The streets of Reykjavík in winter are a good place to dance, albeit unintentionally. Even in above-freezing temperatures, a thin sheet of black ice can coat the sidewalks, and slipping is an inevitable part of the most mundane walk in the city.
Perhaps as a result of this constant need to keep on one’s toes, there is a thriving swing dance community, with social dances throughout the year on the ice-free floors of various venues around the city.
Photo credit: Haukur Jónasson .
Háskóladansinn is the University of Iceland’s dance society, but although membership and several events are offered at a discount to students, they are open to the general public. Dancers of all levels are welcome to attend both classes, which run weekly, and social dances for swing, Lindy Hop, blues, and salsa, which often begin with a half-hour lesson in the basic steps. While the classes are aimed at those staying for the long term, social dances are open to anyone.
For those visiting Reykjavík , they make an ideal evening out: they’re free to attend, though you are asked to buy a drink to support the venue; they bring you inside some of the city’s prettiest spots; and you’ll usually meet an invigorating blend of locals, fellow tourists, and students or workers from many countries.
Language barriers become less intimidating, as the important part is to follow the steps, and this is easy enough with the help of the instructors. The more experienced can enjoy an energetic evening out; beginners can try their hand (or rather foot) at something new and fun.
Generally speaking, Háskóladansinn hosts four events a week, on three different nights. Sunday night, from 8:30-10:30 pm means Swing Rock and Roll on the upper floor at Bistro Sólon , on Bankastræti. Located right downtown and equipped with wide windows and a small balcony, it’s a great place to watch the lights of the city as you get your breath back between songs.
On Tuesdays, from 9:00-1:00 pm, West Coast Swing can be found in the back room at Hressó (Hressingarskálinn) on Austurstræti’s pedestrian stretch. With tables cleared to the side and the black curtain separating the dance floor from the restaurant, it feels a little like entering a secret club, but the atmosphere is welcoming, and it’s comfortably removed from the competing sound systems of the downtown bars.
Lindy Hop and Blues social dances, on Wednesday evenings from 8:30-11:00 pm, happen at the vintage-feeling Petersen Suite, above Gamla Bío — the old cinema. It’s a cosy space, papered on one side with a mosaic of small, aged movie posters, and usually full to bursting with dancers, who twirl with wild abandon despite the limited room. There’s an outdoor deck as well, and it’s not rare to see dancers stepping out to cool off in the snow after a particularly fast Charleston.
Photo: Lindy Ravens.
Also on Wednesdays, Salsa social dances run from 8:30-11:00 pm at Íðno on Vonarstræti. This is the only one with a cover charge; an affordable 500 kr. The free beginner class from 7:30-8:30 can prepare newcomers for the energetic evening to follow.
The etiquette is fairly simple. Respect for your partner and the other dancers is paramount, as well as the understanding that we’re all there to have a good time. Introduce yourself, if you’re dancing with a stranger, and thank them afterwards. People of all levels of experience attend these nights, and a good dance with an attentive partner can make all the difference in making someone feel like coming back.
Photo: Salsa Iceland.
If you are waiting for a late-night northern lights tour, or planning to go aurora-seeking solo, the bright, ebullient atmosphere of the downtown dance floors can be a lively way to pass the time. If you’re tired after a large supper but aren’t ready to turn in just yet, they can wake you up and put some spring, or swing, back in your step.
Experienced dancers can show what they’ve got, and may even come away with promises from new friends, to visit their dance floors back home. Workshops, too, can feature international dance teachers with something new to bring to the floor, and festivals such as the Arctic Lindy Exchange enliven Iceland’s dance culture.
Times and locations sometimes change, so it’s wise to check the Facebook page beforehand. For general information on events, venues, and membership, visit the website . The Facebook pages for each dance genre contain more detailed information on weekly DJs, special events, and beginner classes. Komið og Dansið , the other major swing dance society in Reykjavík, also frequently hosts events, which can be found on their Facebook page .