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The Story of Swing Dancing in Portugal and Lisbon

Swing Dance has been around for almost a century, though Lisbon is taking its first steps towards national popularity. The rhythm and passion of the activity may be close to hot southern temperament, but it has more benefits than just having some seriously good time. We have interviewed one of the first practitioners of Swing Dancing, instructor Abeth Farag, as we were very curious about what made her quit the full time job and follow her heart.

- What brought you to Portugal?

I came to Portugal 15 years ago to teach English.

- How an English teacher becomes a founder of a Swing Dancing School?

Back in the States, I used to do swing dancing regularly. I was hoping to do the same once I moved to Portugal, however, back then there weren’t any places to do so! As a result, I could only practice when I was back home or abroad, which wasn’t enough. As I didn’t have years of experience at the time, four years later, I realized that it was between giving up swing dancing completely, or

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Abeth Farag

I was back home or abroad, which wasn’t enough. As I didn’t have years of experience at the time, four years later, I realized that it was between giving up swing dancing completely, or making a go at trying to attract other people to create a community, I invited friends from my tap dancing class and taught them about Lindy Hop. It started small and gradually grew into workshops, then classes and eventually opening a small dance school in Porto and then in Lisbon and quitting my English teaching job.

- What made you come to Lisbon?

The beginning wasn’t easy. Lindy Hop, and swing dancing in general, was new to Portugal, especially a small place like Porto. We used to play music and dance in the streets just to get attention. I remember the time we went to one of the most popular bars in Porto, parked our car in front of it, opened the doors playing swing music and started dancing – people thought we were crazy. Outdoor dancing helped us get noticed, but what really made a difference were the ones who were curious enough to give it a try, later inviting their family and friends.

For a few years I rushed back and forth between Porto and Lisbon, but in the end I decided to move to Lisbon for good. I’m from LA, I was missing the sun and the bigger city offers more opportunities.

- What is the best part about swing dancing?

I love the music. Swing originated from 1920’s Jazz, which was born among the African-American population in the United States. As you know, the history of slavery was still very much present in the minds of the black population and Jim Crow laws separating whites and blacks was the reality at the time, and the music was something to lift the spirits and express yourself, in a way to set your soul free.

It’s rare to see people swing dancing and not smiling. That’s what really drew me in. I remember thinking to myself: “wow, look at them smiling!” After years of teaching I have noticed students gain confidence, become more outgoing, and become part of an active community.

- Do you see more women dancing than men?

Yes. I think it’s a question of society’s definition of masculine and feminine, and which activities belong to each group, which goes beyond dancing. Society says that being emotional is more for women rather than men. Dancing is very expressive. It takes time to learn, and I find that men can tend to be more scared of looking stupid.

I believe that if you wish to make something beautiful you must be patient. When people come to the class for the first time, I can see the fear of failure which prevents some of them from giving it a real try. The first thing that we as teachers need to do before teaching them to dance is how to face that fear and let it go. It’s a wonderful feeling seeing them blossom into confident beautiful dancers.

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