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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

Society.

"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

change.

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

three decades.

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

past.

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

teachers."

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

Dance Central, Unitarian Church, Cherry Hill Road, 609-466-8470.

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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