Story: Alexandra Malcolmson
Multimedia: Sam Torosian
Michael Seguin stands casually in the center of a circle of dancers, explaining the basics of swing, under the dimmed lighting of a restored church transformed into a ballroom.
“This is your starting foot. This is where you live. Now, rock, step, 5, 6, 7, 8,” shouts 28-year-old Seguin, a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand. Seguin is the owner of and the primary instructor at Mobtown Ballroom off of Washington Boulevard in downtown Baltimore.
The Mobtown Ballroom is preparing to celebrate its one-year anniversary next month. It’s located on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Callender Street and is cleverly disguised as a historic church built in the 1870s. Today, the church has been restored, re-painted and renovated into a 25-square-foot dance floor with commodities such as an air conditioning units, ramps and stairs.
“Under the floor is just cracked tile and horrible stains,” said one of the Mobtown originals, Charlie Wieprecht. “We built lattice work on top of it, underneath of the hardwood, so that now it’s springy and bounces a little when we dance.”
After renting out spaces for their lessons and socials all around Baltimore, from Camden to Rosedale to Federal Hill, Seguin and his girlfriend, Nina Gilkenson, decided it was time to look into a space of their own.
“We realized that we were paying enough in rent to justify getting just one place,” said Seguin. “We drove all around the city looking or a place without pillars, which is the hardest part. We saw the “for sale” sign here outside, hassled with the owner for about a year. We both like old church shit and I’m a pastor’s kid.”
On any given night, Caleb Newell will be manning the door, the lighting/sound booth and the bar.
“It’s like a subculture,” said Newell. “It has its own cult following, meaning it’s always there. It’s like when you have rocky horror, every time you have that show, it fills up because people know what it is. People love swing dance so it’s always going to have a need.”
The dancers at Mobtown Ballroom really do come from all walks of life. The characters that fill up the room as 9 o’clock approaches are as diverse as ever.
“I came here with my friends,” said 17-year-old Chris Shank, pointing to two girls with long skirts dancing with each other. “They love dancing and my other friend told me I should come out and try it one night. Here I am and I won’t lie, I don’t hate it.”
Seguin started dancing in high school “to meet girls” when he was 16-years-old.
“I just kept doing it for fun,” he said. “For a while I had a chance to teach classes to help pay for college so I stuck with it. I was studying Greek and Latin. I got out of college and there were no jobs so I stuck with this instead.”
While Seguin got his start to dancing in Seattle, his girlfriend, Gilkenson, was from Baltimore. They met in Seattle while she was traveling and eventually came back to Baltimore together.
Gilkenson is currently traveling in Barcelona for one of her 45 international trips she’ll be taking this year to teach dancing.
“We started this together,” said Seguin. “I tend to do the day-to-day running of it. She also runs her own even in D.C., the International Lindy Hop Championships which hosts like, a thousand people.”
The Mobtown Ballroom will be celebrating its one-year anniversary in a three-day event from Oct. 12-14 featuring live bands, fancy outfits and “the ultimate soul party of all time,” according to Seguin.