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Golden Gate Park’s Free Swing Dancing Has Been Doing the Jitterbug Since 1996

Written by Sophie BearmanPublished Oct. 19, 2022 • 8:00am
Desiree Rodriquez and Connor Allen dance along to the music during the Lindy in the Park swing dancing event on Oct. 16, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. Rodriguez said she started swing dancing during the pandemic, while Allen said he’s been dancing for over 10 years. | Evan Reinhardt for The Standard

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You can’t miss it: Every Sunday along JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park, not far from the de Young Museum, hundreds of dancers gather for an early afternoon of swing dancing.

Lindy in the Park, as it’s called, is an all-are-welcome, come-one-come-all type event, with dance skills ranging from very advanced to “but I have two left feet.” At noon, volunteer instructors offer a beginner lesson for newcomers.

@sfstandard

Check out “Lindy in the Park” along JFK Drive in San Francisco for some free swing dancing lessons every Sunday at noon. Hosted by Ken Watanabe and Jen Holland, AKA “Hep Jen,” the event welcomes anyone willing to feel the rhythm, experienced or not. #LindyinthePark #GoldenGatePark #JFKdrive #SwingDancing #LindyHop #SanFrancisco #SF

♬ original sound – The San Francisco Standard

“It started with just a bunch of friends way back in 1996,” said Ken Watanabe, one of the Lindy in the Park’s cofounders. “We just thought it’d be cool to dance outside.”

Originally, the friends met by the park’s Bandshell on a monthly or semi-frequent basis. But as the event and its popularity grew, they eventually moved to JFK Drive between the Eighth and 10th street entrances and expanded to meeting every Sunday.

Dancers crowd a section of JFK Drive to watch and participate in the Lindy in the Park swing dancing event on Oct. 16, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. While dozens of regulars participate weekly, many uninitiated passersby walk up and join in the dancing as well. | Evan Reinhardt for The Standard

The beginner dance lesson was added a few years later, thanks to longtime instructor Jen Holland, or “Hep Jen,” as she’s known in the swing-dancing community. Holland noticed lots of onlookers watching the dancers and figured they may want to try out some moves, too.

“I felt like, ‘Well, I’m here anyway dancing! Why don’t I just teach them some steps?’,” Holland said.

Joyce Su, 79, swings around with a partner during the Lindy in the Park swing dancing event. Su said despite her age, she feels young because she continues to dance and stay active as much as possible. | Evan Reinhardt for The Standard

Lindy in the Park celebrated its 26th anniversary in August, an especially poignant anniversary after the dance event was shut down during the early months of the pandemic.

“We came back, and there was definitely pent-up demand for it, so it didn’t take long for it to get back to full swing,” said Watanabe, laughing at the unintended pun. 

The pandemic brought new members to the community, too. Desiree Rodriguez started swing dancing with the group a year ago, when she was looking for new activities in San Francisco as the city started to reopen.

Joyce Su, left, and Desiree Rodriquez, right, swing to the music during the Lindy in the Park swing dancing event. Rodriguez said she started swing dancing during the pandemic after she spotted the event in Golden Gate Park. | Evan Reinhardt for The Standard

“I got hooked immediately,” said Rodriguez. “It’s so energetic. A couple weeks in, I started making friends.”

Holland and Watanabe are equally enthusiastic about the power of dance to do more than simply help you get in shape.

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“It’s social. You make good friends. The music is fun. It gets you out of the house. It changes your life,” said Holland.

Jen Holland and co-founder Ken Watanabe conduct a class in swing dancing. | Evan Reinhardt for The Standard

“It’s a way for different people from all different ages and backgrounds to come together and share in an activity that they can all do together,” added Watanabe.

Want to give it a try? Rodriguez says to show up at noon for the beginner lesson.

“It’s just small bits and pieces that you can collect over time and build some confidence that way.”

Reporting contributed by Evan Reinhardt

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Sophie Bearman can be reached at [email protected]


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