Shane Devlin, “upwards of 75,” is a retired state trooper who lives in Hamburg.
Carolyn Kerr, 50, of the Town of Tonawanda, works in the Niagara County court system.
Stacy VanBlarcom, 31, of Buffalo, works downtown in the health care field.
Despite the differences in their ages and backgrounds, all of them love to dance. They choose to do so at Western New York’s community dance clubs, which run the gamut of styles from traditional to hip-hop.
“I’m 50 years old and I like to dance, but nobody wants to see me go out to a club on Chippewa, trust me,” Kerr said with a smile. “So it’s a good place for people of a certain age to still feel that excitement about dancing.”
Here’s what else the trio of dancers – and several other members of four clubs in the region – want you to know:
• No experience is necessary to dance with their clubs, the dances generally can be learned quickly, and the skill of participants will improve over time.
• The gathering spots – mostly in social halls – provide a welcoming atmosphere for dancers of all ages, and the dress code is casual.
• This form of dancing makes for an inexpensive, fun and generally alcohol-free evening out.
• It also whips up a pretty good workout for people of all ages and most physical abilities.
“It’s exercise in disguise,” said Alaina Zyhowski, 32, of Lancaster, a Tuesday night regular at Swing Buffalo, which gathers at the Polish Cadets hall.
The gatherings can be particularly enjoyable on a cold winter night for those suffering from cabin fever.
They’re also a healthy choice, said Dr. Jason Matuszak, a sports medicine specialist with Excelsior Orthopaedics in Amherst.
“Anything we can do to get people up and moving is a good thing,” he said.
Those with a history of heart disease or cardiac risk factors should talk with their primary care doctor before heading to a dance club, Matuszak said. He added that such moderate exercise is unreasonable only for few.
“The rotational movements can be a little taxing on some of the joints: ankles, knees and hips,” he said, “but even for people who have arthritis, it’s not to say we wouldn’t recommend it, because moving these joints is better than not moving them. But they should be cautious when they’re doing these rotational movements that they have good technique and form, and are using their whole body through these movements.”
Community dance clubs – almost all of them run by volunteers – encourage people to come with a partner, with friends, or alone. Participants are encouraged to take a breather every few dances, and generally dance with more than one partner or small group.
These forms of dance also are portable. Club members said they’re often a hit at weddings and other social affairs, and usually can find a similar dance club in most places they visit. At least once or twice a year, they also join fellow enthusiasts from the Midwest, New England and Southern Ontario for larger-scale get-togethers.
Here’s a glimpse at several clubs in the region:
IRISH SET DANCING
Lowdown: Devlin, with help from his wife, Jean, runs the Innisfree Ceili Dance Group. The club welcomes dancers from 7:45 to 10 p.m. almost every Tuesday in the Buffalo Irish Center, 245 Abbott Road, South Buffalo. The group asks for a $1 donation to keep updated with music and how-to books.
“Nobody makes a profit here,” the retired trooper said, “except in burnt calories.”
The group dances to a series of recorded jigs, reels, hornpipes and sometimes polkas. Members of the dance club generally move a step or two slower than the more well-known Irish step-dancing schools, which focus on younger students and also use the Ceili dance style. This makes Innisfree more accessible, Devlin said.
His wife said the time dancing at the Buffalo club has paid dividends during their visits to Ireland. On their first trip, they were asked to participate in a Ceili dance. “They were impressed,” she said of their Irish hosts, “that we knew how to dance and could keep up with them.”
The Devlins have been club members for a quarter-century. Sisters Mary Clare Dolata, a social worker, of Williamsville, and Cathy Carey, a lawyer, of South Buffalo, have been regulars for several years. “It’s a great workout and it helps mentally,” Carey said.
Details: Regulars tend to be at least part Irish-American. The group will host a Ceili dance from 8 to 11 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Irish Center. Before the big dance, Patrick O’Dea, a dancemaster from Ireland, will teach a class at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Irish Center. For more information about both events, call 627-5966, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit buffalocomhaltas.org.
Lowdown: “If you can walk, and know your right foot from your left, you can dance,” said Mary Collins, vice president of the Queen City Contra Dancers.
