Chico dance team hopes to swing their way to first place

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West Coast Swing dancing team, That Chico Team. Photo credit: Michael Arias

In 2011, a West Coast swing dancing team named That Chico Team took third place in one of the largest swing dance competitions in the world, the U.S. Open.

But that was five years ago, and now the same team with different members is preparing for a chance to dance its way into first place at the competition this year.

That Chico Team disbanded shortly after its first debut as a team at the 2011 U.S. Open, because most of the team wasn’t returning.

One of the dancers who left, Matthew Taylor, 23, came up with the idea to start a team.

Taylor left the team because he had just graduated from Chico State and was moving back to Santa Rosa, he said. But now that he is back in Chico for the graduate program in marriage and family therapy, he wanted to get the team going again.

West Coast Swing is a partner dance where a “leader” and a “follower” is needed to execute this modern form of swing dancing.

Taylor, an “advanced” swing dancer, describes West Coast Swing as dancing more with straight legs and moving forward and back, instead of side-to-side.

“The thing about West Coast Swing is it’s one of the most evolving dances,” he said. “West Coast this year is pretty much a completely different dance from when West Coast started. And that’s because it’s a very social dance.”

Over the years the West Coast Swing dancing scene has grown more popular, especially in California, Taylor said.

However, the amount of team swing dancing competitions is limited due to the fact that it’s difficult to get a team together to compete, according to Megan Grandfield, team coach and West Coast Swing instructor at Studio One.

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Megan Grandfield and John Piper, That Chico Team coaches. Photo credit: Michael Arias

“That’s also what makes this division so hard,” Taylor said. “Because if you’re doing a team routine, you’re doing it for the U.S. Open.”

The U.S. Open is the highest level of competition for all types of swing dancing, Grandfield said. She even called it the “Super Bowl of swing dancing.”

Grandfield was a dancer on the 2011 team that took third place at the U.S. Open. It’s not common for a West Coast Swing team to rank that highly at such a competition, she said.

“A lot of times there are other dances that tend to sometimes show a little bit better in the team dynamic,” Grandfield said. “Usually more often than not, the team that wins first place at the U.S. Open would be a Lindy Hop team.”

Lindy Hop is a more traditional type of swing dance where “lifts” and “throws” are allowed, where in West Coast Swing it isn’t as common.

Grandfield and Taylor both agree that the new talent on the team this year is more than capable to take first place at the U.S. Open in November.

But Grandfield said she thinks the team’s real edge comes from the fact that it’s from Chico.

“We tend to focus on different aspects of the dance than a lot of other communities do,” Grandfield said. “So I think we’re gonna have a very clever routine this year.”

The U.S. Open is scheduled to take place in Burbank, California.

It is going to take somewhere between $7,000 and $8,000 to fund the trip for their 14 dancers, Grandfield said. So in an effort help reach this total, each member is creating a GoFundMe page.

“Each team member should be trying to raise about $550,” Grandfield said.

One of the teams new dancers, Amber O’Connell, has already raised $475 of her part.

The 20-year-old from Redding has been dancing West Coast Swing for two and a half years and is already considered an “advanced” dancer. However, the U.S. Open will be her first team competition.

“I feel like starting with a team will make me feel a lot more comfortable since there is a lot of us out there,” O’Connell said.

With six months left to practice, they are having one practice a week right now, sometimes two, Grandfield said. But that will most likely increase as the competition gets closer.

Michael Arias can be reached at [email protected] or @mikey_arias on Twitter.