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This article by Diana Wolf was prepared for the October 9, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Save the Last Dance for Me
You could say people dance in Princeton today because
of Tim Marlow’s homework assignment.
Marlow began teaching Salsa, Hustle, and Swing Dancing for Princeton
Adult School in 2000 (where you can find him still) when he joined
Landmark, an organization offering self-improvement seminars. Marlow’s
homework assignment for his course in "Self-Expression and Leadership"
was to create a self-perpetuating entity. He found inspiration in
his ballroom dance classes.
Marlow, a competition Swing and ballroom dancer and coach, found that
his students’ most common complaint was that "local" dancing
required an hour’s drive — to either New York City or Philadelphia.
Marlow decided to change that with a Princeton-based dance organization.
Having danced since age 12, earning national titles in dance competition
as well as being named Swing Coach of the Year in 1996, Marlow had
no ambition to run such a club. Instead he provided his enthusiastic
students with his expertise as the former owner of a dance studio
in Connecticut. Marlow helped the group develop contacts and an advertising
list during the initial Sunday brunch at Princeton Hyatt. They devised
a format for the monthly dance at subsequent meetings, and Marlow
volunteered to teach and DJ the first five dances while the group
established a following. In November, 2000, the eight founding trustees
— Gary Kreger, Jackie Tomsky, Rosalind Westlake, Chris Wittkamp,
Katie Yachovelli, Carla Yanni, Pam York, and John Yu, all students
in Marlow’s classes — created the nonprofit Central Jersey Dance
"People are happy we’ve done this," says Yanni, the organization’s
first president. Dance has been a part of her life since high school.
She took Swing lessons when she first moved to New Jersey, making
friends in Marlow’s dance classes. Those interests developed into
the leadership of this group. "It’s good for the community of
dancers and for the community at large. It’s such a healthy, fun,
and as far as I’m concerned, unquestionable good."
Yanni’s job as assistant professor at Rutgers takes her on sabbatical
to Washington, D.C., this fall. President-elect Gary Kreger began
dancing at age 13 in an afterschool program in Westfield. Like most
boys his age, ballroom dance held little interest at first. The line
of girls waiting to dance with him at the year-end dance changed his
mind. His new attitude? "This really rocks."
Kreger’s dancing motivation has changed over the years, as has the
membership of group he now leads. The original members wanted a catchier
name than "The Central Jersey Dance Society." Someone suggested
the No-Name Dance Club, since they had no name, and it won the vote
hands down. However, that name has recently been changed to Dance
Central, incorporating the name of the dance with the venue. Future
dances will be known as "Dance Central, sponsored by the Central
Jersey Dance Society," providing a consistency even as venues
The name change completes the foundation ensuring the group’s continuation.
The nonprofit status gives a broader range of dance options since
it is required by some dance venues for use of their facilities. An
attorney member oversees the legal issues while a CPA member is the
group’s treasurer. A graphic artist member designs the club’s publicity
flyers. There is a loyal following.
Swing dancing has been around for 80 years — it
is treated seriously because it’s serious fun. Unlike swaying to some
vague beat at a wedding or holiday party, dancers have to pay attention
to their partner. The connection between them is essential.
"You have to listen and understand the basics of lead and follow.
You have to know some patterns," says Kreger. "There’s something
magical when you find a partner you can really dance with and you
feel connected to and really get into the music. It’s like having
a three-minute love affair."
The magic of Swing dancing originated in the 1920s with the Lindy
Hop, a dance incorporating European turns with solid African body
posture into an eight-count dance. It was renamed the Jitterbug after
Cab Calloway’s song of the same name was introduced in 1934. Swing
was an expression of black communities incorporating their own moves
into jazz music, and the two main dance teacher associations of the
time denounced the dance style. They referred to Swing music as "a
degenerated form of jazz, whose devotees are the unfortunate victims
of economic instability." Public popularity increased nonetheless,
and the associations changed their tune, refining the Jitterbug’s
"cavortings" into dance steps suitable for social dancing.
