COURTESY OF EMMA SHANNON
Mobtown Ballroom is a niche of Baltimore that Shannon frequents.
This weekend, Mobtown Ballroom, Baltimore’s own hub for swing dancing, will celebrate its eighth anniversary. I myself am a regular there, frequently going to their weekly dances and trying to convince other Hopkins students to go with me. While I would love to use this article to coax others into joining me for the festivities Mobtown has planned — live bands, contests, drinks, dancing the night away — I instead decided to speak with one of the owners about how the ballroom changed from an old church into the beautiful institution it is now.
I’ve been going to Mobtown for years, but it never occurred to me to ask how the place got its start until now. What about Baltimore was so enticing to start a swing venue? Why the location in Pigtown rather than somewhere like Fell’s Point or Hampden? Michael Seguin, one of the owners and instructors, elaborated on the background of Mobtown Ballroom in an interview with The News-Letter.
As it turns out, there was already a small scene here called “Charm City Swing,” and Mobtown was the result that provided it with a permanent home.
“[Baltimore] is one of the few cities where scrappy upstarts can still pull something off,” Seguin wrote. “My dance/arts career started in Seattle, and the idea of young pups like we were getting their hands on a space this size in Seattle is laughable.”
As for choosing Pigtown, Seguin focused on luck and the practicality of finding a beautiful old church that now houses these dancers.
I also asked Seguin about Mobtown’s interaction with the community in Baltimore. Mobtown hosts weekly events filled with city regulars, but there are larger events that attract crowds from all over the East Coast. I wanted to know how he felt about Mobtown as a part of that community.
“We’ve generally had a more raucous reputation than most other places, and we took a lot of risks with live music and events early on,” he wrote.
As for Baltimore specifically, Seguin appeared very content with how the ballroom fits into the Baltimore community.
“[Mobtown], we are proud to say, has become one of those quirky Baltimore institutions that is beloved in some circles and gazed at bemusedly in others,” he wrote. “The Baltimore swing and jazz scene has definitely grown and created connections in the region, but it is, and always will be, a subculture, which is fine by us. It has certainly grown more diverse over the years, which is gratifying.”
Seguin then took the conversation in a direction I wasn’t totally expecting.
“I think the crucial thing to understand about this community is that it rises and falls on the work of a couple dedicated staff and a ton of people who put in time and energy simply because they love it. We’ve managed to provide a space for 8 years, but the people who come here have made an atmosphere that has lasted and survived for that long,” he wrote. “It’s no small accomplishment, and that’s not something [the owners] can take credit for. Baltimore is a special city and the people here come together to make things happen in an extraordinary way. It’s been a lovely honor to be part of that, and to have served that, in some small way.”
When I think about all of the times I’ve been to Mobtown, I realize Seguin is totally right. There is an incredibly committed group of Baltimore locals who show up week after week without fail. We’ve all built up relationships with each other because of our love for swing and can trust that we’ll always run into each other for a dance.
I spoke to some Mobtown regulars about this, and everyone was on the same page. One Baltimore local, Emma Lynn, commented on Mobtown’s environment over the years.
“The first time I went to Mobtown was on a whim about four years ago, and ever since that first time I was drawn back to its fun and welcoming atmosphere. It will forever hold a special place in my heart,” she said.
Hannah Christofferson, a friend of Lynn’s, emphasized this point.
“I’ve never been in a more welcoming environment,” she said.
Another regular, Raquel Castedo, spoke to me about how important Mobtown became to her after moving to Baltimore from Brazil.
“First, my work brought me to Baltimore. Later, friendship made me come back. Then, love for the people here and this city made me want to stay. Mobtown is one of my favorite places in the world,” Castedo said.
This weekend, Mobtown celebrates eight years of passion and community, all thanks to Baltimore and the people this city attracts. If you want to be part of this experience, I fully recommend checking out the events this weekend or even just coming out for weekly Friday night swing dance.