We're excited to present the latest in our series, this time featuring our dancers, DJ, singer, and illustrator (what can she not do?), Gena!
We get to know Gena, including starting her swing journey with Boogie Woogie, her biggest dance influences, and some sage advice for new dancers.
Q. Hi Gena! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Gena: Hi, I'm Gena from Ukraine 👋 Life brought me to Cambridge in September 2022 (on the 21st btw, so I'll always remember the 21st night of September 😉).
Q. And what are you up to when you're not dancing?
Gena: I'm a freelance illustrator, so I'm usually trying to find work 😁 You might have seen my artwork on some of the recent Cambridge Swing Dance festivals, like CLX 2023, Save the Fast Dance 2023, and Swing Sanctuary 2024.
Back in Ukraine, I used to sing in a band that played for swing dancers. Good times!
Q. When and where did you start dancing Lindy Hop?
Gena: I started dancing in either June or July 2010 in my hometown of Kyiv, Ukraine.
A friend of mine had randomly found a flash mob on the internet and suggested that we take part in it. The flash mob was organized by a boogie-woogie teacher (oh, yeah, did I mention that I started my swing dance journey with boogie-woogie which is quite popular in Ukraine!). It looked fun and easy, and it also helped that the moves were from the movie "Grease".
When we arrived, there were a lot of people and it seemed like they all knew each other. And then I remember seeing a couple dancing together, I was mesmerized by how magical it looked, I hadn't seen anything like it before. And that was it—I wanted to (had to, even) dance like them!
I asked a teacher if I could come to a class, and a few weeks later I was making my first rock steps.
What can I say? It was love at first sight.
Q. What styles of swing dance do you dance?
Gena: I dance Lindy Hop and Solo Jazz.
Q. And do you remember your first class?
Gena: Yes. I remember walking and grooving back and forth (such a boring thing for a beginner, haha), but it made me so happy and excited! And I loved the music! I even remember the song that was playing ("Wade in the Water" by Eva Cassidy, which I didn't know and had to ask a teacher).
Everything just clicked and I was hooked. There's no turning back when you're in love 😊
Q. Tell us something interesting about your swing dance journey.
Gena: I love reminiscing about my journey and am very proud of my Chorus Line days... no, years! I was lucky to be a part of a Chorus Line group, that gave a start to my solo jazz journey, which, in turn, improved my overall dancing by a million times.
Q. Are there any dance mentors who have inspired or influenced your Lindy Hop style?
Gena: Probably my Ukrainian teachers and friends, Genia Tsvietkova and Olga Smirnova. Genia was my first and only Lindy Hop teacher and Olga was our Chorus Line leader. Thanks to Olga I discovered so many great female jazz dancers from the 40s, for example, Mable Lee, who remains a huge inspiration.
Q. Do you have a favourite dancer to watch?
Gena: I love watching Helena Kanini Kiiru! She's got wicked rhythms, body movement, and energy! Her dancing style resonates with me a lot.
Q. What do you enjoy most about swing dancing?
Gena: I like many aspects of it. Expressing yourself, connecting with a partner and music, that unique conversation you're having. The music itself. Meeting new people. I can just go on and on.
Q. How has swing dancing influenced or impacted your life outside of dancing?
Gena: I don't want to sound dramatic, but it changed my life! I was very shy and quiet. I still am, but now I'm more sociable, confident, and open.
Q. What do you like about the dance community in Cambridge?
Gena: It is sooooo friendly and welcoming! It's a safe space to learn, share, and just have a great time.
The people on the committee are thoughtful and work hard to make sure everyone's comfortable and happy. Every event I've been to has been pure joy!
Q. Do you have any advice for new dancers?
Gena: I'd like to share some thoughts for anxious-minded folks like me. Starting something new can be scary. It's a long journey and enjoying every step of the way is key.
I remember being anxious when I started dancing all the time. When going to socials, asking people to dance with me, seeing cool dancers hanging out and dancing with other cool dancers; being self-conscious about my dancing skills and so on.
What helped me was having a group of people, a safe space, to go to socials and festivals with. These happened to be friends I made from my classes.
Go to socials! Dance with people you know, dance with people you don't know. But most importantly, enjoy yourself! If you love swing dancing, it'll keep you going, and you'll get wherever you wanna be!
Editor: Thanks so much, Gena!
We hope you enjoyed that piece and getting to know more about one of the dancers from our scene!
Swing dance is fun and easy to get started with Cambridge Swing Dance.