Dancing to a different tune
JOEL PLYS ’93
JOEL PLYS ’93 said goodbye to the corporate world in 1999. Now he and his wife travel the world teaching dances like the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug. Visit 2plyswing.com to learn more.
You might bump into JOEL PLYS ’93 and his wife Alison in San Diego. Or Cleveland. Or France. Or Australia. And you’re likely to find them having a swell time teaching the Lindy Hop or the Balboa — or another dance from the swing era. What you won’t find Plys doing is consulting on engineering projects. The San Diego resident left those days behind in the late ’90s when he got caught up in the swing dancing craze. It happened quickly, and no one was more surprised than Plys.
Technically, the business of teaching swing dancing was Plys’ third career before age 30. Active in Sigma Phi Epsilon at Bradley, he had been elected to almost every office in the chapter, including president, vice president, and pledge educator. The national fraternity selected him as a traveling regional director for his first year out of school. Driving his Ford Escort, he visited colleges in southern California, Las Vegas, Arizona, and New Mexico. He helped establish the first Sig Ep chapter in Hawaii that year.
In 1994, it was time to put his mechanical engineering degree to good use. He was hired by Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a programmer and analyst, and then worked in business process re-engineering. His first project, from 1994 to 1996, was in Rockford at Thrall Distribution. The following year, Andersen sent him to Peoria to work on a project for Caterpillar.
“After Cat was completed, I went back to the office in Chicago, and they didn’t have a client for me,” Plys recalls, looking back to ’98. “About the same time, I went on a date, and we went to a club where there was swing dancing. I got the bug, as they say, and went a little nuts with the dances and workshops.”
The next assignment from Andersen landed him in Cleveland. “It was the time of the Gap commercial (featuring swing dancing). There were lines out the door of the clubs every Thursday night,” he says. In terms of dance moves, the Chicago scene was ahead of Cleveland. It was only natural for Plys to begin competing and teaching classes. With dancing as his focus, he made the pivotal decision to leave the corporate world behind.
“Andersen was a fantastic job — financially and everything else,” says Plys, adding that his decision to leave was much to the dismay of his father. “The hardest thing is if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. There is the fear of financial failure.”
Plys began his first dance instruction company, Get Hep Swing, eventually teaching classes in three locations. “We built up a nice dance community in Cleveland,” he notes. In 2001, the Lansing, Ill., native courted Alison Scola, an instructor for his company, and the two were married in 2002.
“She didn’t want to see snow ever again,” he jokes. The couple moved to San Diego later that year and started another dance company, 2PlySwing. “We started traveling to different cities and it really started to take off.” Weekend workshops have sent them to more than 25 states, as well as abroad. “We focus on being upbeat, energetic, fun teachers. I’m really proud we’ve been hired because of our teaching skills.”
Their company also organizes major dance events, such as the Balboa Rendezvous and the Catalina Jazz Dance Festival. This year, Plys hopes to devote more time to event planning and less to travel. “I would like to actually live in San Diego. We have been here maybe only 50 percent of the time.”
Just like the vintage dances they teach, the couple’s life is happily less structured than if Plys worked in business or engineering. “I’m amazed at the end of the year when I do the books. I think, ‘We just spent a year teaching people to jump around.’”