KC’s Masonic Temple still a swingin’ spot with weekend of Lindy Hop

07/13/2014 3:44 PM

07/13/2014 10:28 PM

Contrary to misconception, the grand old Masonic Temple at Ninth and Harrison streets is still jumpin’, and on Sunday it was jivin’, too.

For a second year, a fledgling local swing dance group, 627 Stomp, hosted a weekend of Lindy Hop at the historic Kansas City Masonic Temple.

On the same wooden floors where Harry and Bess Truman danced, 20- and 30-somethings in shorts, T-shirts and Keds sneakers, some with slicked-back hair, honed triple steps, ball changes and shuffles.

“It’s like stepping back in time when everything was jumpin’ and jivin,’” said Amanda Bernice, 27, a Kansas City nanny and a 627 Stomp founder.

The air conditioning in the 4,500-square-foot Tiffany Ballroom was set at a cool 64 degrees, but the dancers sweated right through shirts and gulped lots of water.

They’ve become enthusiastic new fans of the building, where the Kansas City Masonic Temple Historic Preservation Society threw open the doors to its ballroom and 750-seat theater to the public for the first time last summer.

Building officials think they’re sitting on one of Kansas City’s best-kept secrets, especially since two books in recent years listed the building as abandoned.

Wrong. The building, which opened in 1911, has been in continuous use by local Masonic organizations. About 10 groups still meet there.

“We’re probably one of the last holdouts of these great buildings to be open to weddings and other events,” said Amber DiGiovanni, the building’s event manager and executive chef. “Even though we are very old and very historic, we are still the new kid on the block.”

Money raised by events like the dance weekend will help pay for renovations. The to-do list is lengthy, including renovations to the elevator, said to be the second-oldest in the city, and cleaning the grand pipe organ in the theater.

“It means everything to have this building used … to see all this activity,” DiGiovanni said. “This kind of thing is exactly what we want to bring to our building.”

Last year’s Stomp weekend brought about 160 dancers to the building. This year about 250 came from across the country, and two flew in from Switzerland. The group has already booked the building for next summer.

“This building was here in the swing era, and a lot of us want to be immersed in the culture and the time of that era,” said Peter Shilliday, 24, a software engineer from Olathe and a 627 Stomp founder. “Our organization is all about preserving music and dance, and this happens to line up with that.”

His group takes its name from both the historic Local 627 African-American musicians’ union and a song called “627 Stomp.” The swing dance subculture has become active and vibrant around the world, Shilliday said, and his group wants to plug local dancers into that enthusiasm. It’s reached way beyond Kansas City.

Ursula Hicks, 22, a dance teacher and choreographer, drove to Kansas City from Dallas with a group of friends.

Hicks likes the social aspect of swing dance events, where you don’t have to bring your own partner.

And Kansas City’s Masonic Temple, Hicks said, adds an extra something. “It’s a real nice ambiance,” she said. “It makes it more authentic.”

To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send email to lgutierrez@kcstar.com.

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