'Swing Night' has feel of Prohibition-era dance hall
On Fridays, “Swing Night” on James Street has the feel of a Prohibiton-era dance hall.
Patrons enter through the dimly-lit back door of James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy on Pittsburgh's North Side, up a nondescript stairwell into a banquet hall with a wooden dance floor, laid in herringbone design, and 20-foot high ceiling.
A jazz band warms up on stage.
The first hour of the night's live music is dedicated to instruction — attendees range from newbies in their early 20s to veterans in their 70s.
On one night in early March, most of the 38 dancers include students and older couples.
“It is a social dance, and there is an extra-special energy when the dancers cut across the generations,” says Lisa Tames, a dance instructor. “When I started dancing in college in the 1980s, I loved dancing with the 50- and 60-year-olds who grew up doing this. They were great. They knew the dance better than anyone.”
The experienced dancers are easy to pick out; they change into their dance shoes at the tables lining the dance floor, while the less-confident practice moves.
When the music lowers, the group encircles another instructor, Lisa Matt, 39, of Natrona Heights.
“Who here hasn't ever danced before?” she asks.
Astha Desai, 20, a University of Pittsburgh student, hesitantly raises her hand.
“Well, don't worry,” says Matt, gesturing to the rest of the group, “all these dancers are here to help you learn. So don't be shy.”
Andrew Russell is a Trib Total Media photographer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.