Club members and the general public come to the Elmwood Village from all walks of life and all parts of the region twice each month, to celebrate “partnered folk dance.” The French-born dance style involves swapping partners in short order to Irish, Scotch, French Canadian and folk songs. Moves generally are in the jigs-and-reels 4-4 format, to music with four, eight or 12 beats. Like Ceili dancing, it’s another precursor to American square dancing, but generally involves greater interaction between sets of couples. “It’s a progressive dance,” Collins said.
“Socially, it’s unbelievable,” said Kerr, who comes alone because her husband works weekends. It’s also great exercise, she said. Kerr sometimes wears a pedometer and surpasses 6,000 steps during a Saturday night.
It reminds Collins, 62, who grew up in a rural town north of Syracuse, of Grange Hall dancing as a teen. The former runner – who has had two hip replacements – dances in part for health reasons. “It elevates your mood,” she said, “and gives me the same runner’s high as running used to.”
Details: The dancers generally meet the first and third Saturday of each month at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Elmwood Avenue and West Ferry Street. Dances often include live music. Those looking to learn contra dancing can come at 7:30 p.m.; dancing starts at 8 p.m. and runs up to three hours. The next get-together, March 7, includes a CD release party with the group Tempest. Cost of the dance is $10; $8 for members; $6 for students with ID and free for children under 12. For more information, visit qccd.org or call 997-9423.
Lowdown: Three steep rows of stairs lead you to the Verve Dance Studio at 910 Main St., just north of the Theater District. A sign at the second landing lets visitors know, “The Party Starts Here.”
Several instructors, including owner Shane Fry and his daughter, Brooklynn Walker, 18, teach a series of classes weeknights, including a “Rock Your Body” from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, followed by up to two hours of open dancing. Cost of the class – which combines open skills dancing with cardio and functional fitness movements – is $15, or six classes for $48. It’s filled with twists, turns, sidesteps, lunges, leg lifts, foot slides and arm swings.
Monthly Battle of Buffalo hip-hop competitions tends to draw more than 200 dancers and spectators, Fry said. It costs $5 to compete; $1 to watch.
The studio boasts an urban feel, with cranberry- and mustard-colored walls giving way to several pieces of graffiti-inspired artwork. Dancing here is just as bright and upbeat.
“I like the people and it’s a good way to keep my body in performing condition,” said VanBlarcom, who works across the street at Lifetime Health.
Details: For a complete schedule of classes, visit vervedancestudio.com or email email@example.com.
Lowdown: Members and guests of Buffalo Swing gather each Tuesday evening on an old hardwood floor on the second level of the Polish Cadet Credit Union at Grant and Amherst streets. Progressive and beginner lessons run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and are followed by a Lindy Fix – which features several forms of swing dancing – until 10.
Lessons focus on teaching 6-count swing, the Charleston, Balboa or Lindy hop. This month, it’s the Charleston. Afterward, a DJ pumps out big band tunes, mostly from the 1920s to the ’40s, to roughly 40 Lindy fix dancers in a typical week. Eleven regular participants, including Zyhowski, help teach the dance steps and coordinate the weekly gatherings and special events.
“It’s really so much fun, relieves stress, and helps you let go,” Zyhowski said.
Regular dancers include engineers, teachers, business owners, and bankers, a pharmacist, graphic designer and UB graduate students. UB has its own swing club and the Buffalo club – along with other community dance clubs – would like to stir up interest at SUNY Buffalo State. At times, the club dances to live music from local groups including Dr. Jazz and the Jazz Bugs, the Skiffle Minstrels and Fredtown Stompers (from Fredonia).
Details: Those most serious about the club tend to dance – in 1940s style dress – at the Geneseo Air Show and a D-Day and USO-related dance every year in Ohio. “You can get into it as much or as little as you want to,” Zyhowski said.
The nonprofit club asks for a $5 donation for the weekly Lindy Fix; lessons cost extra and can be paid for weekly or as a monthly package at a discounted rate. For more info, visit swingbuffalo.com.
See a list of some other community dance groups and books about dancing on Page 10.