It’s a swing thing

Johnny Ochoa

Photo By carolyn king

The Sacramento swing king’s living room is filled with … children’s toys and preschool projects. Hard to believe, yes, but that’s Johnny Ochoa’s reality: schoolteacher by day, dance instructor by night, single father to one of the cutest 5-year-olds I’ve ever seen 24-seven. That said, Ochoa has managed to keep the swing scene alive and thriving during the past decade. For just six bucks, you can catch a beginning East Coast swing lesson with Ochoa and enjoy open dancing at Club 21 every Tuesday night. Find out more at

So, does your little boy dance?

Yeah, definitely! He’ll be 5 in a couple weeks. He’s with his mom when I have to work, but, yeah, he’s creating his own modern-dance style. He’s picked up on doing the Charleston and what he’s seen me do. It’s pretty cool. Sometimes I’ll take him to my dances and when people start leaving, we’ll have a dance-off. I’ll do like a backspin and he’ll be like, “Whoa, that’s cool. You gotta teach me that sometime.” So, yeah, I’m hoping he’ll be interested in something.

How’d you get into swing dancing?

A girl. That’s what does it, Julie. That’s what does it for us. A blond girl named Tina I met in the dorms at Sac State. She asked me if I was doing anything one night, and I said no, so she invited me to a dance she was teaching. I’ve always done some sort of dance, like hip-hop and break-dancing type stuff when I was younger, but nothing that good. I had never taken any classes or anything like that. But I had always liked that type of music, so I went out there, and that was it from there on.

How the hell do you find the time to do everything?

You know, I don’t even know. Sometimes it’s crazy. I guess if you don’t stop, you can just go and go and go. I get tired the first half of the week, Monday and Tuesday. I’m just dead tired. Wednesday and Thursday, my son and I go to sleep early, so I get to catch up on sleep. Depending on the day, I usually wake up, take my son to preschool, go teach at the middle school, then go to the club for dances and I’m out until like 12:45 [a.m.]. One thing that’s good about my school: They gave me first-period prep so I can come in a little later.

Speaking of school, do your students know anything of your night life?

You know, they didn’t used to, but sometimes they just find out. I don’t ever tell them, but the last couple years I started teaching an elective portion of my class that does culturally based language-arts stuff, and I’ll tie it into the curriculum somehow. I taught my class some basic salsa steps and how to lead and follow, things like that. That’s the only time they found out. They know I do instruction, but not that I’m a deejay or anything crazy like that.

What is the state of the Sacramento swing scene right now?

You know, it’s good. I think it’s grown a lot. I do my best to put on lessons with a lot of variety in different dances, like shag and Charleston, to get people interested, so that helps. And especially with venues like Midtown Stomp, they’re able to attract a lot of younger folks, so it helps build the scene. My venue is a little more geared toward the older crowd.

Your dances have been doing pretty well; have you noticed a dip in attendance due to the economy?

At first I was worried about that, but I haven’t seen a huge [change] at all. My class sizes at The Ballroom went down for a little while, but now it’s back up again; it’s pretty huge and I don’t know why. Sometimes dance shows have something to do with it, but then again, sometimes attendance goes down when that show’s on, and when it goes off, attendance goes back up again. But my classes have been huge lately. I’m excited.

What is it about swing dancing that continues to bring people out?

Honestly, I think it’s about letting people have fun instead of being so serious, like ballroom dancing or salsa, and I think the same message is communicated at my club dances. At first, having a mid-week venture seemed tricky, but I think people like having something to do on a Tuesday night instead of always having to wait until Friday or Saturday to go dancing. I think that’s part of it. Everyone’s real cool, nobody’s intimidated. I don’t force anyone to rotate, and you can come out with absolutely zero dance experience and still have a great time, whether you have a partner or not.