When This Dance Duo Took To The Stage, Their Astonishing Routine Completely Stole The Show

You’re in the audience of one of the world’s premier swing dance festivals. You’ve already seen numerous couples showing off their fanciest doo-wop footwork while dressed up to the nines. But it’s only when a pair named Nils Andrén and Bianca Locatelli take to the stage that you truly feel you’ve been transported back to the Roaring Twenties.

The festival in question is Rock That Swing, an event which takes place every year in the German city of Munich. A celebration of all things swing – as well as a little bit of rock and roll – the feast of music offers a throwback to the sounds of the 1920s through to the 1950s. And there are plenty of chances for folk to both watch and get involved.

That’s right, there are hundreds of workshops taking place at the event, which has been staged annually since 2006. Across five toe-tapping days, attendees can try out everything from Balboa and Boogie Woogie to Rockabilly and Lindy Hop. These classes are taught by no fewer than 70 of the most skilled dance teachers on Earth.

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It doesn’t matter whether you’re a dancing champion or have two left feet, either. Festivalgoers are encouraged to bust a move no matter what their skillset is, thanks to classes ranging from absolute beginner all the way up to pro. Of course, some swing fans are more than content to just spectate instead.

And there’s still plenty to keep Rock That Swing attendees occupied, if that’s the case. The festival stages several exciting competitions that pit some of the globe’s finest swing dancers against each other. But in 2020 it was one particular couple that stole the show: the one and only Bianca Locatelli and Nils Andrén.

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So, who exactly are these two inspirational showstoppers? Well, Locatelli and Andrén hail from Italy and Sweden, respectively, and they both embraced the world of dance as youngsters. In fact, they regularly took to the competitive stage with different partners during their teens to show off their best moves.

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And it wasn’t just swing that the youngsters dabbled in, either. As well as taking it back to the ’20s, Locatelli and Andrén also became skilled in various other dance styles including ballet, ballroom, hip hop and the Swedish Bugg. But it was only when Locatelli relocated to Andrén’s Scandinavian homeland aged 16 that both parties truly began to shine.

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Yes, Locatelli and Andrén have since regularly represented Sweden in the fields of Lindy Hop and Boogie Woogie. Their trophy cabinet includes prizes from the European Swing Dance Championships, Camp Hollywood and the International Lindy Hop Championship. The couple are also regulars on the domestic circuit and have several titles under their belt.

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In 2018 Locatelli told online publication Swingzine exactly how she fell in love with the dance. She said, “I traveled around Italy taking Boogie Woogie classes at events, and that’s when I truly discovered swing dancing. I signed up for some classes in my city but Lindy Hop wasn’t popular at all. In class, there were the teachers, their parents and me. So, I started convincing my parents to take me to swing events in order to learn even more.”

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This enthusiasm inspired Locatelli’s parents in 2012 to send her to a dance camp in the Swedish town of Herräng. It was here where she developed both a bond with Andrén and an appreciation for the less competitive nature of swing music. Before that, it seems, she had approached dance with something of a competitive edge.

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Speaking to Swingzine, Locatelli elaborated on just how much the camp at Herräng influenced her view of dance. She revealed, “I came from a competition scene and the whole concept of social dancing Boogie and Lindy was something quite new to me. During the camp, I was overwhelmed with thoughts and inspiration.”

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Locatelli continued, “It took a while for me to realize that there was more to the dance than competitions, that perfection could be seen in so many ways. No matter what part of the world people came from, we could still dance with each other and make it work. When I look back, I am amazed that the only aspect of the dance I could see then was the competitive side, that I could have been so narrow-minded.”

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It’s fair to say that Andrén didn’t take to dance as effortlessly as his future partner. The Swede told Swingzine that he initially struggled to keep up with the steps and that he initially wasn’t interested in dancing at all. In fact, the first time Andrén ever attempted a move was during a mandatory P.E. class. He admitted, “I basically got forced to do it, something that I was very upset about at the time but am very thankful for today.”