The Swing Era of the 1930s and ’40s ended with World War II and the
drafting of many key musicians. Swing was revived for a time after
the war by television shows like Dick Clark’s "American Bandstand."
Changes in music preference, and finally Chubby Checkers’ song "The
Twist" in the early ’60s put an end to couples dancing for almost
Today’s resurgence of Swing dancing began in the early 1990s. California
music groups rediscovered brass and reed instruments like the saxophone
and trumpet, instruments that together produce the sound of swing.
Both the music and the dance slid east, incorporating new and different
jazz influences into the old sound.
Swing dancing is defined as any combination of triple-triple-double
steps. The term "Swing" now encompasses more than 10 different
dances that vary in tempo, style, and music. East Coast Swing is a
six-count style of Lindy, and the easiest form of Swing to learn.
West Coast Swing is a slower dance, sensual and sexy. The Cha-Cha
is a slowed down mambo consisting of a triple step (or cha cha cha)
and two slower steps. Argentine Tango, not to be confused with its
Ballroom derivatives, is the original Tango: an intimate, compact
union highlighting intricate footwork and a sensuous, passionate character.
The Merengue organizes simple steps into sets of 8, adding characteristic
hip swings and arm flourishes. The Hustle, while not technically a
"Swing" dance, is today’s version of Disco Dancing, twisting
and spinning to popular, pulsing music.
Since Dance Central’s first dance in March, 2001, between 60 to 100
dancers show up the first Saturday of each month attesting to its
popularity. The first dances were held at Princeton’s Suzanne Patterson
Center behind Borough Hall. Renovations forced a move to the Princeton
Arts Council at Witherspoon and Robeson, where dancers complained
of crowding and the lack of air conditioning. The large wooden A-frame
of the Unitarian Church on Cherry Hill Road is the group’s current
home. The building has air conditioning and the bonus of dimmer switches
on all lights, which are turned up for lessons and down to add mood
for dances. The club has booked the church through March, 2003.
The wholesome fun begins with a dance lesson at 7:30 p.m. Open dancing
takes the spotlight from 8:30 to 11 p.m., and the $10 admission includes
all this, as well as refreshments of fruit, juice, and cookies. Alcohol
is not provided. "Dancers generally don’t drink because you can’t
spin very well after more than one beer," says Yanni.
Dancers can comment about their experience on a form at the end of
the evening. Providing this option helps the group evolve. "It’s
not just that we offer some dancing, whatever," Kreger says. "We’re
striving to fulfill a need to the community."
Don’t worry if your zoot suit is at the cleaners. Clothing is as you
like it, but with up to 100 people dancing up a sweat, the looser
and cooler your garb the better, with dressing up reserved for special
occasions like the annual New Year’s Procrastinator’s Ball. Shoes
are the key for dancing, and rubber soled shoes are discouraged. Leather-soled
shoes, or anything that is slippery and sliding, aids in turns. Each
dance has 30 percent new faces, so if you don’t have a partner, advanced
members will greet and encourage beginners to dance. You might be
asked to dance a West Coast Swing, and if you don’t know exactly how
to, you’re encouraged to experiment. The regulars remember that they,
too, were once beginners.
Yanni sums up the attitude of Dance Central’s dances: "You’re
just supposed to play."
