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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

The College Life Series From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: For the Love of the Dance

October 28, 2011

The College Life Series From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: For the Love of the Dance

Rensselaer Undergraduate Students Open Swing Dance Studio

Photo by Daria Robbins

For dance aficionados, swing dancing is often described as a joyful, high-energy, improvisational street dance. Today, two Rensselaer undergraduate students, who are also members of the RPI Ballroom student club, have turned their love of swing dancing into a business opportunity. This month, founders and dancing partners Orian Breaux and Emily McNeight plan to hit the dance floor with new recruits and seasoned swing dance veterans with the opening of the Swing Syndicate, a dance studio located in the heart of the City of Troy.

Swing dance is a group of dances that developed with the swing style of jazz music between the 1920s and 1950s, although the earliest of these dances predate swing jazz music. The best known forms of the dance include the Lindy Hop, a popular partner dance, along with the Charleston and the Jitterbug.

“The Swing Syndicate adds a unique flair to downtown Troy’s exciting hub of culture and small business,” said Breaux, a native of Roselle Park, N.J., who is a senior majoring in aeronautical engineering. “With a number of shops, restaurants, and late-night establishments recently contributing to the area’s vibrant entertainment scene, the dance studio aims to provide a fun and welcoming environment where novice and experienced dancers can congregate.”

Breaux said that his first claim to fame in the dance world harkens back to winning an award during a seventh-grade dance contest. At Rensselaer, as a first-year student, he participated in the Destination Dance activity as part of the week-long program of welcome events and team-building activities known as “Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond” developed for incoming students. The program introduced students to several dance moves, including jazz, hip hop, and ballet from professional instructors, and members of the RPI Dance Club. Shortly, after that, at a friend’s urging, Breaux decided to join the RPI Ballroom Club, where he currently serves as president.

Over the summer, in working with several area dance organizations to teach swing dance lessons, Breaux and McNeight decided that they wanted to open a studio in Troy.

“With swing dance events taking place at venues like Daisy Baker’s and Rensselaer, it was obvious that Troy was becoming the heart of the swing dance community in the Capital Region,” said McNeight, a native of Chesterfield, Mass., who is a sophomore majoring in mathematics. For McNeight, a dancer since the age of four, much of her experience has been focused on ballet and jazz. “Coming to Rensselaer, and attending the annual Student Activities Fair provided me with an opportunity to try something new.” She eventually joined the RPI Ballroom Club.

“We want to take swing dancing to the next level,” McNeight said. “We hope to make Troy synonymous with great dancing, lively music, and the youthful spirit of swing, not only to swing dancers in the region, but to dancers across the Northeast.”

With support and financial assistance from family and personal savings, they are leasing a street-level space on River Street. Basic renovations to the space included new flooring, painting the walls, new light fixtures, jazz-themed artwork, and sound equipment.

“As a student, opening our own business is a challenge,” Breaux said. “It’s been a whirlwind few months, and through it all, we also need to find time to balance our academics while coordinating various projects to launch the studio. Despite that, this presents us with a good opportunity to learn how to manage a business and share our love for swing dancing with others.”

“There are so many lessons that we have learned in the process of opening the studio,” McNeight added. “The most important so far is time management, which helps us find some balance in everything that we are involved in.”

The Swing Syndicate will offer affordable group and private dance lessons, workshops, and weekly social dances. Breaux and McNeight will teach classes, along with two additional staff instructors.  In addition, one-time hour-long introductory classes will be offered on the last Friday of each month as part of the monthly Troy Night Out event.

Already, Breaux and McNeight are thinking big, as they have several projects planned including hosting major dances with nationally recognized swing bands at larger venues in Troy. Also, plans for a gigantic swing dance festival — requiring parts of River Street to be blocked off to traffic — are currently being presented to city officials. In the near future, they also hope to offer classes to younger students and develop an after-school program.

However, both agree that their ultimate goal – through swing dancing – is to put the Capital Region on the map.

To get a glimpse of Breaux and McNeight while swing dancing, see the video:

The Swing Syndicate is located at 212 River Street. For more information visit:

Future issues of The College Series will explore issues related to the student experience, admissions, financial aid, public safety, residence life, student life, health services, mobile computing, and career development, and others.

Contact: Jessica Otitigbe
Phone: (518) 276-6050