"Lex B. Anderson"
Throughout history, social dancing has been an integral part of many communities. During times of struggle and hardship, people would join together with good music and dance it out. We now live in a generation where dancing isn’t as much of a cultural norm. Our world has had the wonderful blessing of experiencing so many professional dance types, causing us to put an unreachable shield over dance and making it unacceptable or embarrassing for any person who isn’t professionally trained to try to move their body. We have nearly lost the ability to have social dances. This is sad — both for anyone who enjoys dancing and for musical artists with fewer and fewer opportunities to perform. The general public isn’t being exposed to as much wonderful creativity as they could be, and there is a beautiful joy unintentionally lost through this shift in the social dynamic.
Excellence in the Community
Jeff Whiteley, the founder and managing director of the non-profit Excellence in the Community, hopes to reverse this trend. He established his foundation to “bring more and better performance opportunities for Utah musicians.” Whiteley said they aim to “make the community better, more interesting and more diverse” by inviting audience members to enjoy live performances.
In an interview with The Chronicle, he shared the story of an audience member who had never heard a harp before. Whiteley realized suddenly how important it was for this Celtic harpist and every other artist to be able to perform, not only for the artist but for the audience as well. The organization’s purpose is to celebrate the impact that arts and music can have on people’s lives. Whiteley wants art to be “made [affordable] and available for the community,” ensuring that everyone can participate.
Excellence in the Community strives to support Utah’s artistic community by bringing in local dancers, musicians and artists to share with the public. Whiteley said that throughout his lifetime, he has known bands that split apart and artists that had to stop performing and go back to normal life. When asked why this was the case, he said, “We just couldn’t keep them busy.” Artists weren’t being given performance opportunities, so naturally, they couldn’t survive. Whiteley said, “We got all this talent, let’s use it … use it or lose it.” Whiteley has made this mantra a reality — he and his team have found a “wide variety of genres” of artists, and for nearly 14 years, Excellence has hosted over 730 groups.
One of the best events Excellence in the Community puts on is open swing dancing. Held at Gallivan Plaza, the organization’s headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City, live music and swing dancing fill the air with laughter and joy throughout the summer. Excellence cycles through several phenomenal Utah-based swing bands. These bands put on intriguing shows of fun classic music in the amphitheater. Meanwhile, Ballroom Utah collaborates with Excellence to bring in professional swing instructors to help teach the public some basic moves to showcase on the dance floor. This entire shindig consists of lessons, open dancing, live music and wonderful people — not to mention, it is all free for the general public.
Starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, anyone can show up and take a casual open class with Ballroom Utah for 30 minutes. Participants can have tons of dance experience or none — just show up and be ready to laugh and learn. The dance style changes night to night, depending on what kind of music will be played live. Then, at 7:30 pm, you can put your freshly learned skills to work and start dancing on the large dance floor to some engaging live music by a talented swing band.
These events are continually recurring until September 1. The show will take you back to another time where no one cares how good you are and you can just dance.
Excellence in the Community is a non-profit funded solely because of generous benefactors in the community. Excellence does not just start and stop with their swing dancing nights, they host concerts for local artists year-round at the Gallivan. For more information on the organization and their events, visit their website.