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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
“It’s social. You make good friends. The music is fun. It gets you out of the house. It changes your life,” said Holland.
“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
Sophie Bearman can be reached at [email protected]