It is comforting to think that despite everything that has changed, the twilight hours of my college career arrive just as my first taste of adulthood started three years ago: with a dance. 

Full-of-myself, eager and incredibly naive, the person I was in the fall of 2018 seems like a stranger in some aspects. By the time the move-in flurry of activity had boiled down to a familiar routine, the fall chill had already set in. At the time, only seventeen, I felt untethered. Adrift and far from home, I didn’t know how to anchor myself back to the Earth. I was an adult –– but at the same time, not really. 

Suffice to say, college independence didn’t meld with my teenage reality until months after my official “arrival.” I always like to say that college really started one Wednesday evening in October. 

It was freezing, but then again, Michigan always is. It was freezing, dark and nearing midnight, but we didn’t care. No, buoyed by the euphoria of a night spent swing dancing in the warm, heated ballrooms of the Michigan League, the cold was more than tolerable. My friend and I leaned against each other, drunk on shared happiness. Hours spent twirling and whirling the night away left us on unsteady feet. It was the happiest I had felt in a long time.

We danced our way home, too. Triple-stepping our way down the Ingalls Mall avenue; spinning around street lamps in imitation of “Singing in the Rain”; dancing the Charleston on the pavement, on the grass, on the stone benches of the Diag and down the steps of Hatcher Library. In the way only a freshman or graduating senior can, we even dared to dance teasingly around the block “M.” Now, my blood runs cold just thinking about it. 

Then, like a gratuitous Hallmark movie, out of the darkness appears a jogger. A shirtless jogger. A very fit, good-looking, shirtless jogger. A very fit, very good-looking, shirtless and male jogger who, against all reason and logic, stopped breathlessly to ask: 

“What dance is that? Do you know how to do this?” Followed by his awkward mime of a completely unintelligible dance move. 

Seized by the reckless daring only abs and fairytale moonlight can bring about, I boldly told him, “Just dance it with me, then I’ll know.” 

That’s right –– I danced with the cute, shirtless jogger, under the moonlight, at midnight, with the Michigan “M” as my witness. Then he thanked me, and jogged off into the dark. I never did meet that jogger again –– Jogger-boy, if you’re out there, call me. 

Freshman year, you could say, started with a bit of a bang, toasted by a dance.

Junior year, unfortunately, has had a distinct lack of attractive joggers (let alone men) to break up the monotony of quarantine. You can’t have it all, I guess. Junior year does, however, have one redeeming quality: dancing. 

When the walls of August lockdown began to close in, I would rescue myself by dancing; When the paranoia of the pandemic set in, or the fear of America’s political future overwhelmed my mind, I danced; And when my anxiety loomed overhead with sleepless nights, itchy skin, grinding teeth and tight pain coiled in my chest, I knew what would save me. 

So, if you happened across a strange girl dancing by herself on campus, consider the mystery solved. Like clockwork, when the sun began to set, I set out to work. Some nights, I would stake out a spot by the UMMA; Others would find me by the diag, or in the hidden corners and pathways sequestered around campus. Sometimes it was visibility that I needed –– to affirm to myself that I could still be seen, heard, witnessed by someone. Occasionally, it was simply me, myself and the ‘20s crooning of Fats Waller. 

You might wonder why dancing is so grounding for me. The simple answer is that dance, like other artforms, is driven by expression –– The hops, skips, spins and dips of swing act as a conduit to channel out the tension, anger and fear that builds up.

The longer answer is memory. My grandfather, a University alum from the ‘50s, once swing danced on this very campus. When I dance on these same streets, there is an undeniable connection and sense of relief: The knowledge that someone else has been here before, experienced what I have experienced and somehow continued on buoys me from pessimism and doubt. 

Swing dancing, too, is special in itself. From the ‘20s Big Band of Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman to the ‘50s crooners of Sinatra and Dean Martin, swing is old fashioned, like me. It’s an act of indulgence in everything vintage, from the songs, to the clothes and even the dance-moves. More than that, swing is fun. Some of the steps have odd names (like “shin splints” or the “Charleston”), the acrobatic moves can feel circus-like and the musicians can be just as humorous as any comedian. It’s showbiz, baby. 

Swing dancing, for me, is comfort. Even if I do look like a crazed cat-lady or ghost of Christmas past dancing around campus at night. I think, however, that during unprecedented times like these, we could all use some time to let loose, to go out dancing. Before I close the final chapter of my Michigan years, I’d like to be able to end the story with “and everybody was dancing in the moonlight.”


Daily Arts Writer Madeleine Virginia Gannon can be reached at

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