Grand Rapids Original Swing Society infuses dance and downtown


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Allison Bair, Staff Writer

Everyday Tuesday night Grand Rapids Original Swing Society (GROSS) hosts an open event for people to swing dance in downtown Grand Rapids.

The organization was founded 18 years ago and aims to create a space for individuals of all ages to practice and learn swing dance. GROSS works to create community through the shared experience of swing dance. 

The founder of GROSS, Steve Zaagman, expressed that he started the organization after finding a passion for swing dance.  

“When I was in college (at Calvin College), swing dancing was making a comeback,” Zaagman said. “They (Calvin College) had this thing called Dance Guild that let you learn a dance, so I learned to swing dance there.” 

Zaagman came up with the acronym, GROSS, based upon the “Calvin and Hobbes” comics in which Calvin and Hobbes have an organization called “Get Rid Of Slimy girlS.” 

Zaagman and his friends would watch popular movies filled with swing dancing to learn more steps and styles. After graduating, a friend of Zaagman asked if he could teach swing dancing lessons to a group of students. Over the course of two years, more people outside of the college were joining and the group outgrew its practice space. 

“So we kind of outgrew that space, so we moved to a church and then outgrew that space, so we moved to Rosa Parks Circle and we just kept getting bigger and bigger and people started showing up to have fun,” Zaagman said.

As attendance at the event continued to grow, resulting in a greater number of people within Rosa Parks Circle, the city of Grand Rapids intervened and requested that they rent out space instead. 

GROSS grew large enough to become an official non-profit organization and uses the funds they raise to go towards planning and hosting future events. Zaagman said the organization wants to be an opportunity for people to enjoy downtown Grand Rapids and meet new people. 

In 2012, GROSS grew so popular that it won a Guinness Book of World Records Award for the largest swing dance, with over 750 people dancing at once. 

“We were at one point averaging around a few thousand people per night,” Zaagman said.

Zaagman decided to move GROSS to alternating locations to manage the size of the crowd. 

“We used to dance at the Grand Valley State University’s Downtown Campus, we used to go to the Downtown Market, we used to dance at Ah-Nab-Awen Park and we’d dance at Rosa (Parks Circle),” Zaagman said. 

Zaagman said that GROSS has made an impact on the community beyond just dancing. He noted that the club has created many relationships, some life-long as Zaagman recounts fourteen proposals between couples who met because of GROSS. Additionally, some members use the club as a positive way to heal from past trauma. 

“If you do come, our emphasis is on keeping it fun, keeping it friendly and anyone can learn from anyone,” Zaagman said. 

GROSS’s mission is to use city parks and venues as they were meant to be enjoyed and to give the city a sense of joyous community.

The six-dollar admission gets attendees access to open dance, the entire first floor of Grand Rapids Public Museum and lessons for beginners. GROSS’s website has the complete schedule of all of the dates, times and locations of the events.