Loyola students build bonds by learning socially acceptable swing dancing

2012-05-10T21:45:00Z 2012-05-11T06:26:26Z Loyola students build bonds by learning socially acceptable swing dancingBy JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian
May 10, 2012 9:45 pm  • 

Like plenty of today’s high school students, Morgan Griffin has learned much of what he knows about dancing from YouTube. But unlike many of his peers, he isn’t worried about what his parents and teachers will think about his moves.

On Thursday morning, in a corner of the old gymnasium at Loyola Sacred Heart High School, he showed off some fancy tricks in front of a group of teachers and dance judges, rolling his partner, Becky Berland, repeatedly over his back and twirling her at high speed.

“We just watched what other people were doing on YouTube and figured it out ourselves,” said Griffin, panting and grinning after the dance. “It’s nice to have some tricks you can pull out when the music is playing.”

Griffin and Berland were among more than 90 students who participated in a morning sock hop and dance contest at Loyola. Led by English teacher Jennifer Walworth, the dance showcased swing moves taught to the students over the course of the school year by Walworth, fellow English teacher Tayleigh Sykes and a handful of other teachers.

Walworth said that she started teaching the students to swing dance last year out of a desire to create a wider web of bonds among students, and to help those same students learn a more socially acceptable style of dance than they commonly see in popular music videos on YouTube.

“In the last few years, there’s been a lot of flak across the nation about school dances being canceled because of all the grinding,” she said, referencing a sexually suggestive style of dance (also known as “freaking”) that in recent years has migrated from the sets of music videos and “Jersey Shore” into many high school dances, much to the chagrin of administrators and parents.

“The thing is, the kids were saying, ‘Yeah, but we just don’t know how to dance,’ ” continued Walworth. “So this seemed like a great way to build community, teach the students something new that they can use for the rest of their lives and just share something that I enjoy.”


Walworth’s plan dovetailed neatly with a schoolwide program at Loyola known as LSH Advocacy Groups, which aims to build pockets of community within the school. Every year, each teacher is assigned a group of students to mentor through the program.

“Each teacher is supposed to find their own way to help create a sense of community within the school,” said Walworth. “So I’d have a group of 16 freshman or sophomore girls, and throughout the year I would work with them to help them build connections among themselves and with their larger peer group.

“I didn’t know a better way to create community than through dance.”

That inspiration bore out at Thursday’s dance, where students from all classes and corners of the school gathered and worked through a dance card of eight partners while the school’s band played classic swing tunes including “In the Mood,” “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” and “Night Train.”

“I’ve enjoyed having everyone get together and be able to have fun doing the same style of dance,” said Leo John Bird, an energetic junior who participated in Thursday’s dance. “You can add your own funky twist, and it’s just nice to accomplish a difficult style of dance rather than just waving your arms and legs around.”

Maddy Malsan, a senior at the school, came dressed for the dance in a polka-dot blouse, white skirt, pink Converse tennis shoes and colorful knee-high socks.

“I’ve really like dancing, hanging out, and dressing up – obviously,” she said, gesturing with a laugh to her own outfit. “I think it’s way better and more appropriate for school and a great thing to learn.”

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, or on

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