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Dance night stumbles over community center cards

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I’m momentarily confused by her comments.

“I never knew how to swing until I started going,” she said. “It saved my sanity as a mum and helped me through the tough teen years and on through my own tough times.”

Swing, thankfully, refers to dancing. And what reader – and dancer – Tabitha Hall is talking about is the furor that has erupted over Tuesday Night Swing, an institution at the Heights Community Center where some 50 to 300 folks each week have come to dance for the past 21 years.

Swing dancers take to the floor at the Heights Community Center to celebrate the center’s 75th anniversary party in 2015. The center has hosted Tuesday Night Swing for 21 years. (Courtesy of Morgan Petroski Hjelm)

It’s one of the most popular and long-running events held at a city of Albuquerque community center, drawing star dancers and “Dancing With the Stars” wannabes alike who swing, jitterbug, lindy, Charleston, jive, rock and boogie the night away.

Hall has been going almost as long as Tuesday Night Swing has been a thing.

“I take people there who are from elsewhere because they are always stunned with the huge age range of people who go there and love it – from 12-year-olds to aging grandmas,” she said. “Everyone is just there for the fun.”

But now she’s concerned that Tuesday Night Swing could be a thing of the past because of the city’s recent push to enforce a policy requiring scan-able membership cards, or fobs, at community centers.

Hall calls the cards “insanity,” and she is not alone. Calls, letters and social media posts against the cards have deluged the city.

An online petition against the cards launched Oct. 23 under the name #SaveTuesdaySwing has garnered more than 750 signatures.

The happy feet folks are not happy.

But I’m confused anew about this swing insurrection. The membership cards, which scan in much like your Smith’s grocery or gym fobs, are nothing new. They have been required since 2017 at all city community centers, senior and multigenerational centers and pools.

Only recently was it discovered that the policy was not being enforced at Heights, according to a letter to the group signed Oct. 22 by Mayor Tim Keller.

The cards are free and can be obtained in minutes online or at any community center.

Petition organizers said in a Facebook post that the city plans to have a computer set up at Heights so that swing attendees can sign up for cards before hitting the dance floor on Tuesday nights.

I’ve had a card since my long-lost Zumba days at Holiday Park Community Center, and I don’t recall any angst over the policy then.

The policy is posted at all community centers, including Heights, and is written in the contract signed by entities using the centers for their activities.

That includes entities like The Calming Four Primordial Swing Dance, the nonprofit group that hosts Tuesday Night Swing.

“We have tried to respond in every way we can to address their concerns,” said Cristin Chavez-Smith, community services division manager for the city’s Community Recreation and Education Initiative. “But we are kind of getting at wit’s end on how to explain.”

So far, no one is scanning in, she said.

The petition points to specific concerns, including how the policy will affect minors, folks from neighboring cities and non-permanent residents such as university students.

The answer: Not much.

Residency is not a requirement, but a photo ID of any kind is when obtaining a card, Chavez-Smith explained. Day passes are also available.

Knowing who is coming to the centers via the cards is a way of maintaining safety, she said.

“This policy is not specific to just this facility or this group,” she said. “But we have rules and policies and a commitment to keep people safe in our centers and this policy is part of that.”

But Aaron Cabral, a longtime Tuesday Night Swing participant, said he fears newcomers won’t feel safe in coming if asked to hop through an extra hoop.

“People who love Tuesday Night Swing will continue to go, but I think it will suck the life out of it because new people won’t go,” he said. “In general, women love to dance, but men find it much more intimidating to put themselves physically in that vulnerable spot.

“A lot of people, especially guys, who are trying to decide whether to go for the first time and put themselves in that vulnerable spot who are now asked to make an extra commitment like getting an ID probably won’t go. We will probably see an attrition of new folks and I think Tuesday Night Swing will wither way.”

Maybe those men should talk to Tabitha Hall.

“I have the grace of a mushroom,” she said. “But when I’m swing dancing I lose my fear and shyness.”

Chavez-Smith said city staff will be on hand at the Nov. 12 Tuesday Night Swing to answer questions about the cards.

“We are listening to their concerns and trying to work with them,” she said.

In the meantime, let’s hope both sides keep talking and the dancers keep dancing.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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