An instructor is standing in the middle of a dozen or so couples, trying to teach them how to properly pirouette to a Bobby Darin song. It's a swing scene that could transpire in any one of Houston's many dance studios, but this one is taking place in a dance club, an alternative one at that, where the patrons usually dress like goth-rockers, not lindy hoppers.
There's a guy dressed exactly like Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst (red baseball cap turned backward, white shirt, baggy pants that he can barely hold up); another dancer is in full glam-rock regalia, with a slick black overcoat and shiny pants, looking like some character who wandered off the set of Velvet Goldmine.
Welcome to Swing Night at Numbers (300 Westheimer), held every Tuesday from 9 p.m. to midnight.
You may be wondering what the hell a venue known for its alternative entertainment -- the 20-plus-year-old nightspot has hosted performances by Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Cramps, X, Jane's Addiction and that goth-rock Bobby Darin Marilyn Manson -- is doing hosting an evening of swing dancing. Won't its hard-core regulars find the whole affair a little square? And isn't the swing thing so, like, 1997?
"I think there is a segment of our regular clientele, the rockabilly types, that is interested in swing," says general manager Rudy Bunch. "I'm always willing to try to expand our audience."
Members of the Houston Swing Dance Society sold Bunch on the event. The nonprofit educational group held a workshop after-party at Numbers not too long ago and found the club to be an ideal place. "Our part of [Swing Night] was to actually organize and bring the teachers and bring a DJ and promote the event to the people of the swing community," says Tamara Lo, a member of the HSDS. "And [Bunch's] part was kind of to promote to his already existing clientele."
Other clubs have attempted, and failed, to launch a swing-themed night, most notably Fitzgerald's (2706 White Oak) and the Mercury Room (1008 Prairie). Bunch says the potential for failure just comes with the territory. "You always run that chance when you try a new format," he says. "You never know until you try it."
It isn't difficult to figure out why some people are still interested in swing dancing. While many nightclubbers would rather nurse their drinks and sulk, the swing dancers at Numbers rarely sit still for five minutes. This is entertainment for the kinetically inclined, not for the passively ironic. Swing Night is the kind of event at which a pleasantly plump gal can move with the grace and agility of Ginger Rogers, or a middle-aged man can sweep a twentysomething beauty off her feet -- literally.
"It's not about the moves; it's not about the steps; it's not about looking great out there," says Amy Pita, another HSDS member and one of the dance instructors. "It's about having fun and enjoying being with somebody else, and enjoying being part of a group like this."
Hmmm, if it's not about good coordination or looking good, maybe the goths, glams and grungers could glom onto the jitterbug after all.
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Free dance lessons are offered from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Tuesday. Cover for Swing Night is $5. For more information, call (713)526-6551 or go on-line at www.numbersnightclub.com.
Dean's Credit Clothing (316 Main) may be the first Houston nightspot where a guy can utter the pickup line "Can I buy you a dress?" Since its opening last December, the joint has managed to double as a trendy watering hole and a bargain clothing boutique. Local designers like Vanessa Riley supply most of the merchandise. For fittings, there is a dressing room/lounge in the back. There is also a lot of local history on display. The bathroom walls are lined with ledger sheets from the retail outlet, which dates back to the late '40s.
"This store actually was one of the first stores in Houston to give black people credit," says Ziggy Morrow, Dean's co-owner and part-time bartender. The place was originally another hangout owned by No tsu oH (314 Main) proprietor Jim Pirtle until Morrow, with partners Toby Lister and Steve Scalice, proposed the idea for a bar. "We wanted to open up a cool bar with cool music," says Morrow. "We didn't want TVs. We didn't want a sports bar. We wanted something different." Anyone can roam in and out of Dean's during the week, but on the weekend, when the place gets packed, there is a doorman to prevent overcrowding. Management insists that Dean's doesn't enforce some stringent dress code. "On the weekend," says Morrow, "he might ask you to take off your hat."