A swing thing

John and Erica Piper

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

John and Erica Piper fell in love with each other on the dance floor—specifically, over West Coast swing, a style the couple describe as creative and adaptable to different musical tastes. The two have been teaching and dancing in the local scene for over a decade (John taught at Studio 1, as well as all over the world) and recently decided to take the next step and open their own studio. Downtown Dance opened in July at 163 E. Third St. and offers classes specialized in partner dancing—West Coast swing, and also styles like salsa and blues fusion. The latter includes an after-class outing to the Banshee for “a night of social dancing.” In addition to their own classes, the Pipers also rent out their studio to outside teachers. Check www.downtowndancechico.com for a full schedule of classes or stop by the grand opening Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. for demos, snacks and a chance to dance.

What’s your dance background?

John: For me, I started dance in an after-school program in Paradise called the Paradise Dancers and quickly fell in love with partner dancing. Then I started teaching there probably within the first two years of being there. It was such an easy way to learn to dance but also learn a bunch of responsibility—to teach, how to fundraise.

Erica: I have been dancing probably for about 12 years now. We had a West Coast swing professional move to Chico for a while. It was so amazing—people could dance to any type of music, whether it be hip-hop or blues. I just latched on to that.

Can you describe West Coast swing?

John: It’s our state dance. It’s a derivative of the Lindy hop. So, we’re like the funky grandson of the Lindy hop. It’s become a really fast-growing dance all over the world. It’s very improvisational, creative and rythmic. It doesn’t quite look like what most people think of swing; it’s kind of a chameleon in that it takes on the identity of whoever’s dancing it.

How did you come to open the studio?

Erica: The next step for us as a family was to open up our own studio. Chico is known all over the world for its West Coast swing and for its dancing, so we wanted to push this amazing thing that’s changed our lives and so many people’s lives around us and be able to give to the community, to show them that it exists, and also be able to give something back to Chico.

What’s your ultimate goal with the studio?

Erica: Dancing is really good for you both mentally and physically. And I like the idea of being able to create a place for people who maybe don’t want to go out to the bars all night, but they can come here and dance.

Who’s your customer base?

John: There are a lot of myths about what it takes to be a dancer. We all have that image of what that looks like. If you want to be exceptional at ballroom, you need to fit a very specific body type. With a lot of these more social partner dances, you get the opportunity to express music and art in a way that can suit all different body types and tastes.