For a few weeks now, the Martha’s Vineyard Times has been doing a series of articles on classes and other activities available for what can only laughingly be referred to as the “off season.” Anyone here now knows you can fill your calendar daily should you wish among all there is to do.
A “must do” is to take yourself upstairs above the Barn Bowl and Bistro on any given Sunday night for a safe place to put on your dancing shoes. M.V. Ballroom Dance began in 1996, and its website says everyone is welcome, which was exemplified by the range of folks trying their hand, well their feet, this Sunday at the samba. There were rank beginners who had never danced in their lives as well as those who had been dancing for 15 to 20 years. Most were year-rounders, a few wintered off the Island, and one couple was just visiting. However, you’re guaranteed to meet and love the 12 or so folks who make up the core of very welcoming regulars.
What they definitely shared in common was a sense of fun and pure enjoyment of moving, however well or not, to the Latin beat. The evening was all about sharing. On a two-week rotating basis, one dancer or couple teaches a type of ballroom dance ,whether it be swing, salsa, samba, waltz, foxtrot, or other dance to the rest of the group. Likewise, throughout the class the men and women continually switched partners so that those more experienced helped those who were not. This seamless sharing was a beautiful to watch.
While everyone was there to enjoy themselves and one another’s company, each person had their own story. Sergio Racig, who is Argentinian, and has danced for 10 years comes regularly with his wife Ester Deming. “I’ve been doing this since I met my wife, which was 10 years ago,” Sergio said. “We come every Sunday except in the summer, when I’m kind of busy. In the beginning, I came because it was a good way to learn English. And my wife is my partner, so that is one of the most important reasons. When it’s our turn, we teach salsa. It’s great because the group is very friendly. And it’s really good exercise for your body and your brain, you have to learn all the styles, the patterns, and music. I love it.”
Ester explained, “I was coming before. I’ve been doing it for 15 years. Sergio and I met at a salsa class and we danced together for two years, and then we got married,” Ester said. “It’s wonderful because anyone can just walk in off the street. It’s not like a class you have to commit to.”
Roger Mitchell told me he’d been doing the Sunday night ritual since about 2003 or 2004. Also, he informed me that he used this group to make a demo videotape for his audition to be a cruise ship dance leader, where women came on the trips specifically because they knew they’d have good male dancers to partner with in a safe environment.
Victoria Dryfoos said, “I knew nothing when I came 12 years ago. What brought me here is that I love music, and thought I loved dancing, and turned out I did. It’s a great group of people. The biggest challenge was I didn’t know any of the steps or dances. But we do one dance two weeks in a row, so you begin to pick up one dance and then the next one. It takes a little bit of time, but everyone is really encouraging and really nice about it; switching off and trying to teach you.”
Tom Carberry, who was light on his feet, explained, “I started 20 years ago on the Island. I liked music, I enjoy being with women, but for years I didn’t have an organized way to put that all together. It’s amazing how many of us have been here years and years. I teach if we don’t have anyone else that week. I don’t have any favorite style, I love them all. We give you the fundamentals of basic steps and then fancy tricky moves in that form whether it be waltz, or samba, or salsa. You can do inside turns, outside turns, double turns. Even with just these bare fundamentals, I can dance with anyone I never met before.
“We don’t want partner dancing to be a lost art,” Tom said. “It used to be that American men all knew how to dance. All over the world men know how to dance. Somehow in America the guys aren’t as able to dance with a lady on the dance floor. I think [it happened] because when I grew up it was the twist, and so couples didn’t hold each other anymore. The language of a couple started to get lost. Then it started to come back in disco, but not everybody went for disco. And rock music didn’t require dancing together.”
Lisa and Jed Gramlin were visiting and full of light-hearted fun. Lisa explained, “For our tenth anniversary I made us a set of 52 ‘date cards’ — and one of them was to take a dance class. I found the class online when I googled what to do on Martha’s Vineyard in September. Tom taught us some salsa and ballroom dancing.” While Lisa was gleaming, Jed seemed a little less sure. Lisa turned to him and shared, “I give my husband credit for following through.” The couple were doing something rather novel as well while on the Island, Lisa explained, “We brought our wedding clothes because we were married here 10 years ago on Chappy and nobody took any decent pictures. So, I packed my wedding dress and his suit and we’re going to retake our pictures together, so we can have good ones.”
After the 45-minute lesson, they turned the lights down and put on some swing music for the open dance time, and everyone grabbed a partner to dance the night away.
To learn more about BallroomDanceMV go to ballroomdancemv.org, or better yet, just show up. You will definitely get a warm welcome and lots of help.