Hobokenites are finally swinging thanks to a soft-spoken talented dancer who brought the dance back to the mile-square city four years ago. Hoboken is famous for its restaurants, proximity to New York City and friendly people. But who knew it could swing? Earl Hicks did.
Hicks or "The Earl of Swing," has been dancing for most of his life. In the mid-'90s he began to dance professionally at venues in Washington D.C., New York and Hoboken. The combination of his natural ability to dance and his formal training were a match made in heaven. In 1999 he entered and won a dance contest hosted by radio station WOR 710 AM in New York City. It was there that he earned his nickname.
Shortly thereafter, he turned his focus toward sharing his passion for swing, through promoting and teaching. He established the Hoboken Swing Scene (HSS), and his vision and hard work were the driving factors in making the club one of the largest dance groups in the Garden State. He developed and teaches the dance programs, which includes beginner classes and intermediate workshops every week in Hoboken, as well as four-hour intensive crash courses twice a month, and hosting weekly dances in the area.
"The club is a way to bring people together though dancing. Everybody knows each other and we provide lessons in a friendly non-intimidating environment," Hicks said during a recent interview. "We use dance as a medium to meet, greet and entertain. More than just dance, we are, to varying degrees, partners in life as we share our interests, time, talents, skills and experience for the betterment of the whole. The true essence of our dance is found in our enrichment of each others' lives."
Every Wednesday, the group meets at Willie McBride's Restaurant and Bar on 616 Grand St. in Hoboken. At their last event, more than 45 people showed up to dance the night away with the help of Hicks and a live band.
Skip-stepping, slide moving, and fast dancing are the norm at the venues where dozens of swing enthusiasts gather every week ready to party and meet new people.
Linda Miller, from Edison, has been coming to McBride's for more than a year. Her daughter introduced her to the scene and since then, she's been hooked.
"It's a great mid-week break for me. It's wonderful and I've made lasting friends," Miller said. "The bands are very good."
She likes Hicks' relaxed approach to swing and said the dances are excellent stress relievers.
Like Miller, Jennifer DeMeo and Amy Lesniak, both veterinarians down the Jersey shore, go to McBride's on Wednesday nights for several hours of non-stop swing dancing. They have made friendships simply by coming to the dances every week.
"The place is great. Hicks has taught me how to dance. It's fun, and we've made really good friends," said Lesniak, a Bayonne resident.
DeMeo's favorite bands include the Swingadelics and the Swing Doctors.
Michelle McGreivey, also a longtime member of the Hoboken Swing Scene, invited a dozen HSS members to her wedding in upstate New York last summer, and Hicks taught people how to swing at the reception.
"Earl is so warm and he makes you feel like everybody is your friend," McGreivey said. "I have met really nice friends and I go and dance because it's fun and the people are very nice."
When the club began, only a dozen people showed up to the events, but through campaigning and various community fundraisers and events, Hicks has been able to spread the word and motivate people to get on their feet and swing.
HSS is hitting its stride as a vital and contributing club in Hoboken, enlisting and getting the support of the merchant and business community through toy and food drives and other activities.
To become an HSS member, you just have to show up for an event. Lessons are $5 for a half-hour and $10 for a full hour. So far, according to Hicks, there are more than 700 people signed up from throughout New Jersey.
HSS meets every Wednesday Night at 7:30 p.m. at McBride's. Dancers are required to pay a small $5 fee at the door for the event. And Sundays they meet at Maxwell's from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and there is a $12 fee for the dance.
Sean Hession, McBride's proprietor, is content with the turnout Wednesday nights at his establishment.
"It's a wonderful thing. The dancers settle in the back, they have an awesome time with the band, and we make sure they are always happy," Hession said. "Hicks is a special individual who is helping our community."
According to Hicks, HSS is designed to promote swing dancing in the city and develop a body of swing dancers through instructional lessons, practices and the experience of the joy of dancing.
"We will further work to insure that the dance occurs in a quality environment and with proper dance etiquette," Hicks said.
Swing dancing is not as easy as it looks. It requires skills and etiquette, which, Hicks said, includes dancing to the level of your partner; adjusting your dancing to the size of the crowd and the floor; learning to distinguish between a grin and a grimace with your dance partner; and if someone asks you to dance, never saying no.
Hicks said he is looking to expand his group and be more active in the city.
"We want to have events more nights of the week," he said.
For more information on the Hoboken Swing Scene call (201) 459-0264 or visit them on the web at www.HobokenSwingScene.com. q