USA Ballroom takes a quarter-century bow

Friends Sally Crowell and Richard Nagot, at right, both of Deep River, dance during a casual dance of the New London Chapter of USA Dance on Friday, October 20, 2017 at East Lyme Community Center. The group, which holds dances twice every month, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Friends Sally Crowell and Richard Nagot, at right, both of Deep River, dance during a casual dance of the New London Chapter of USA Dance on Friday, October 20, 2017 at East Lyme Community Center. The group, which holds dances twice every month, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Last month was the 25th anniversary of the USA Ballroom Dance Chapter #3026, but the club doesn’t have a big soiree planned to mark the occasion. In fact, if it weren’t for some members casually reminiscing with old club scrapbooks, they might not have noticed it at all.

“I think there was a problem with the books where we stored them or something,” Ken Curry, chapter president, said. “We pulled them out and looked, and the next thing you know we looked at the year and then we looked at the date and were like, ‘Hey, this is our 25th anniversary!’”

The club, one of two in Connecticut, held its first dance on Oct. 16, 1992 at the former Radisson Hotel in New London. Today, the group meets twice a month at the East Lyme Community Center.

Curry, a Mystic resident who has been dancing with the club for 14 years, said the umbrella of ballroom dancing covers a variety of styles, usually divided into smooth dances like the waltz and foxtrot and Latin dances like the salsa and samba.

“Back in the early days, that was the thing. People would go, they would get dressed up,” he said, noting that the club’s old scrapbook showed a lot of members dancing in full formalwear. “You would go to an actual ballroom to dance as opposed to a nightclub.”

Curry said that many members, including himself and volunteer coordinator Ray O’Connell of Mystic, started taking group dancing lessons as something fun to do with their spouses. Chapter founder Marjorie Winslow also taught lessons through the Groton Parks and Recreation Department and guided her students toward the group when they wanted more opportunities to dance.

Currently, the club meets on the first Saturday and third Friday of the month. The first session is more structured, as a dance instructor chooses a specific style of dance for lessons for the first hour before open dance. The second session doesn’t have a lesson. O’Connell said that while many members come in with dance experience, newcomers are welcome and seasoned dancers are always available to help teach the steps.

“We also have what we call line dance versions of many of the ballroom steps, and that is very easy for people without partners to participate in,” he said. They break it down into a handful of steps that are repeated so everyone can join regardless of skill level or partner status.

The chapter currently has about 70 members, but dances are open to the public, and several returning dancers aren’t USA Ballroom members. Membership confers cheaper admission to the East Lyme dances as well as allowing members to attend dances held by other chapters nationwide.

Curry said membership has fluctuated over the years, with departures of several members due to Pfizer and other companies leaving the area. However, with Electric Boat on a hiring streak, the chapter is seeing more interest. O’Connell said the popularity of shows like “Dancing With The Stars” has also helped boost attendance.

In addition to the East Lyme dances, the club is working with area instructors and dance studios to support more intense dance lessons, as well as a K-12 kids dance program. The chapter hosts an annual Christmas party, which is a formal gala-type dance, and they’ve done flash mobs at the casinos, the Olde Mistick Village and other public places to celebrate National Ballroom Dance Week every September.

The next dance and 25th anniversary celebration is Saturday, Nov. 4 from 8-11 p.m., with foxtrot lessons led by dance instructor Rob McGurn from 7-8 p.m. The East Lyme Community Center is located at 41 Society Road. For more information, visit usadancenewlondonct.com.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

Peter Stahl, of Old Lyme, dances with Bea Alling, of Niantic, during a casual dance of the New London Chapter of USA Dance on Friday, October 20, 2017 at East Lyme Community Center. The group, which holds dances twice every month, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Stahl is one of the members who has been dancing with the group since it started. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Peter Stahl, of Old Lyme, dances with Bea Alling, of Niantic, during a casual dance of the New London Chapter of USA Dance on Friday, October 20, 2017 at East Lyme Community Center. The group, which holds dances twice every month, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Stahl is one of the members who has been dancing with the group since it started. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Roberto Del Padre looks at his wife Hermie Ramasola, both of Bridgeport, as they dance during a casual dance of the New London Chapter of USA Dance on October 20 at East Lyme Community Center. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Roberto Del Padre looks at his wife Hermie Ramasola, both of Bridgeport, as they dance during a casual dance of the New London Chapter of USA Dance on October 20 at East Lyme Community Center. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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