Dozens of square dancers gather to celebrate friend’s belated birthday

96-year-old Toni Cilberti of Scotia square dances with Herman Forsell at the Rotterdam Elks Lodge Saturday.

96-year-old Toni Cilberti of Scotia square dances with Herman Forsell at the Rotterdam Elks Lodge Saturday.

Toni Cilberti’s dress twirled as she moved from one partner to another while the steps to a square dance were called out.
Dozens gathered Saturday at the Rotterdam Elks to celebrate Cilberti’s 95th and 96th birthdays — although she said it was more like a celebration for her 96th and a half birthday, since her 97th birthday will be in April.
Cilberti, who loves both square and round dancing, had wanted a birthday party themed around the two dance styles. Unfortunately, before it could happen, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, canceling it. When places started opening back up, she booked the first date she could.
Cilberti first got into square dancing in 2009.
“I’ve been promoting it everywhere I go now,” she said.
She said one of the best parts of square dancing is that you don’t need to show up with a partner to participate. She said that if you step up to a square, a partner has to join you before the dance can begin.
Square dancers from the around the Capital Region were on hand Saturday to help Cilberti celebrate. Others traveled from New England, with some coming from as far away as South Carolina and Florida.
Attendees included Cilberti’s mentors, square dance step caller Elaine Mikenas and Dennis Viscanti, a cuer for round dancing.
Mikenas said she began square dancing in 1993 after seeing it at the Fonda Fair.
“I’ve been a dancer all my life,” she said.
She eventually learned to call square dance steps, adding that there are anywhere between 70 and 100 different steps to remember.
One of the reasons she enjoys square dancing is because it keeps one’s mind active.
That’s also what Cilberti wants people to know about square dancing, especially as the tight-knit community looks to expand.
“To let them know that it’s physically and mentally good for you,” she said.
Mikenas said there used to be around 20 square dance groups in the area. On Saturday, she could only count off three that are still active.
“It’s because of Toni we’re going to start lessons at the Clifton Park Senior Center,” said Mikenas who, along with Viscanti, teaches western square and round dancing on Thursdays at their Gloversville dance studio called TheShoeLeatherExpress.
“It’s a party every time,” Mikenas said.
Ed Pooler of Schaghticoke also attended Cilberti’s party. He started square dancing in 1970. His parents had seen it while on a trip in Florida, he said. When his parents came back, they reached out to the local Chamber of Commerce to find a group to join.
Pooler began dancing when he was 30.
“I didn’t realize I was going to enjoy it as much as I do,” he said.
Now 73, Pooler said he’s excited when he can get on the dance floor. He also likes the social aspect of it.
“It’s a family,” he said. “You have your own family and then you have your square dance family.”
Doug Sheldon, who now lives in Florida, agreed that everyone who square dances becomes a family.
“You end up making lifelong friends,” Sheldon said.
Sheldon said he learned to square dance in his 20s. After he didn’t square dance for several years, he resumed doing so in 2009.
“Square dancers are the friendliest people you’ll ever meet,” he said.
Carol and Bill Gordon of Colonie sat just a table over from Sheldon. They both started square dancing in 1974.
Carol Gordon said the best part of square dancing is you can’t think of anything else because you’re trying to remember the steps you have to do.
“It just takes your mind off of everything,” she said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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