Couples & Cowboys: Jasmine Worrell Dance Connects Cultures Through Swing Dance

Is there a more inclusive dance than swing? Swing, historically used to refer to a style of jazz, emerged as a dance in the big band era of the 1920s and ’30s, evolving with jazz and becoming famously associated with big band leaders like Glen Miller, Count Basie and Cab Calloway and the Cotton Club Orchestra. Countless dances emerged during this era — the Lindy Hop, Shag, Balboa, Salsa, Zydeco and Charleston are just a few that survived and are still with us today. 

Brenda Fischer, evening manager at Woodlands Market in Tiburon, always liked to go out and freestyle dance but never felt comfortable with her personal dance style. After receiving a coupon in the mail from San Anselmo’s Jasmine Worrell Dance, she took a month-long swing dance class and got the basics down. Pretty soon, she was following bands, going out dancing on her nights off as part of the Swing Nuts, a group of fellow dancers loosely affiliated with Worrell’s studio. “We all met at Jasmine’s class,” confirms Fischer. 

Creating an Inclusive Space

Worrell, who is also a part of the all-woman Argentine tango dance company, Tango Con*Fusión, teaches a lot of swing — five or six classes a week in San Anselmo and Petaluma. Her classes attract a mix of age groups and backgrounds. “It’s moms and daughters, couples and cowboys,” Worrell says. “It’s people who are interested in connecting.” And dancing. Though many people who come to Worrell’s classes fit into the Baby Boom demographic, Worrell’s enthusiasm for her work and clear delight in building a community where people feel happy attracts dancers of all ages. Younger Millennials often come by themselves, drawn, perhaps, by this most American style of dance, one that can be performed to pretty much any style of music. “Dancers get to make it their own,” Worrell says. “You can dance swing to rock and roll or the Talking Heads or John Legend or contemporary music.” 

Swing Nuts: For the Love of Dance

Swing dancers often become Swing Nuts, too. Begun by Steve Johnson, who also took lessons from Worrell, the Swing Nuts evolved from — but are not a part of — Worrell’s dance studio. Swing Nuts are an eager group of swing dancers, an email list of enthusiasts with an eye on where the bands are playing. (Worrell keeps a calendar of her dance classes and social dance venues hosting live music on her website, too.) 

Though Swing Nuts are often seen grooving at the Mill Valley Community Center when Starduster Tuesdays offer a chance to dance to a 16-piece band playing swing, tango and other social dance music from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, the Swing Nuts venture around the Bay Area. Fischer says there is no secret sauce to the Swing Nuts. It’s all about having fun. “It’s the only thing that is on your mind while you are out there,” Fischer says. “You’re not thinking about work or anything else. It’s the sheer joy of dancing that leaves us breathless but also looking forward to our next dance outing,” Fischer says.

Springsteen Swing

Music from somewhat more modern times turned John Boatwright from a dancer into a Swing Nut. Boatwright, technical director for San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, went to one of Worrell’s classes at his sister’s behest. “I wasn’t quite getting it, so I kept going so I could get better,” Boatwright says. During a private lesson with Boatwright, Worrell put on a song from Bruce Springsteen. “It was the first time I heard a song that I knew,” Boatwright says. “I could suddenly do it!” He credits Worrell for being an amazing teacher and friend, a friend who encourages him to tweak and improve his dancing. It helps that Worrell’s studio is a safe place to learn and make mistakes. She’s not interested in perfection. Fun is the order of the day. “Play, express yourself, connect. I want community and for people to feel happy. In that, people unfold into dancers with grace and ease,” she says.

Though Worrell offers dance classes for weddings and is a well-known wedding dance choreographer, Worrell may soon become known as a matchmaker, too. Boatwright and fellow swing dancer, Cynthia Wells started dancing together at Jason’s (now closed) in Greenbrae. “Jasmine kept pointing out Cynthia,” Boatwright says. Shortly thereafter, Johnson, who runs the Swing Nuts, planned an evening at Celia’s Mexican Restaurant in San Rafael. Cynthia was there. “Steve and Jasmine faded away,” Boatwright says. The two are getting married in July on the stage of the opera house. After the ceremony, there will be a dance party in the Green Room at the San Francisco War Memorial. Some Springsteen will likely be played. 

Jasmine Worrell Dance

167 Tunstead Ave, San Anselmo