“I started dancing during the late nineties when Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Brian Setzer's Swing Orchestra were all the rage. I was a freshman at the University of Iowa and took a ballroom class for a P.E. credit and soon became obsessed with swing dancing. I started traveling to learn from the best instructors of lindy hop including the great Frankie Manning. Over the years I became more interested in all types of dancing including hip hop, jazz, tap and theatrical. I dabbled in all sorts of dance styles but lindy hop has always been my passion.”
How did the Heartland Swing Festival get started?
“I wanted to bring to Des Moines the excitement that I saw in other scenes like L.A. and Seattle. Over the years I planned several smaller events but always believed that Iowa could have a large inspiring event. In 2004, I organized the AB Swing Challenge in Des Moines which was a great learning experience to say the least. In 2006, I founded the Hawkeye Swing Festival in Iowa City with a buddy of mine, and we saw the event grow year after year. It was an exciting 5 years and I wanted to see that excitement in my hometown of Des Moines. The Des Moines swing scene has always been important to me, so my wife and I decided to organize the Heartland Swing Festival. I also wanted to see an emphasis on the amateur dancers. So many events are geared toward the professionals or most advanced dancers, but I get excited to see the new people.” says Brafford. “They are the future of the dance.”
Brafford goes on to talk about the Collegiate Jitterbug Championships.
“It is an all amateur dance competition with six dance divisions. Amateur teams compete for the Cutters' Cup trophy and individual competitors are in the running for the CJC Overall Championship. At the end of the weekend, two dancers, one leader and one follower, are named the Collegiate Jitterbug Champions and are given a substantial prize. Of course there is so much more than just the contests but I'm always excited to watch the competitors.”
What activities or classes seem to be a popular draw for people?
“Though this is a lindy hop event, we always like to add a variety of elective classes. We think it is important to expose dancers to different styles and to experiment with new movement. In the past, we have offered African Dance, Lockin', Party Dances, and Breakin'. This year, we will offer Hip Hop and West Coast Swing. We are always willing to hear suggestions for classes and love to try new things.”
What is something new this year that you are excited about?
“I'm really excited for the Novice Jack & Jill contest. Often times, dancers want to compete but feel that it would be pointless to try compete against some of the best dancers in the region. The Novice JJ provides the opportunity for newer dancers to compete and gain some experience in a contest with their peers.”
Many of my subscribers are from the Rockford IL area. What would you say are the benefits of driving many hours to participate in a weekend of dance workshops at HSF?
“There is nothing like the excitement you feel when you enter a beautiful ballroom that is full of dancers. The band is on the stage, the music is swingin' and the floor is bouncing. It is pure joy to experience that and the Heartland Swing Festival allows you to share that excitement with dancers from all over the world. The Heartland Swing Festival is the largest swing dance in the Midwest inviting dancers from over 20 States and three countries. Events like the Heartland Swing Festival give dancers the opportunity to create long-lasting friendships with other dancers that have the same passion for swing dancing, swing music and swing culture.”
You still have a couple weeks to register for HSF and have a swingin’ good time. As Brafford says, “I love swing dancing and I can't understand how anyone could not love it.” See you there!