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Andrén recalled, “I couldn’t find the beat at all. Leading and following was completely out of the question because it took all my attention to try to understand where my feet were going.” But persistence paid off and he eventually found himself enjoying the classes. The Swede added, “It made me zone out my surroundings and just be in the moment. Nowadays, it’s very much the same, I still find myself zoning out and feeling the same kind of happiness.”

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After attending the Herräng dance camp, Locatelli decided to leave her native Italy and spend an exchange year in Sweden. She subsequently moved in with Andrén and his family, where the pair began to develop their successful partnership. Locatelli told Swingzine, “We enjoyed dancing together and decided to compete in Boogie Woogie and Lindy Hop for fun. It was just for fun because I was supposed to leave once the school year was finished.”

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But in 2014 Locatelli permanently relocated to Sweden. After graduating from high school there, she and Andrén started traveling across the globe to share their passion for swing with others. The Italian said, “Being able to dance as my full-time job has always been a goal, I realized it quite early when I felt that dancing is something that makes me feel good. So, why not do that all the time?”

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But where did Locatelli and Andrén’s dance of choice actually originate from? Well, swing has its roots in the African-American communities of the 1920s, particularly those in the New York neighborhood of Harlem. It emerged in the wake of a jazz music revolution that inspired audiences to get off their seats and start dancing.

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Taking elements of ballroom, tap and African dance, swing was spearheaded by the likes of Frankie Manning, Dean Collins and “Shorty George” Snowden. Of course, there’s not just one style. Swing spawned several different disciplines including the Collegiate Shag, the Lindy Charleston and, perhaps most famously of all, the Lindy Hop.

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Also referred to as the Jitterbug, the Lindy Hop is a highly physical eight-count dance which became hugely popular at Harlem’s famous Savoy Ballroom in the pre-war era. The venue’s troupes achieved a much wider level of popularity when they featured in films such as 1937’s A Day at the Races and 1941’s Hellzapoppin. And a premier dance event known as the Harvest Moon Ball was filmed, too, which introduced many people to the Lindy Hop.

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Yet not everyone approved of this dance craze. In 1936 the American Society of Teachers of Dancing’s president Philip Nutl claimed that swing wouldn’t make it to the following spring. And two years later the Dance Teachers’ Business Association’s president Donald Grant argued that it was “a degenerated form of jazz, whose devotees are the unfortunate victims of economic instability.”

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But such critics were in the minority. Swing remained the dominant dance style over the next decade as clubs and classes began popping up everywhere. And it continued to evolve, too. The Imperial Swing, West Coast Swing and East Coast Swing are just a few of the styles that were spawned from the original dance as the nation went swing crazy.

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Eventually, even organizations such as The New York Society of Teachers had no option but to embrace the style they’d previously ignored. But it was the Arthur Murray Studios that became the place to learn. In fact, the legendary dance chain even tailored their classes to each city’s style of swing.

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In the 1950s audiences who’d never even stepped foot on a dance floor were able to experience the joys of swing. And from the comfort of their own home, too. That’s because the style also became a regular fixture on TV screens thanks to the likes of The Buddy Dean Show and American Bandstand.

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Sadly, by the 1960s more contemporary moves had replaced swing on the dance floor. Thanks to the dominance of pop and rock music, a new generation was learning that you could have just as much fun dancing on your own. For many, sharing the floor with a partner soon became seen as old hat.

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But like everything that falls out of fashion, swing eventually enjoyed a revival. In the 1980s the discotheques of France helped to spearhead a new form of swing music known as the modern jive. And in the same decade, classic swingers such as Frankie Manning were inspiring dancers to bring back the Lindy Hop.

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This swing renaissance continued in the 1990s when the likes of Swingerhead, Indigo Swing and The Brian Setzer Orchestra became firm favorites. Thanks to events such as Germany’s Rock That Swing, the dance style continued to maintain its popularity in the ’00s. And globetrotting dancers such as Locatelli and Andrén are helping to keep the tradition alive in the modern era.

