play local honky tonk bands. If the beat is right you can’t help but move. **It’s important to point out that while I prefer honky tonk music, Outlaw Swing works great with most other country music, rockabilly, western swing, big band swing, and others – any music with that basic swing beat…I’ve even done it to hip hop once or twice! It’s a very versatile style.
I’ve taught many “hopeless” guys to lead. My style of teaching is very informal and non-judgmental. I like for people to have fun while they learn. I’ve had people tell me that they took lessons before and didn’t like it, but that they really enjoyed my lessons and more importantly, they learned something and wanted to come back. Not only is dancing fun, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your relationship. It’s almost like couples therapy. I touch on that topic as part of what I teach – the role (lead or follow) that each person is responsible for filling. It’s amazing how resistant people can be to taking charge or letting go. And if you happen to be single? There is no better way to meet people than to ask them to dance. It’s the ultimate ice-breaker.
(Thanks Michael, and we never get tired of Buck Owens, or watching your graduates do the Outlaw Swing at shows! See y’all on the dancefloor -AST)
Top Song: Buck Owens – “My Heart Skips A Beat”
Bottom Song: Buck Owens – “Close Up The Honky Tonks”