April 1, 2020
Volume 1 Issue 1
by: Edward McNally
There may be trouble ahead,
but while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance,
let’s face the music and dance.
– songwriter/composer Irving Berlin, 1936
Kati Arikoski-Johnson, a native of Finland, is a passionate advocate for the community-building power of swing dance. So much so that she and her friend Jess Kim founded Triple Step Studios (TSS), their own swing dance company. Kati is proud to say that “At Triple Step, it’s our hope that by celebrating the cultural origins of Swing that we can bring back some of the classic improvisation and fun spirit that filled the original dancers in the 1920’s and 30’s.” She explains that “Many people equate swing dancing with only Lindy Hop, but the swing genre includes an assortment of dance styles. One of our goals is to produce more well-rounded dancers who have a set of skills in each of these distinctive dance styles.”
Since forming their nonprofit a year ago, the team at TSS has offered weekly classes in every form of swing dance, including Lindy Hop, Balboa, vernacular Jazz, the Charleston, St. Louis Shag and Collegiate Shag. Triple Step’s now has a youth education program that trains Atlanta area teens to compete in the International Lindy Hop Championships and is collaborating with other nonprofits to make dance education more accessible to students of all ages. The core team of dancers includes co-founders Kati and Jessica, who both moved to Atlanta in 2017, as well as Hank Adkinson, Kishore Devisetti, Leisa Hart, Grant Nunn and Andrew Petillo.
“We want students to feel free to explore all of the styles that swing has to offer,“ says Arikoski-Johnson, one of the co-founders. “To accomplish that goal, we’ve offered classes in studios, schools, and venues all over the city, as well as in Decatur, Marietta, OTP, and south of the city up to an hour away.” Triple Step even has a YouTube channel featuring dance performances and choreography breakdowns.
Triple Step’s progressive classes, offered from 6 to 7 pm every Sunday evening at the Garden Hills Community Center in Buckhead, focus on a different swing dance style each month. From 6:30 to 7 pm on Sundays, beginners with little or no experience can learn the most basic steps at no charge. In addition to the regular weekly events, TSS hosts monthly jazz dance workshops on Sunday’s. These are intensive-style courses that range on the beginner-intermediate levels. Following these workshops, there is time to practice one-on-one with instructors and receive personalized feedback. After classes, the real fun begins with Triple Step’s famously fun Pay-What-You-Can social dances filling the hall until 9 pm, to classic swing jazz by djs or live bands. According to Kati, “When the dancer’s movements are tied to the music is when dance is at its best. The movements can be simple, if it fits it works. Thus, when teaching at all levels there is a strong emphasis on connecting the movements to the music.”
“One of the other main goals of TSS is to connect dance students of all ages and experience levels with Atlanta-based jazz musicians and the broader jazz community,” says Ms. Kim. “Because of this, we host live bands or performers as often as possible to facilitate this connection between the music and the dance. Ultimately, we see TSS as a bridge between several art communities including dance, live music, filmmakers and other performing and visual arts.”
Over the past several months, TSS participated in a collaborative international project called the “iCharleston” where groups from around the world made videos of themselves dancing the Charleston around major landmarks. TSS brought together puppeteers, filmmakers, musicians, and original choreography. This resulting video featured an original song from the Atlanta jazz band, Hot Club of Atlanta, as well as a fantasy character designed and operated by local puppeteer Spencer Murrill. The short film shows a family re-discovering its love for dance as they follow a puppet all around the city, seeing the rich history of Atlanta and picking up more dancers along the way.
“The video project was another great way to showcase our core values,” says Kati, who oversaw the choreography. “Inclusion, accessibility, life-long learning, and having fun!” TSS has earned a reputation among all kinds of dancers for knowing how to throw a great party. The instructors conduct silly dance games during band and dj breaks during social dance nights. The TSS Instagram features dance history quizzes throughout the month and random drawings for an hour-long 1-on-1 dance lesson.
“From the start, we’ve worked to make our studio open to a diverse student population, regardless of age, race, gender orientation, and economic status,” says Kati. “The broader Atlanta dance community is definitely vibrant, eclectic and fun, which is why we’re so happy to be a part of it.”
TSS has also hosted several community events across metro Atlanta over the past year. These include a fundraiser for a local dancer needing an organ transplant, a tribute to Lindy Hop dance pioneer Norma Miller, and a community forum about ways to enhance Atlanta’s swing dance scene. Last October, TSS partnered with the Scandinavian American Foundation of Georgia to host a lesson and live band swing dance at Wild Heaven Brewery in its new West End location. TSS regulars have even formed Triple Step Studios Family Group, a Facebook group where they organize outings to Broadway touring shows at The Fox, The Atlanta Opera and other cultural events.
“From the start, we’ve worked to make our studio open to a diverse student population, regardless of age, race, gender orientation, and economic status,” says Kim. “The broader Atlanta dance community is definitely vibrant, eclectic and fun, which is why we’re so happy to be a part of it.”
Cost for TSS classes range from $10 / $8 students for single classes to $72 / $60 students for a 5-week series. Anyone can apply to volunteer at events in exchange for classes and workshops.
Workshops: General: $25, Student: $18
Drop-In Classes: General: $10, Student, $8
During the COVID-19 outbreak, TSS is offering a range of online activities, such as a jazz bingo with new dance challenges every day, social media watch parties of classic jazz movies, at-home dance fitness/stretching videos, and a collaborative video project where dancers receive four-eighths of a song, which will be edited together to showcase dancers in quarantine. The best way to keep up with them is to subscribe to their monthly newsletter or follow them on their social media accounts.