There’s a movement afoot in the Capital Region to get people back out on the dance floor in numbers.
The reason is simple: “To have fun and enjoy company,” said Paul Rosenberg of Albany, who has a history of starting community events such as the Flurry Festival and the Mohawk Hudson Marathon.
Rosenberg’s latest effort is a series of community dances designed for all ages, for dancers and non-dancers, hosted by the Old Songs Community Center in Voorheesville. At a community dance, everyone can get moving in a relaxed, non-judgmental atmosphere where the dances are incredibly simple to learn. His impetus for starting the series last November comes from 26 years of experience calling dances for wedding, birthdays, anniversaries and other events.
When: First Saturdays, including this Saturday, as well as March 2 and April 6; 6:30 p.m. for covered dish supper, dancing starts at 7:30.
Where: Old Songs, 37 S. Main Street, Voorheesville
How Much: $7, $3 for youth; under age 12 free.
“I have found that simple, traditional community dancing brings out an amazing joy that seems to me to be about as real as you can possibly find anywhere,” he said.
People who attend the community dances like them because they’re recreational, multigenerational and participatory at the same time.
Rosenberg noticed that at several contra dances he attended, many of the people were struggling to keep up or were completely lost when it came to the dance steps. That got Rosenberg thinking that a community dance, with an emphasis on ease and fun, would be a more friendly venue for people who wanted to dance but didn’t have much experience, as well as a place for the more experienced who simply wanted to dance. Thus, the monthly community dances were born.
The community dance speaks to our heritage. It was a popular activity from the mid-18th century through the mid-20th century throughout the United States. The idea of community dance is simple — get a group of people together with some musicians and a “caller” to teach and say the steps, and dance the night away.
“It’s a grass roots thing and not something where you have to be a serious dancer,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg and others want to make clear that these dances are for everyone.
“If you can walk, you can do these dances,” said Sue Mead of Charlton, who plays the banjo, fiddle or mandolin in a trio called Tamarack for some of the community dances.
Mark Zwinak of Ballston Spa attends the community dances with his wife. “I’m a poor dancer, but when I go to these, I feel good,” he said. “You can learn relatively quickly and just enjoy.”
And there’s a lot of variety. There are folk dances, square dances, circle dances, line dances, polkas, waltzes and Scandinavian dances. There are dances that are hundreds of years old, like the Virginia reel, to dances a few decades old. They all share one thing in common, though: they’re easy, easy enough for the youngest dancers.
The community dances are designed for families as well as singles. “It’s really fun to watch all ages dance together,” Mead said. “You might see someone 2 years old and a 92-year-old making a bridge that everyone goes under,” she said.
Old Songs, which had sponsored contra dances, decided to try the community dances to attract families, said executive director Andy Spence. She also noted that there are many opportunities for contra dancing in the Capital Region, but not as many for community dances. “They’re also for beginners who don’t care about doing anything very fancy, but would love to just come and dance,” Spence said.
Old Songs varies the musicians as well as the callers for the dances. This season, callers include Rosenberg, Fern Bradley, Gail Griffith and Bob Nicholson. Accompanying the dances with live music are groups of local musicians. Fennig’s All-Stars, Fancy That, Will Welling & Friends, and the duo of John Kirk and Trish Miller (they also call dances) are the musicians for this season’s series.
The other reason behind community dancing is to create community. In an age where high-tech games and gadgets — television, video games, computers and the like — have given people good reason to ensconce themselves at home rather than go out and engage with others, some are concerned about creating opportunities for old fashioned socializing.
“To me, it just brings back more community to a community,” said Mead, who helps to organize two community dances per year at Harmony Hall Community Center in Charlton. The next dance is coming up on April 13 at 7 p.m. (For information, visit www.tunefolk.com).
“I think people really need to get away from all the modern and to actually be with other people and to enjoy the fact that we can have fun together and listen to really good fiddle music,” Rosenberg said.