Ligonier Stroll takes town back to '50s for celebration

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At the Stroll Back to the '50s celebration in Ligonier last weekend, classic cars lined Main Street in front of the town's classic white-pillared post office -- just as they probably did in the 1950s.

Youngsters twirled hula hoops in the small park in the town center -- called the Diamond -- as tunes made famous by Elvis, Dion and others from that time were played by the Swing City Band in a gazebo-shaped bandstand.

Adults shopped the many mom-and-pop specialty shops and restaurants in town as children played along the streets.

Spectators watched from benches or folding chairs as couples did the jitterbug in poodle skirts and leather jackets beneath the bandstand in preparation for the evening's '50s-style dance contest.

Among the onlookers who occasionally gave it a whirl on the sidewalk-turned-dance floor were Jan Best, 63, of Ligonier and Charles "Bud'' Titel, 77, of Latrobe.

Ms. Best said she has attended most of the 11 annual "Stroll'' events to enjoy the crowd, summer weather, and, especially, the dancing with her partner. The pair did a mean rhumba to "Under the Boardwalk.''

Swing dance fans also included Sarah Formica, 21, who could not pass up the opportunity to experience her favorite era -- the 1950s -- and her own circa '50s indulgence: splitting a milkshake with her boyfriend at the creamery in the town center.

"I love the '50s for the innocent feeling I get from that time; it seemed like such a happy time," Ms. Formica, of Elizabeth Township, said.

She and her boyfriend, Eric Shearer, 21, planned to enter the dance contest, as did their friends, Jill Schweigert, 19, and partner Adam Warburton, 21, both of Mount Pleasant.

The four are students at Saint Vincent College in nearby Unity and all are members of Swing Dance Club.

Ms. Schweigert, who wore a 1950s-style dress with polka dots and a red sash, said she likes swing because it is unstructured.

"There is room for creativity, unlike a lot of dances," the Blairsville woman noted.

Mr. Shearer, of Mount Pleasant, called it "a fun, energetic, clean way to move to the music."

While chamber executive director Holly Mowrey did not dance, she was dressed for the day in a pink poodle skirt, bobby socks and sneakers, black shirt and pink scarf.

Ms. Mowrey said the event, hosted by the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce, served as yet another attraction for visitors to come to Ligonier and surrounding towns. Among the many others, she noted, are Fort Ligonier, Idlewild Park and Ligonier Valley Beach.

"We especially wanted to introduce people to our businesses," she said.

Pies were also sold to benefit the Ligonier Valley Education Trust, which awards educational grants to nonprofits every year.

"It could be a grant for buying large-print books, or helping the Boy Scouts with a project," past president Paul Kennedy of Cook Township said.

The homemade pies came from a pie-baking contest and others were donated.

"It fit in very nicely with the 1950s theme," Mr. Kennedy said.

At evening's end, 10 couples -- age pre-teen to mid-60s -- competed in the dance contest, judged by teachers from Bridget Dawn's Studio of Performing Arts in Ligonier.

First place winners, who received a $25 gift certificates, were Ms. Formica and Mr. Shearer. Ms. Schweigert and Mr. Warburton came in second, followed by Donna Shearer, 62, and Bill Baronie, 68, in third.

Ms. Shearer and Mr. Baronie, both of Latrobe, own a local dance studio and have placed first four times in the history of the Stroll.

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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