They're still dancing the night away


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The silver mirror ball hangs from the ceiling, revolving slowly, casting a rainbow of colors onto the floor.

But "this ain't no disco," to quote the Talking Heads, a new wave group whose music is not likely to be played at this venue -- at least not on Thursday nights. This is a dance hall, a ballroom, a nightclub -- the terminology has varied over the 141 years -- since 1872 -- that dancers have executed some fancy footwork at Linden Grove in Castle Shannon.

Debbie Lucarelli and Norman Colvin swirl around the dance floor to the 1-2-3 beat of a traditional waltz. On a floor filled with accomplished dancers, the trim duo stands out as they turn in circles around the outer edges of the floor. The full skirt of the blue cocktail dress Mrs. Lucarelli made moves in sync with her dancing -- just as she designed the dress to do.

Mrs. Lucarelli, 62, lives in Carnegie. Mr. Colvin, 75, lives in Ohio, near Youngstown.

"Norm is my dance partner," Ms. Lucarelli said. "My husband can dance, but not as well as Norm."

So every Thursday, Mrs. Lucarelli and Mr. Colvin get together for Oldies Night at Linden Grove.

"The dance comes from inside my heart and I enjoy it," she said.

Oldies Night music is provided by "D.J. Bugger" who, when pressed, admits he is Matt Stempkoski of Sarver, "but no one knows me by that name." He plays songs suitable for jitterbug, cha-cha, rock'n'roll, polka, waltz and line dances in which every dancer knows every move. He also plays what he calls "Carolina Beach Music," which is for dancers who do the shag, a dance he describes as "the Carolina version of the jitterbug."

On a Thursday night in early October, about 70 dancers filled the floor. The number is usually higher, said Grove owner Leonard Migale, 70, but the Pirates were playing playoff baseball that night.

Many of the regulars have been dancing at the Grove for decades, including Mr. Migale and his wife, Karen, 67. When he was growing up in the Hill District and she was growing up in Castle Shannon, they both went to under-21 dances at Linden Grove. But they did not meet back then -- they met many decades later and married last month.

Most of the regulars on Oldies Night each Thursday, when the cover charge is $5, are in their 60s, Mr. Migale said. On Friday nights, when the Grove has live music and D.J. Bugger provides music when the band is on break, the clientele is mostly in their 30s and 40s. On Saturdays, when 14 big screens show top 40 videos, the crowd is made up of 20-somethings. The cover charge is $10 on Friday and Saturday.

"I don't want people to think Linden Grove is just older people," said Mr. Migale, who wants to keep the Grove dance tradition going.

He noted that the older dancers generally come early, around 7 p.m., and leave by 11 p.m. Because they dance virtually nonstop, the senior group doesn't buy as many drinks or spend as much money on food as do younger crowds.

Lifelong older dancers can recite a list of long-gone dance halls, including West View Danceland, Sully's in Brentwood, Bethel Roller Rink, Lebanon Lodge in Mt. Lebanon and Rainbow Gardens in White Oak as well as supper clubs such as the Holiday House in Monroeville, Ankara in Pleasant Hills and the Twin Coaches in Rostraver.

"We're a dying breed," Mrs. Migale said.

But there are still places to dance, especially in the suburbs, such as fire halls, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, church halls and municipal recreation centers. The Stockdale Volunteer Fire Department in Washington County, for example, has been hosting dances it its fire hall off and on since 1957. And people have been dancing at the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department's hall in Westmoreland County since 1970.

There are lots of ways to find the dates, times and locations of places to dance.

USA Dance Inc.

"You can go ballroom dancing every Saturday night, if you want" and many week nights as well, said Joe Aiken, 48, of Coraopolis. He disputes that he is rather young to be a devotee of ballroom dance. The Pittsburgh area is "huge" for dancing, he said, and more people in their 30s and 20s are taking it up, especially salsa and swing. Salsa, with its Latin American, Cuban and African origins, is high on his personal list.

The hit television show, "Dancing With the Stars," has almost certainly increased the number of people who are actually dancing, he said.

Mr. Aiken is assistant area coordinator for District 3 of USA Dance Inc., which has 180 chapters throughout the country. He also is a past president of the organization's Pittsburgh chapter, which has about 275 members.

The group's website defines USA Dance as "a nonprofit organization of volunteers who love ballroom dancing. Our mission is to improve the quality and the quantity of ballroom dancing in the United States."

The website -- usadancepgh.com -- lists upcoming dances, including a dance the group sponsors the second Saturday of every month at the VFW in Coraopolis.

USA Dance events cost $10 for members and $15 for nonmembers. A yearly membership is $25. Some of the events offer free lessons before the dances.

Mr. Aiken, who owns the Mr. Sign company in the Strip District, runs a dance on the first Saturday of every month at the Coraopolis VFW "just for fun."

He started dancing when he was 36. He was at a wedding and saw a couple doing the cha-cha.

