Every month, residents of North Shore Collinwood lace up their dancing shoes, slip on their coolest clothes, and head down to the Slovenian Workmen’s Home to take a step back in time and swing.
It’s all thanks to Valerie Salstrom, world-renowned swing dancer and the creative force behind Get Hep Swing. Salstrom brought ultra-low cost (many times free) swing dance lessons to the neighborhood back in 2012, but she’s taught the timeless form of dance to Cleveland’s neighborhoods for decades.
As part of Collinwood 2015 – Northeast Shores Development Corporation’s initiative that aligns the arts with community health – Salstrom took her monthly Saturday dances at the Slovenian Workmen’s Home and is offering free admission for five months, which began in August. The final two sessions are Saturday, Nov. 28 and Saturday, Dec. 26., each starting at 5:00 pm.
Swing dance and its many forms – Lindy hop, balboa, jitterbug to name a few – was a natural choice for health programming, accordingly to Salstrom. Swing dance is an activity anyone can do, regardless of age, experience or even physical ability. Dancers can add as much bounce and movement to the routine as they find comfortable.
It also exercises the brain. Swing dance requires quick thinking as dancers react to their partner’s moves. It’s also a highly social activity, where dancers can arrive on their own and leave with a dozen new friends. The craziest part of it all? Because of the nature of dance, you don’t even have to talk to your partner to make a connection.
Salstrom mixes experienced and novice dancers at all of her community dances, rotating partners dozens of times over the course of an evening.
She knows how it can be for a first-timer who didn’t grow up with dance: that’s how she got her start.
After graduating college with a degree in marketing, Salstrom lived and worked in Los Angeles for a few years. She had never taken dance lessons growing up and didn’t consider herself coordinated, let alone a dancer. But that changed when she finally attended a dance and was asked to swing for the first time.
Something clicked in that moment. Salstrom felt a connection to the music, the rhythm of the dance, the living history in the 1920s to 50s styles, the bonding with another person. She was hooked.
After that, Salstrom began to learn as much about swing dance as she could. She moved back to Cleveland in 1994 but didn’t see swing dance offered like she was looking for. Swing hadn’t made its way back to the East coast like it had in the West. She kept going back to California for lessons, workshops and events. As Midwest and Eastern cities began to embrace swing again, she took fewer and fewer trips to California and instead found herself in places like Toronto and Pittsburgh.
In Cleveland, the up-and-coming swing dancer worked part time and organized huge swing dances in her free time. Her pop-up events became more and more popular; her regular attendees wanted progressive lessons and chances to grow.
In 1998, Salstrom quit her job at the Summit County Red Cross and took on swing dance full time, founding Get Hep Swing. She started competing in national and international competitions. And she was winning.
As Salstrom’s name spread in the international swing dance community, she began teaching at venues across Ohio and the world. Get Hep Swing became an institution at venues in Cleveland, like the Bohemian National Home in Slavic Village where she taught lessons for 14 years.
International acclaim didn’t diminish Salstrom’s commitment to her community, though. At the end of the day, Salstrom strives to make swing dance accessible for everyone. She knows what it’s like to grow up in a family that can’t spare monthly expenses for dance lessons.
Partnerships with organizations across the region allows her to offer free after school lessons for kids, and free or discounted community events in addition to her already low-cost monthly dances at the Brecksville Recreation Center and the Slovenian Workmen’s Home.
Two of her after school students, Alexis Davila and Cyle Dixon won the junior division at the International Lindy Hop Championships in 2014 and are now teaching around the world.
To learn more about Get Hep Swing, Valerie Salstrom and some remarkable success stories from her students, visit herwebsite or check out her Facebook page. You can also find a full schedule of her upcoming swing dances, register for a class and learn more about the All Balboa Weekend, the largest balboa dance event in the world.