The lessons ease those beginner nerves, helping new dancers learn
to play, since teaching on the dance floor is bad etiquette. Everyone
partners up, and if there’s an odd number, partners will rotate, giving
everyone an opportunity to dance. Past lessons focusing on a different
dance style each month, like the Hustle or Cha Cha. September’s Salsa
is the last planned individual lesson. The October to December dances
experiment with the continuity of the same instructor teaching one
style — West Coast Swing — with each month building on the
Among the teachers are Geralyn Berkery, who hails from
Princeton, Phil LaMothe from Rockaway, and Greg Avakian and Donna
Reinhart from the Philadelphia area. Yanni has found teachers from
nearby dances or workshops by simply obtaining a business card. Yanni
says, "It’s mutually beneficial because the dance teachers are
broadening their scope by teaching in Princeton — say, if they usually
teach in North Jersey — and it’s great for us because we need
Tim Marlow still teaches for Dance Central, between teaching at the
Princeton Adult School and in Manhattan, as well as working with his
wife in home improvement. Every teacher is different, and Marlow explains
his teaching style. You’ll leave one of his lessons knowing a basic
step, a turn out, and an underarm turn, enough movements to "actually
go away and go to a wedding and dance."
It’s good to take the lesson. Says Kreger: "You find after you’ve
been dancing for a little while, the more partners you dance with,
the better your progress." Leaders learn to lead better, followers
learn to follow better.
Kreger himself dances with 10 to 15 partners every night, not to shop
in a singles "meet" market, but to improve his dance steps.
Some dancers may meet and date, but this melting pot of college students
mingle with professors and chemical engineers, with ages ranging from
25 to 75. The groups’ faithful dancers include a marketing director,
a bus driver, teachers, artists, civil engineers, auto mechanics,
psychiatrists and a hypnotist. Some have been dancing for years, and
some are taking their first lessons.
"Everybody has a different style, feeling, body movement,"
says Kreger. "After you think you’ve seen everything, somebody
throws something at you you’ve never seen before."
Regardless of what you see, the music may be familiar. Some of the
many popular songs to shake your Hustle groove include "I will
Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "Turn the Beat Around" by Vicki
Sue Robinson, and "It’s Rainin’ Men" by Weather Girls. West
Coast Swing familiars include "Mustang Sally" by Wilson Pickett,
"Kansas City" by the Johnnie Johnson Band, and "Cheaper
to Keep Her" by the James Solberg Band. Tunes for dancing to an
East Coast Swing/Jitterbug include "Jumpin’ at the Woodside"
by Benny Goodman, "Take the A Train" by Duke Ellington, and
"In the Mood" by Glen Miller. You can Lindy to its unofficial
anthem, "Jump. Jive and Wail" by Louis Prima, or another favorite,
"At the Woodchopper’s Ball" by Woody Herman. If Latin is what
your body craves, you’ll Cha-Cha to "Smooth" by Santana, Merengue
to "Elena, Elena" by Libre, or Salsa to "Descorga De Hoy"
by Jesus Alemonty’s Cubanismo!
Deejaying such a variety of tunes is an art form. Dancers like songs
with 80 to 120 beats per minute. Slow songs to sway to may be fine
for the average person, but Yanni points out that "among people
who know how to dance, we don’t want to stand around." The best
DJs feel the audience’s preferences that night and tailor the music
to that, while honoring any compatible song requests. Ken Arditi is
one regular DJ, and Yanni comments that "he’s perfect because
he’s a dancer himself, so he knows what music is fun to dance to.
The songs are the right length, they’re beautifully blended together,
and they’re the right tempo."
Most nights a DJ spins the tunes, but bands are hired on special occasions.
Herd of Blues played at the organization’s first anniversary dance.
Kreger recalls the band’s reaction. "These guys just lit up. They
got so excited that people were actually listening to the music and
enjoying the music and doing something to the music. They said afterwards,
`You guys can really dance.’"
Dance Central is strong and growing. Innovative ideas to increase
exposure in the community include outdoor performances such as Princeton’s
Communiversity and possible workshops. Establishing a permanent dance
home is foremost in everyone’s mind. Regardless of what the future
holds, the dancing doesn’t stop. "I’m never as happy as when I’m
dancing," says Yanni
— Diana Wolf
Lesson followed by open dancing to 11 p.m. $10. Saturday, October
12, 7:30 p.m.
Also meets Saturday, November 2; Saturday, December 7; Saturday, January
4; Saturday, February 1; and Saturday, March 1.
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