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Locatelli and Andrén first went viral for their Rock That Swing routines at the Kolpinghaus Ballroom in 2015. There, the couple racked up nearly 500,000 views for their Lindy Hop showcase at the annual event. But by 2018 they were pulling in an astonishing 16 million views with their highly impressive footwork.

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On this occasion, Locatelli and Andrén were performing in front of a much bigger crowd at Munich’s Deutsches Theater. And the song they chose to swing along to may well have helped to rack up such a colossal viewing figure. First released in 1961 by Bruce Channel and Margaret Cobb, “Hey! Baby” then gained a second wind more than 25 years later when it featured in Dirty Dancing.

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In February 2020 Locatelli and Andrén once again returned to the Deutsches Theater in Munich for the 15th annual Rock That Swing. As well as teaching at the event, the pair wowed audiences with their signature fast-moving style during the competitive stage. In fact, they wowed audiences before they’d even started their routine.

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That’s because, as always, Locatelli and Andrén looked like they’d just been transported from the swing dance heyday of the pre-war era. The former was dressed in a classy white blouse and teal green skirt. While the latter somehow managed to showcase his super-speedy moves while sporting a full suit complete with bow tie.

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And the couple couldn’t wait to get started. Both Locatelli and Andrén skipped joyfully onto the dance floor before doing some freestyle solo moves directly in front of the enthusiastic audience. As the whoops and hollers got louder, the couple reconvened and joined hands to engage in some mightily impressive twirling.

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The noise level then went through the roof, after Andrén threw Locatelli over his shoulder and then back again before briefly sliding her onto the floor. After some more twirling, the pair jumped into the air simultaneously. There was then a brief pause – perhaps for the duo to catch their breaths – before they launched into some more fancy footwork.

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Following some further mesmerizing twists and turns, Locatelli and Andrén went solo again. This time they gesticulated wildly, thrashing their arms and legs about before waddling backwards like a penguin. In another humorous move, an understandably overheated Andrén tried to fan himself cool by waving his suit jacket up and down.

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The pair continued to delight their audience when they got back to all the synchronized twirls and leaps. Locatelli and Andrén then playfully left the stage by gently tiptoeing toward the exit, occasionally looking back to face the crowd. But the rapturous response proved that they’d once again smashed it.

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Locatelli and Andrén then milked the applause for all it was worth when they quickly returned to the stage for a bow. And the Rock That Swing audience were far from the only ones to have been bowled over by the Italian-Swede duo’s dance floor antics. Footage of the routine quickly racked up more than a million views on YouTube, too.

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Comments left underneath the awe-inspiring video offered nothing but positive feedback. “The absolute best, smoothest and totally awesome choreography – WOW,” posted one particularly impressed viewer. “I didn’t know humans could move that fast,” claimed another. And then then there was the user who commented, “I wish I could bottle their energy and talent… I’d make billions.”

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Another particularly glowing review came from a long-time fan who posted, “Not only are they the best in their field, but their pure joy for dance is palpable. I’ve seen just about every upload of the dances they’ve performed and without exception I found myself grinning from ear to ear during each one. Love, love, love them!!!”

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In her 2018 interview with Swingzine, Locatelli explained why that joy is so palpable. She said, “Dancing had and still has a magical power to make me live in the moment and enjoy it. It still makes me feel truly happy and carefree. Nowadays, dancing can challenge me much more than when I started and it makes me want to express my feelings.”

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Discussing her hopes for the future, Locatelli added, “We wish that one day the scene will draw attention to what we think are the core values of Boogie Woogie, such as the origins of it, including music, leading and following and spontaneity. One of our goals is of course to communicate what we cherish through our dancing. Another is to get better at other swing dances.”

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And Locatelli and Andrén really did spend 2020 dancing. They released a steady stream of home videos of their dancing on social media, and they also gave virtual classes, too. Its seems that the fast-moving pair really do live by their motto, “A dance a day keeps the doctor away.”

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