Its moves are rooted in the '30s, evolving through World War II, rhythm and blues, and the hustle, but dancers Renee Lipman and Tommy Gibbs are certain they can sell the allure of West Coast Swing to the hip-hop generation.
The official state dance of California, West Coast Swing is touted by devotees for its broad appeal and adaptability.
"You can dance to anything, from slow to fast, anything from blues to jazz to hip-hop to rap,'' said Lipman, 52, who fell in love with West Coast Swing three years ago.
Now she and Gibbs hope to entice young people in the Tampa Bay area to do the same. They're offering free lessons to 16- to 21-year-olds who can't afford to pay. Students must commit to three months of lessons — August to October — with the payoff being a chance to attend the Tampa Bay Classic Swing Dance Championships in November.
Lipman and Gibbs, who compete nationally, hope to recruit about 20 young dancers. Gibbs will award scholarships to a dozen to attend the three-day international event at the TradeWinds on St. Pete Beach.
"If we find more than 12 kids, we'll find the money,'' said Gibbs, 63.
"Our motivation is to get some young people interested in dancing,'' Lipman said. "As we travel the competitive circuit around the country, we see a lot of young kids. In this area, I don't think they know a lot about it. We just want to introduce young people to it because it is so awesome.''
Gibbs, who lives in Treasure Island, said West Coast Swing helps young dancers develop important social skills.
"It makes them a part of something that is bigger than themselves,'' he said. "They are in an environment in which they are dancing with lots of different people in the country and in the world. And it helps them understand that all people have this common bond of music and dancing.''
The dance, according to a California government Web site, emerged in the early 1930s "in response to new musical forms then sweeping the land.'' Related to swing and the jitterbug, West Coast Swing is described as intricate and "requiring a great deal of coordination, good timing and intelligent application.''
Last weekend, Lipman and Gibbs led several dancers through a new routine they'll perform for the Tampa Bay Classic. At the end of the Saturday morning class, she and Gibbs demonstrated the sensual dance form in a series of effortless moves and patterns.
"We do pretty well competitively,'' said Lipman, who won a silver medal in the 2007 U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships with a previous partner.
To Gibbs, her partner on and off the dance floor, Lipman is "an amazing talent.'' The executive assistant at Menorah Manor has been dancing since she was a child, but discovered West Coast Swing only three years ago.
Gibbs, a motivational speaker, had no dance background when he decided to learn West Coast Swing after seeing it at the New York, New York nightclub in Clearwater. He and Lipman met on the dance circuit. They've since taken courses with top West Coast Swing instructors and professionals and have been teaching for almost two years.
Those who take the couple up on their offer of free lessons will learn moves like sugar tucks, basket whips and push breaks. Phil Dorroll, owner of Dance America Dance Studio off East Bay Drive in Largo, is donating the facility for the classes.
If successful, Lipman believes the effort could mark a new era for West Coast Swing in Tampa Bay. As for her young students, "I think they'll get some immediate fun and a lifelong love of dancing, something they can do from now until they're old people,'' she said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.