By: Daniel Montaño, Staff Reporter | Photo By: Daniel Montaño
Poodle skirts, cowboy boots, bowling shirts, zoot suits and big band music—normally one would be hard pressed to find all of these in a single spot.
But it is not too hard to find if one has $4 and looks in at the CNM Main campus’s backyard on a Tuesday night.
In the Heights Community Center at 823 Buena Vista Drive SE, every Tuesday from 7:30 p.m. until the music stops at around 10:30 p.m., one can learn to swing with the Calming Four Primordial Dance Group. Operator, co-founder and former CNM instructor Desi Brown said the weekly event is an informal collection of people who come from every walk of life, and every skill level, who unite every week to have some fun by cutting a rug, swing style.
Brown is one of four people who established the dance group almost 15 years ago and said that although the group started with four friends who needed a place to practice swing dancing, it has developed into a gathering of about 250 people from all over Albuquerque.
“It’s really everybody and it’s really unique because we have the beginners’ lessons but we get everything. People bring in their 5-year-old kids and we also get senior citizens in their 70s and 80s,” he said.
The group has dance lessons, professional sound equipment, more than enough room for 250 people to comfortably dance in and a DJ every week with live bands once a month, Brown said.
The group’s beginner’s lesson lasts for about an hour and a half and covers all of the basics of swing dancing, from steps to spin, he said.
“We cover a lot of ground in the lesson. People get about six weeks worth of dance lessons in a little over an hour,” he said.
The Calming Four is a nonprofit organization, so after the group covers expenses like rent, sound equipment and insurance, any extra income from the suggested $4 donation to get in goes to charity.
“It’s a donation and if people don’t have money, we’ll let them in. Sometimes they only have a dollar and that’s fine. The money pays the bills, but beyond that when we have any extra money, we donate it to social justice or environmental justice causes. Over the past 15 years we’ve donated roughly $55 thousand to various nonprofits,” he said.
Not only does the group hold lessons for those who have never danced before, there are also intermediate lessons that focus on more advanced techniques for those seeking to refine their skills, Brown said. Jeff Whitlock, a senior airman in the Air Force, is a regular attendee who said he first got introduced to the group two years ago by a friend who convinced him that all classy military men know how to dance and suggested that they go to a few lessons.
Whitlock learned how to swing dance in The Calming Four’s dance classes and said that now he has been in several competitions, such as Kirtland’s got Talent, and 505 Stomp for Rhythm Dance Company in Nob Hill, and has even won a few of them.
“Now I’m going to Canada for two weeks for an international Lindy exchange,” he said.
Brown teaches the beginning swing dance lessons that start at 7:30 p.m., but said that his teaching experience began at CNM where, after he got his associate degree in Construction Management, he was a Construction Technology instructor in courses involving environmentally conscious pond and waterfall construction. Now Brown holds the events as a way to have some fun and blow off steam after working at UNM where he is working on his Master’s Degree and Ph.D. in American Studies, and is a part-time instructor and adviser for undergraduates in the Peace Studies program, he said.
“I love teaching the beginning lessons. I personally haven’t learned a new dance move in 12 years. I just have fun with the basic stuff. For me it’s all about seeing this all-ages thing that happens that you don’t see anywhere else. It’s about seeing an 85-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy that have never met before dance with each other,” he said.
Brown said that the dance group is open to anyone of any age and that CNM students are encouraged to come and check out the group.
“Dancing isn’t that hard and it’s a really great release from finals and tests and stuff like that. It’s especially great for CNM students because you can just walk out the back door and you are here,” he said.
For more information on the Calming Four primordial dance group visit their website at thecalmingfour.org, or visit the Heights Community Center at 823 Buena Vista Drive SE, on Tuesdays.