In some circles ballroom dancing never went the way of the Jerk, the Pony or the Watusi. Monday nights at the Moose Lodge in Eureka, those 50 or better gather for the Friendship Circle Ballroom Dance Club, a local tradition since 1951. The dance floor is always crowded with happy folk tripping the light fantastic to the '30s and '40s music played by one band or another, most recently the Blue Lake Yacht Club or Friendship One featuring piano, bass, drums and horns.
Whether space dancing to a drum solo at a Dead Show or waltzing to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" at the Moose Lodge, dancing is dancing is dancing. And dancing with your friends is just that, dancing with your friends. And if the music is your music, well, once people catch the bug it's near impossible to shake. The ritual of dancing together has bound us socially, culturally and romantically for as long as we humans have been around.
Delayne Parley, a congenial blonde who doesn't look a day past 40, started taking lessons from Bruce Hart with her husband when their "kids were grown up to the point where we could go out dancing." They heard about the 50-and-older dance. "The first time we loved it. The second time we joined," said Parley, who now serves as Friendship Circle Dance Club president.
As the Blue Lake Yacht Club played its first tune, emptying all but a few seats, Parley continued, "These dances meet 52 weeks a year, for an admittance price of $4 and an annual fee of $15. Guests are welcome and are asked to join after their second visit. Aside from being able to dance every Monday night all year long to some really great music at a very reasonable price, we also have refreshments at break time. The food is great, the people are great and it is a wonderful place to socialize and make new friends."
As volunteer trustee for the club, Ray Costa, a retired superintendent engineer for the Salinas Post Office since 1981, comes early to set up and oversees other duties throughout the evening. "They play snappy," Costa said, gesturing toward the band. "You can do a swing or a fox trot to it. I know this because I took lessons." Costa took dance at Arthur Murray in 1954, paying $75. Ray looked rather snappy himself as a woman in a full purple skirt cinched at the waist sashayed over. Before they'd barely taken a step, a whistle blew and he had to let go. This dance was a whistle-mixer, the whistle a signal to pick a new partner, giving the single women more chances to dance.
At this age, there are more men than women at this event. The women with regular partners were perfectly happy to share their escorts. The men were gentlemanly and flattering; the women smart and friendly. It felt comforting to be in the company of these lovely people. They were so laid back. Does that come with age? (Or is it because they dance?) Calming down. Being gracious. Enjoying life.
Richard and Bonnie Fichura learned the Lindy Hop from Frankie Manning, one of the original Lindy Hoppers from Harlem in the 1930s. The Lindy Hop died out after World War II until a revival in the 1980s when Manning, then in his 80s, began teaching all over the world. The Fichuras studied with the master in Shelter Cove, and it showed in their energetic footwork.
Although Jenny Hansen left her native England 45 years ago, and Tobia Ghidinelli left Italy in 1952, their respective accents remain wonderfully thick. "I was married to a good dancer," Ghidinelli said. "I learned from her then and I learn from this one, too." He pointed a long finger across the table at Hansen, who announced, "We are to celebrate our 10th anniversary the 22nd of September. We met dancing the polka ... we danced a lot that night. I suggested he come to a few more dances."
A white ponytail flowing past her waist, Hansen, 70, and wiry Ghidinelli, 88, are "polka and fast-waltz nuts" who attend the Euro Fest in Reno and Accordion Fest in Cotati. Hansen is convinced that "all of his back pain goes away when he dances the polka." She tenderly reached to pat Ghindelli's forearm and added, "Dancing keeps you young, sweetie."
A little dancing, a little eating, some coffee, a gingerale, some talking, perhaps a stronger drink, a little more dancing, talking, more dancing. I was invited back. Next time to dance.
The Friendship Circle Dance Club meets at the Moose Lodge (4329 Campton Rd., Eureka) on Monday nights 7-10 p.m. Aug. 8 is Hawaiian Night; the 59th Anniversary Dinner Dance takes place in October. For more information call Gloria Malcom at 725-5323 or Delayne Parley at 443-9014.