A group of no less than forty youth have been spending Saturday nights for the past year learning to swing dance, thanks to a local dance enthusiast. The group celebrated the end of the year with a formal masquerade ball on Saturday, Dec. 12, an event that would not have been possible without a team of leaders and the support of the community.
Ezra Tsai picked up swing dancing in the fall of 2014 while in Vancouver attending university, but in 2015 returned to Port Alberni for a career opportunity. It was in Vancouver that he became interested in swing dancing and spent many nights learning at a couple of clubs. Ezra was taught by friends initially, but turned to the internet to learn further.
When he returned to Port Alberni last February, he was asked to teach for a fundraiser. That turned into something larger than he expected. He received so much interest from his peers and other youth that he set up Harbourside Swing.
“It hit a vacuum and then exploded right from the start,” Tsai said. “Almost instantly we had thirty-plus youth come out. As it grew, it continued to pick up momentum.”
Originally the club attracted teens from the high school who attended lessons and the social every second Saturday night. Now all ages are interested in dancing every week. Tsai said he has kids as young as seven years old to adults who want to dance.
“The leadership team and I are looking at solutions to address the large interest from different ages and are contemplating whether splitting the club some nights is possible,” he said.
Open to all levels, Tsai brings a mix of different dance styles to the floor. He said he likes to modernize different moves from east coast swing, country, jive and salsa.
“I use music from the big band era, jazz and modern so it is a fusion between music and dances from eras of the past,” he said.
A typical evening starts with 45 minutes of lessons and then the floor is open for social dancing.
“Sometimes I throw in games or special dances for birthdays or celebrations,” Tsai said.
The masquerade ball was his largest event with over 90 people in attendance.
“It started as an idea, just a dream,” he said. “From there we started fundraising in August.”
Tsai and the club held bottle drives and an online auction to be able to pay for prizes, decorations and food.
“It was very exciting to see the support of the community in what we were doing,” Tsai said.
He said the club has become more than just something to do on Saturday nights and has become an inclusive group of close-knit friends and family.
“It is a good alternative for youth on the weekends and the dancers see it as a family and a community of acceptance,” he said. “As a teen, I think that is something they really value.”
After a break over the Christmas holidays, Tsai plans to work with his leadership team to address the growth in size and age range of dancers. His goal is to help serve all ages and promote the club’s close knit community at the same time.
“I want to keep youth engaged and this gives them something to be happy and excited about,” Tsai said. For more information, Tsai has a Harbourside Swing group on Facebook.