June 20, 2024

Big Band Ball: swing dancing and “all that jazz”

On the evening of Jan. 28, the university’s big band hosted the first ever Capital University Big Band Ball.

The Big Band Ball was an entirely free to attend, student-run event to provide students and community members an opportunity to enjoy a night of dancing and a window into the past.

The ball began with an hour-long class on swing dancing provided by SwingColumbus, a local organization dedicated to the preservation and celebration of swing dancing. The class was led by Shannon Varner and Shelby Johnson, members of SwingColumbus. 

Varner and Johnson had the attendees form two circles and rotate partners throughout the lesson, all the while teaching new moves and giving helpful tips. Among the awkward introductions, stepping on a partner’s foot and a largely inexperienced group of people, the participants of the class were smiling and having fun.

Varner later commented when asked if they wanted to come back for future Big Band Balls, “I would love to, I would love to. If it’s not me, I am sure there is somebody at SwingColumbus who’d do that, we would love to keep the dance and the music married together.”

Following the class, the big band, directed by Zakk Jones, began to come out and prepare for the set. The band was accompanied by alumni Elliot Scozzaro and vocal students Sam Owens, Henry Seifried, Emily Shafner and Beaux Baldwin. 

Satch Garlock and the Big Band playing for the dancers. Photo by Ian Bell

Once the music started, the attendees flooded the dance floor with their newly learned moves. People were flinging their legs left and right, moving with the music and getting comfortable with the style. From experienced dancers to a group of students doing the Macarena, everyone was able to enjoy the ball in their own style. 

Students and community members alike shared their delight for the event, but few were more excited to do the event than the musicians themselves. 

Siefred commented on the experience, “Oh, it’s been fun. Very, very chill and very welcoming, everyone was excited to hear us sing and also I was excited to hear them play… Just all of us being there, experiencing this, it’s great.”

Troy Meister, a senior saxophone player and a veteran of the big band, was elated to be a part of an event like this. “In those eight semesters of big band there has never been a completely student run event… I will force them to do it again so this time I can actually go and dance… I’m just really happy that this all came together.” 

Brandon Ising, a senior trumpet player in the big band, came up with the idea and was the director of the event. Ising came up with the concept for the event following his wedding, where he had a big band playing. On the drive to Niagara Falls for his honeymoon with his wife, Mikayla Ising, he thought of the idea while reflecting on the couple’s wedding.

Ising knew the idea was a good one when he could not escape it on his honeymoon. “An idea that isn’t worth pursuing doesn’t stick in your head for hours at a time… especially when I’m at Niagara Falls and we’re doing all these amazing activities, right? But this thing was still stuck in the back of my head.”

 The concept was proposed to the faculty of the Capital Conservatory in the fall of 2022. 

According to Ising, “Probably about 30% of my total work I put into the event went into the proposal.”

 Ising contacted as many people as possible to form the proposal and gauged the attitude of his peers in the big band before finally successfully presenting the proposal.

Capital Jazz Band Stand. Photo by Ian Bell.

Jones has been “extremely impressed” with the Ising and the students. “The initiative is there, and everyone is really eager… everyone’s really communicative and kind of just respectful and really professional all around.” 

Jones’ primary role in the event was directing the big band, picking the music, and serving as an advisor to the students. The students were the organizers of the event, and Jones was happy to encourage them to take charge.

Aidan Cunningham was one of the student leaders organizing the event underneath Ising. Cunningham was blown away by the support and the excitement from the campus, a sentiment shared by Ising and Jones. 

“It was really crazy, like within a week and a half, two weeks, we were nearly sold out of tickets… just hearing that [the excitement on campus] has been really exciting to see.”

Additionally, Ising, Jones, and Cunningham all shared their dedication for the event to continue in the future. Ising said, “In five years, I can see this being a tradition that is tightly held by the jazz community at Capital… and I really think seeing the amount of support and success we’ve achieved already [is indicative] that this is a realistic future.”

This article was edited Sep. 14, 2023 to include an omitted instructor of SwingColumbus.


  • Adrian Suppes

    Adrian is the current Editor-in-Chief and a third-year student working on a Bachelor of Arts in Music major and Journalism minor. In his free time, Adrian enjoys mountain biking and disc golfing.

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