ROCKFORD - It's not often that an activity can attract elementary school kids and also 90 year olds.
The Forest City Swing group manages to do just that, thanks to its fun and welcoming atmosphere.
"We have a variety of people participating," said swing dance instructor Paul Andrews.
The Forest City Swing group started in the spring of 2000, just as the 1920s-1940s dance style began to experience a resurgence.
Initially there were 15-20 dance participants, but that number has grown to 200-plus people at times. The group strives to be accessible for all.
"Our group tries to make this something that you can come to a lesson and start dancing that very same evening," Andrews said.
It has taken dedicated volunteers, like Andrews, to keep the Forest City Swing dances and lessons running smoothly through the years.
The group currently offers monthly dances and also workshops that are open to all at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, 2001 N. Alpine Road.
"Swing dancing is great because a person with 'two left feet' can come in, take a lesson and be able to dance a little bit," Andrews said.
Andrews, one of the Forest City Swing founders, started dancing thanks to an invitation from one of his friends. Although he considers himself to be a person who doesn't have a natural rhythm, he was able to pick up the correct counts and become a successful swing dancer.
The attraction to swing dancing was immediate, Andrews said, because he enjoyed the exercise and music of the era so much. Within six months of learning, Andrews was traveling to different venues to dance. He stays closer to home nowadays, but swing dancing is still a big part of his life.
"Wear your tennis shoes or whatever you have and come on out," he said. "We have very fun and social dances."
Kinnikinnick first grade teacher Katherine Koehler is a regular at the Forest City Swing dances.
Not only does she teach dance lessons and help run events for the group, but she participates in swing dance competitions.
"I've been swing dancing for almost 15 years and I've traveled all over the country and even Europe to do it," she said.
Although she's serious about dancing, Koehler is always encouraging those with even the most casual interest to try out swing dancing.
Swing dancing is built on a culture of fun, she said, so nobody should be shy. You definitely don't have to be "good" to have a good time.
"I'll preach until I die that swing dancing is a community," Koehler said. "Even if you don't have a dance partner, we want you to come on out."
Want to go?
Forest City Swing dances take place on the third Thursday of the month. Lindy lessons are from 7-8 p.m. Six count lessons are from 8-8:45 p.m. and open dancing is from 8:45-11 p.m.
Admission is $5. All funds collected are used to sustain the Forest City Swing club and purchase any equipment that is needed. Local charities also benefit.
"We've raised over $30,000 to give back to the community in all sorts of facets - from the pregnancy care center to the homeless shelter," Koehler said.
For more information on Forest City Swing, visit www.forestcityswing.org or 'Like' their page on Facebook. R