Ballroom dancing sessions in Franklin Park provide exercise, camaraderie

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Jeff Campbell took a break one recent Friday from dancing at Orchard Hill Church in Franklin Park to mop beads of sweat from his face.

Campbell began dancing a dozen years ago, when he bought his then-wife a gift certificate for lessons.

“My stepdaughter was getting married,” the South Fayette resident said. “We took the lessons in January, but the wedding was in June, and we thought we'd forget the steps. We just kept taking the lessons.”

Campbell dances competitively, and planned to compete this month in the Steel City Classic in Oakland with Heather Silver, 35, of West View.

At the practice, both said the workout they get from ballroom dancing is great.

“I tell my doctor I go ballroom dancing, and he says, ‘That's the best thing you can do,' ” Silver said.

Campbell and Silver were among more than 100 people on the wooden floor of the church gymnasium, swaying to tunes selected by disc jockey and dance instructor Bobby D, also known as Robert Dunlap.

Dunlap of Brookline began the evening by teaching swing dancing for an hour.

He typically varies the type of dance he teaches each week and includes the foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, samba and rhumba. But last month he devoted all three Fridays to lessons in swing dancing.

“Everyone loves it,” Dunlap said. “The biggest is swing dance. … ‘Dancing With the Stars' helps (to interest people), but people love music.”

At the Orchard Hill dances, there's no smoking and no alcohol.

“You don't need it; you can get high on dancing,” Dunlap said.

Orchard Hill has offered ballroom dancing since January 2013, said Cindy Runco of Moon, the church's director of sports and recreation.

“It is a neutral, fun, non-threatening place,” Runco said. Dancers can come alone or with a partner.

Toni Jo Kidd of Franklin Park, a church staff member, brought the idea to Orchard Hill. She danced in Pittsburgh, and when the church built a wing that included the gym she proposed offering dance sessions.

During the lesson, Dunlap demonstrated steps with a partner, Dominique Poncet of Franklin Park: “Triple, triple, rock step, lady in; rock step, elbow, lady out …” using a personal microphone. The other dancers watched, then joined in.

Dancers range in age from their 20s to their 80s.

Among the more senior dancers was Arlene Frances, 71, of McCandless. She has been dancing for seven years, and said she uses skills from her past career as a competitive roller skater.

“It's just good exercise to good music with good people,” Frances said. “It keeps you active.”

Having “nice people” made it easy for the dancers to participate in a “foxtrot mixer” to Dean Martin's version of “On the Street Where You Live.”

Men lined up on one side of the gymnasium, women on the other. They paired up randomly for a dance to the other end of the gym. Each couple then separated, and dancers lined up again for another foxtrot.

Dunlap said one benefit of ballroom dancing is meeting others, and he knows of several romantic relationships that developed.

Adam Handen, 23, of Highland Park met his girlfriend, Emily Lyons, 25, of Ross while dancing. At this session at Orchard Hill, they joined his parents, Dianna Ploof, 59, and Ben Handen, 60, of Upper St. Clair.

“It's great to spend time together not eating or watching movies,” Ploof said. “It's like a date night every week. You learn to either laugh or cry; there's always more to learn.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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