GROSS jazzes up Rosa Parks Circle

Courtesy / 
A couple dance together during the weekly Tuesday night swing dance at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.

Courtesy / A couple dance together during the weekly Tuesday night swing dance at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.

Shelby Pendowski

The roaring 20s, known for its rebellion and ingenuity, swayed with the beat of the ever-progressing world. During this era of jazz, swing dancing integrated into the culture. Swing dancing didn’t fall into oblivion as time went on, but it evolved to work with the music of today.

The Grand Rapids Original Swing Society (GROSS), founded by Steve Zaagman, jazzes up Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids every Tuesday night to teach people of all ages about the dance.
In its time, GROSS has come to hold the Guinness Book of World Record for the largest swing dance.
“You are going to learn how to do ball room dance,” Zaagman said. “It is a great social event, like I am down here with a thousand people together hanging out and just enjoying this fun vibe.”

The riff of the trumpet reaches the campus of Grand Valley State University and beckons in a lot of students. Brie Egedy, Dave Nitkiewicz and Matthew Holey are just three students at GVSU who regularly attend the event.

The atmosphere of the event and stress relief caused by the dancing is what keeps Egedy attending week after week.

“Every other week there is something really cool happening like next week we are going to have classic cars down there so not only will you get to dance and hang out but get to look at a classic car,” Zaagman said. “In a couple of weeks where we are going to have a live thirty piece big band. I know a lot of people are like, ‘Big band—that is like my grandparents kind of stuff.’ You would be surprised they actually rock out on the trombone. It’s a lot of fun.”

Every other week, GROSS combines swing dancing with other activities such as live music, classic car nights and holiday celebrations. Tuesday night swing dancing does more than teach people to dance, Zaagman said.

“I have had more people find their significant others over the years as a result of dancing,” he said. “I have had multiple marriages (come about) and all that fun stuff.”

To keep swing dancing relevant today GROSS incorporates modern music to the steps of the dance.
“My best memory is when they kill the lights at 9:30 every night,” Nitkiewicz said. “Everyone lays out under the stars and they play Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol.”

It is not only the modern music that is appealing to the younger crowd, but also the price.
“It is one of the least expensive things you can do,” Zaagman said. “It is cheaper than the movies. It is just a kind of donation dance, so we ask for like three or four dollars.”

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