Wabasha Street Caves grant the embrace of fearless swing dance

Morse and Zelle swing jitters away, invoke improvisational outlooks

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Submitted: Mira Zelle

“Swing night is really fun because often times there's a lot of teenagers around, and they are all really nice and good at dancing. The dancing is fun because even though it's a lot of work, it's a good way to get exercise and dance with your friends and make new friends,” Zelle said.

It’s a Thursday night. The lights are dim, the music is jazz, and the faces whirling around are seemingly unfamiliar. The dance floor vibrates with improvisational ingenuity as feet continue to lift, bounce and shake. Laughter and unexpected crowds glitter the room. Flowy fabric is a necessity, much like the twirls, spins and swings are a necessity within the caves.

This place isn’t wonderland. This is Swing Night at the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul. Every Thursday night the caves host a variety of predominantly jazz bands and welcome anyone who seeks swinging around with friends through dance and music. Swing Night caters to a wide array of people and ages. Junior Mira Zelle often encounters other high schoolers who have also sought to slide and spin throughout the caves.

“Swing night is really fun because often times there’s a lot of teenagers around, and they are all really nice and good at dancing. The dancing is fun because even though it’s a lot of work, it’s a good way to get exercise and dance with your friends and make new friends,” Zelle said.

“The caves are really cool in general, so it’s nice that something so fun happens there It was an old speakeasy, so there’s a historical feel to it,” Zelle said.

It [the Wabasha Street Caves] draws you out of your comfort zone, and forces you to talk to new people. ”

— sophomore Chloe Morse

In addition to being a speakeasy, these man-made sandstone caves were originally built as silica mines in the 19th century. In her book, Minnesota Underground & the Best of the Black Hills: A Guide to Mines, Sinks, Caves and Disappearing Streams, underground explorer and Wisconsin resident Doris Green unpacks the intricate history of various caves in Minnesota.

Green writes that along with commercial use like storing equipment or for growing mushrooms, the Wabasha Street Caves were notoriously known as being a speakeasy and a gangster hangout during the Prohibition in the 1920s.

In addition to Zelle, sophomore Chloe Morse has enjoyed her Thursday nights at the Street Caves to broaden her horizons and swing outside the box.

“It’s definitely fun. It pulls you out of your comfort zone because you have to dance with people you don’t know, at least in the lesson portion, and you also have to learn to be comfortable with actually dancing in front of people. Plus, most of it is improvisation, so it draws creative elements out as well,” Morse said.

Zelle likewise adores engaging in swing dancing with a more experienced dancer in hopes to gain new swing dancing knowledge to practice and exude.

“It’s fun to have someone really good lead. You don’t have to focus that much on what you’re doing and if they’re actually good, they’ll teach you cool spins,” Zelle said.

Since Swing Night is only offered once a week, and the tumultuous demands of school and extracurricular obligations typically call attention, both Zelle and Morse savor the sometimes rare opportunity they have to attend Swing Night. Since Swing Night takes place on Thursday nights, it’s a great experience to partake in during the school week as a way to shake mid-school week jitters and stress away.

Ellie Findell
Swing Night at Wabasha Caves on Thursdays nights gives students the opportunity to explore new forms of dance and entertainment. “The dancing is fun because even though it’s a lot of work, it’s a good way to get exercise and dance with your friends and make new friends,” Zelle said.

“One of my favorite memories is sneaking to one of the hallways off the dance floor with a friend, and experimenting with the complicated moves we’d seen other people doing. It’s also really cool to see the experienced dancers since they do a variety of flips and turns,” Morse said.

“It [the Wabasha Street Caves] draws you out of your comfort zone, and forces you to talk to new people. While this sounds uncomfortable, it’s actually kind of relieving to let go of restrictions, and just dance. No one is judging you, and there are many people the same age who are making the same mistake. It’s really a community experience with everyone dancing and having fun that’s hard to get in Minnesota,” Morse said.

As lives often bubble and burst with an abundance of obligations, many often forget to break self-induced boundaries of opportunity. Located along the Mississippi, the almost mysterious and unusual aura the Street Caves radiate allows for the rupturing of routine, and the granting of liberation through the practice of professedly careless and carefree dance.