When Brek and Johanna Douglas first started swing dancing together, they were far from in sync.
“I was a very slow learner,” Brek said. “The very first time I went to dance lessons we had an altercation because I think she expected me to be this wonderful knight in shining armor that picked up dancing just like that and it took me awhile.”
“I kind of did,” Johanna said. “I was expecting him to learn faster. But, it’s alright. He stuck with it, which was impressive after the first bad run.”
And he stuck with her. They’ve dated for seven years and now they’re newlyweds, going on seven months. For the couple now in their early twenties, swing dancing has become a part of their everyday lives and now they’re passing on their skills to area residents through the Pendleton Heights neighborhood swing night, which is held every third Wednesday of the month.
“We love helping people learn how to dance and we really wanted to do something in this area now that we live here,” she said.
“We love the neighborhood and we love swing dancing and I think you always want to combine what you love,” Brek said.
Learning how to swing dance wasn’t originally at the top of Brek’s list. His main motive for learning was to impress a girl named Johanna, he said.
“When I was first learning how to dance, I basically had six moves and I would cycle them through,” he said.
“I would space them out, so it wouldn’t look like I was using the six over and over again, but I really was. Then, as you get to learn the songs and the dance more, it becomes about musicality and you decide what move to do based on what’s coming up in the music. It goes from just recycling your moves to doing your moves based on the music.”
Knowing how to match your moves to the music separates the good leaders from the “not so good leaders,” Johanna added.
Through practicing during class and practicing in the living room, the couple honed their dancing skills and tried out for The Swingsters, a performance swing dancing team based in Overland Park, Kan. Together, they’ve been on The Swingsters for nearly 3 ½ years and have performed for events ranging from corporate parties to weddings to Theater in the Park, among others. Due to their height difference – she’s 5’2″ and he’s 6’3″ – they dance with different partners on the team.
With any performance team, mistakes and mishaps are bound to happen and the Douglases haven’t been immune.
There was the Christmas party where Brek’s pants split in the middle of the performance from the bottom of his crotch to the top of his rear. Then, there was the time Johanna changed clothes and forgot to put on her bloomers following a performance.
“I had pink ruffly panties and everybody saw them,” she said. “I totally thought people were watching me because I was so good and I realized they were watching me because of my panties.”
“You didn’t tell me about that one,” Brek said. “Well, this has been a revealing interview.”
Recently, the couple joined a magician’s act and incorporate dancing during the show. However, during one of their first performances, Johanna had bronchitis and the couple wasn’t clicking on the dance floor. For one move, Johanna is supposed to blow a kiss to Brek who pretends to faint while she does swivel steps around him.
“Apparently, I made it too realistic,” Brek said. “I was trying to do the dance move and she grabs me by the waist and says, ‘Oh babe, are you okay?!’”
“He looked like he had just blacked out on stage and was toppling,” Johanna said. “He was kind of ticked at me for messing up his big move. We kind of stopped dancing for a second and had to regroup. It was bad.”
The Douglases take mistakes in stride and said swing dancing has strengthened their bond as a couple.
“It gives you common ground,” she said. “It gives you another area where you can work together on something.”
If there is tension, it’s difficult not to eventually smile and let loose.
“The style of it is very upbeat and happy,” she said. “It’s impossible not to smile when you’re dancing swing or watching someone dance. It just feels joyful.”