MasterMind: Tiffiny Wine, swing dance instructor

Tiffiny Wine knows how to swing — in the healthiest understanding of the term. "Dancing is a really, really important thing for people on a very human level," she says. "We are all supposed to dance. I am of the belief that we all have some very mysterious but innate sense of rhythm, and we all need to move to it."

But while babies who aren't old enough to talk will dance to a beat, by the time those babies have grown to adulthood, many seem frozen in their tracks. It's Wine's mission to get them moving again. "I teach people who never even thought they could dance before how to dance," she says, "and I help provide this place where they can do it."

More often than not, that place is the Mercury Cafe. When Wine first spent time at Marilyn Megenity's legendary club, though, it wasn't for the dancing. Born and raised in Denver, she'd moved to Seattle in the eighth grade, and when she came back as a teenager to visit friends here, they'd go to punk shows at the Merc. That's where she first saw a couple teaching jitterbugging, and later met a Fort Collins woman who knew the Lindy Hop. "I thought swing dancing was this cool thing," she remembers. "I was a little punk-rock kid who wanted to swing dance."

So she attended a swing camp in Seattle, where she met legendary dancer Frankie Manning, then in his '80s, and started following him around to other camps and classes. By the time she moved back to Denver, in the late 1990s, "I knew more people here, so I started teaching," she says. "We got this swing scene started up here, which eventually grew to three nights a week." And in 1999, she started 23 Skidoo. "With Skidoo, I really wanted a group that could get good together, teach and promote," she recalls. The troupe would pick out spots to dance — movie theaters that had just opened, the 16th Street Mall — and hand out fliers, inviting people to classes.

Eventually, they began competing. "At first we kind of sucked," Wine remembers. "The kids in California were so cool." But in 2006 and again in 2007, 23 Skidoo won first place, beating the Harlem Hotshots, "which was cool. We beat the French team and we beat the Canadian team, which was cool. We put Denver on the map that weekend."

But this year Wine decided to stop competing, and now Skidoo is more of a practice group, one that's very community-oriented. "In the years of Skidoo, we were the only people performing at the Merc," she says. "It seems like we almost made people intimidated. For me, it's always been about sharing. Our job is to share it with each other, with other students, with everyone in the community." And not just share through classes — though Wine continues to offer those, and tries to make them as inexpensive as possible. She also wants to share the history of swing dancing, and has been working to save this very endangered art form.

"It's the first dance art form that was done in the United States by Americans," Wine notes. "It's our cultural heritage, yet no one knows about it. No one knows that it's our dance, created and done right alongside jazz. This is the dance for it. A lot of our American dance forms came from it."

On March 31, Wine will host a student showcase at the Merc; twenty students have signed up so far, and more are sure to join in. "Dancing is a mystery to me in so many ways," she admits. "Why do we dance? Where do we come from? But it's a real need."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun