New Horizon School for the Performing Arts, an elementary school in downtown Mesa, houses an auditorium that evokes nostalgic magic every weekend. After the sun sets on Saturday, the auditorium is turned into a ballroom for Kat’s Korner, a swing dancing venue. Instead of dancing to blaring club hits on a swanky dance floor, attendees glide and twirl on a hard wood floor to the likes of Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller.
Kat’s Korner has been flourishing since it opened in 2001. Dabney Hopkins utilized his love for swing dancing to establish a venue that would become an instant hit. More than 100 people flock to the Mesa location to immerse themselves in the dance style. The affordable admission fees — $7 or $5 with a student ID — contribute to the venue’s success.
A few years after the opening of Kat’s Korner, Hopkins was partnered with Karen Vizzard in a dance competition in Los Angeles. She eventually became a co-owner of Kat’s Korner when she moved to Phoenix in 2010. They teamed up to teach the community the art of swing dancing.
Shy glances are exchanged across the room once the lesson begins at 7:15 p.m. At the beginning of the 45-minute lesson, men are instructed to make a wide circle around the ballroom. Women gingerly approach their dance partners and wait until the owners, Hopkins and Vizzard, start with the fundamentals of swing dancing. The dancers are typically students from local colleges and high schools, though ages often range from 5 to 90 years old.
The air fills with excitement while dancers converse with their partners and learn the basic moves. Attendees are shown how to make quick steps to and fro. Once the dancers are steady in their footwork, spins and faster dance moves are incorporated.
When the clock strikes 8 p.m., the event transitions into a full-blown dance. The room gradually darkens after the lesson. Skirts swish and people gracefully dance under the glow of lights sprinkled around the room.
In order to create a more authentic experience, disc jockeys are featured on the stage located on the right side of the dance floor. The enthusiastic DJs cue into the palpable glee and strike up Big Band-era songs. Dancers are able to mingle with others and display their new skills until 11 p.m.
For those who are unable to drive to Kat’s Korner, ASU has a swing dancing club called the Swing Devils. Meetings are held every Thursday night starting at eight at the small gym in the Student Recreational Center. Kat’s Korner’s process of beginning with lessons and concluding with a dance are embedded into the weekly meetings. In addition, Swing Devils hold practice every Monday night for their competition team.
While the Swing Devils practice primarily at ASU’s Tempe campus, it is not uncommon to find the members at Kat’s Korner. Two members usually help Hopkins and Vizzard by manning a table at the front to collect admission fees at events. The Swing Devils are also dispersed among the attendants during the lessons and dance.
Swing Devils president, Ashley Oberholtzer, explained that the events at Kat’s Korner allowed her to meet some of the Swing Devils members before she came to ASU. Swing Devils’ inexpensive fees also encouraged Oberholtzer to join.
“We are the cheapest sport club at ASU!” Oberholtzer said. “The first meeting is free and membership costs $10.”
Kat’s Korner acts as a time machine as the swing dancing experiences it provides serve as a way to partake in one of The Golden Age’s glorious inventions.
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