Swing Kids keep memorable era alive - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Swing Kids keep memorable era alive

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Michelle Reese covers education for the Tribune and blogs about motherhood and family issues at http://blogs.evtrib.com/evmoms. Contact her at mreese@evtrib.com

Michelle Reese covered education for the Tribune, also blogging about motherhood and family issues at http://blogs.evtrib.com/evmoms.

Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 6:59 am | Updated: 3:34 pm, Tue Aug 20, 2013.

"Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me."

So starts the show of one of the Valley's most popular youth performing groups.

The children of Tempe-based Swing Kids, some as young as 3, take audiences back to the era of the Andrews Sisters, Elvis and more through song and dance to music that even predates their parents.

Swing Kids was launched by Tempe resident Bill Clinton in 1999, who was inspired when he saw how music "transported" seniors at a hangar dance in 1997 in Mesa.

Clinton decided to learn swing dance. He taught his daughters. He invited friends.

Swing Kids was born.

Since then, the nonprofit group has performed more than 500 times in senior centers, the Veterans Hospital and Arizona State Veterans nursing home, the annual Veterans' Day parade and more.

"When you turn on the music, they are not with you. They are transported to another time," Clinton said of the people who watch the children perform. "By the end of every show, everybody is crying."

The show includes a variety of numbers, from "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to the Charleston to "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Rosie the Riveter." Clinton also incorporated tunes from the years of the Vietnam war.

The show entertains - and hits a note with the viewers. During visits to assisted living centers for Alzheimers's patients, some seniors who haven't spoken a word in months suddenly sing.

"It's amazing what music does," Clinton said.

The children don't just perform, they walk out to the audience and try to engage seniors in dancing, even if it just means holding hands and swinging to the beat of the songs.

Clinton said he realized what his group means to people during the Veterans' Day parade in Phoenix.

"They wheeled vets out from the state hospital in chairs. There's 95-year-old George, a veteran, he's sitting there saying ‘thank you' to us," Clinton said.

The group performs mainly during the summer. Rehearsals take place wherever Clinton can find an open room.

With family changes over the last year (Clinton now has custody of his young children), Clinton is stepping back a bit from his role.

But Swing Kids isn't going anywhere.

He's training the students to put the show together on their own, from setting up the microphones and sound system to taking over some of Clinton's speaking and dancing roles in the show.

Heather McAnerney's two children - ages 4 and 9 - have performed with Swing Kids the past two summers.

She said she's watched her kids go from being shy and standing in the background to taking front stage spots.

"Bill's group is really nice. They take you in and they encourage each other," McAnerney said. "Bill never pushes them to do more than they want. When they're ready, they step up and take it over. They start with one song ... both kids now know the show and where to go. Everybody knows the music. Nobody is afraid to step in if someone needs help."

Not only have parents, like the McAnerneys, taken on roles to help Swing Kids, but local dance studios have offered to teach the dances to kids who join the group, Clinton said.

Any child can join Swing Kids. Clinton will still be around, he said, but he realized that he really wants the kids to "own" the show.

"It hit that I have to somehow find a way to keep things going for when I'm not here," he said.

For information about Swing Kids, see www.theswingkids.org.

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