"Everyone cleared the floor to watch them dance, and I decided I wanted to be that guy, the one who could dance like that," he recalled.

In addition to the USA Dance website, another source of dance dates, times and locations, he said, is the Weekend Magazine section published every Thursday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A listing of USA Dance events and other dances can be found under the "Dances" section. The Oct. 10 magazine listed 22 dances in categories including ballroom, country line, oldies, swing, salsa and tango.

Dance lessons

Steel City Ballroom in Mt. Lebanon is one of the many Pittsburgh-area studios where dancing is taught. Owner/director C. Christopher Roth said he has been making a living at it for 23 years.

Brides and grooms and their parents often take lessons before the big day so that they can dance well at the reception, Mr. Roth said. When they look for places to use their new skills, he refers them to USA Dance.

He also offers a "Yes You Can Dance" program, partnering with community organizations and health professionals to "provide dance opportunities" for children with special needs.

The Palisades

No story about dance halls would be complete without mentioning the decades-old Palisades in McKeesport. It's one of the venues where Rick Antoncic of Port Vue, a retired Allegheny County employee, has worked as a disc jockey for more than a half decade. He started at a teenager at Redd's Beach in Fallowfield.

Dances are held at the site sporadically. More than 350 attended a dance there on Oct. 12. The next one is scheduled for Saturday with Donnie Iris.

The facility at Water Street and Fifth Avenue is owned by the McKeesport Redevelopment Authority. Allegheny County has awarded a $184,000 grant for interior improvements and renovations to the building, an events center that can be used for dances, weddings and parties. Country line dances and oldies dances have been held there regularly in recent years.

A memorable dance was held in 2010, Mr. Antoncic said, when Terry Lee Trunzo showed up for a reunion dance. He was a popular dance DJ and radio host in the 1960s and 1970s and was especially well-known for his "Music for Young Lovers" programs on local radio stations. He died on July 30 at the age of 70.

Youngwood Fire Hall

When volunteers with the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department opened their new hall in 1970, they started having once-a-month dances for senior citizens. The dances were so popular, they soon became weekly events, and that tradition continues today with dances every Wednesday night featuring live bands.

"They've been senior dances, but if you're younger, we don't care. You can still come," said Don Crago, 78, president of the fire company for the past 26 years.

Admission is $8. The bar is open to sell drinks, and the ladies auxiliary, headed by his daughter, Faith Krynicky, sells food.

Although the dances are a long-standing tradition, attendance is dwindling. In past years, the firefighters welcomed as many as 250 dancers each week, but recent dances have drawn only 45 to 52 dancers, "and at one of those we had a 10-piece band," Mr. Crago said.

"People are dying, people are getting older. Some no longer like to drive at night. Lately, we're barely breaking even," he said. "We've discussed it at meetings, and we'll look at it for a couple more months and see what happens."

Stockdale Fire Hall

For some dance halls, fewer is better. Saturday night dances at the Stockdale Fire Hall in Washington County, dating back to 1957, are legendary. There have been years when no dances have been held, and in recent years dances have been held just twice a year. But those have been so popular that advance registrations are required and attendance is limited to 600. That limit was set after 1,100 people showed up for the venue's 50th anniversary dance in 2007.

More than 300 people have made reservations for the next event, the Nov. 9 "All Oldies, Only Oldies Dance" with DJ Ralph Trilli, who will provide "the Pittsburgh sound" with music mainly from the 1950s and 1960s.

A special guest will be Porky Chedwick, now in his 90s, a legendary Pittsburgh disc jockey who is called "The Daddio of the Raddio."

Admission is $10, but the dance is BYOE -- Bring Your Own Everything -- because the firefighters do not provide food or drink.

"They bring fruit trays, chicken, pierogies, halushki, pizza and dessert," said Ron Paglia of Charleroi, 74, who has been helping to run the dances since the 50th anniversary. His roots go way back -- he was a disc jockey at the fire hall for 15 years, starting when he was a teenager, when hundreds attended the under-21 dances there.

People in their 60s and 70s now "bring their kids," who are in their 40s and 50s, "so we're hopeful there will be another generation of dancers," Mr. Paglia said.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, "all the big-name recording artists came" to the Stockdale dances, he said, including the Skyliners, McGuire Sisters, Lou Christie, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

In 1958, a young man named Ernest Evans, whose performing fee was $50, was a big hit with the dancers and they urged firefighters to book him again, Mr. Paglia said.

"Two years later, we could not afford him because he had a big hit called 'The Twist' and his name was Chubby Checker."

Then, in the early 1960s, a booking agent gave the firefighters the chance to book an up-and-coming band.

"The fee was $500, the band was British and we were told they were wild and raucous," Mr. Paglia said. "We said 'no' and the band went to West View Danceland."

And that's how the Stockdale Volunteer Fire Department missed a chance to have the Rolling Stones perform in its hall.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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