Ballroom dancers step lively in Youngwood
Since its dedication in 1970, the Youngwood Fire Hall has worked to become the premiere destination for ballroom dancing. What began as a monthly event is a tradition for dozens of dancers in attendance every Wednesday night.
“A lot of these couples have been coming here for decades,” said Donald Miller, vice president of the Youngwood Volunteer Hose Company. “We consider them our personal friends.”
Founded by former firemen Paul Conde and Robert Shoff, the weekly dance offers couples a chance to experience some of the area's best live bands.
“Music is all about love, and dancing is a conversation,” said Lou Pisani, front man of the Al Louis Orchestra. “We play songs that will refresh the dancers' memories and make them feel the way they did when they were young.”
Hailing from Natrona Heights, the Al Louis Orchestra is part of the venue's weekly rotation, entertaining dancers on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Other regular ensembles include the Mikey D. Band, Wally Ginger Band and Wayne McCuga Band.
All four ensembles play an assortment of ballroom music throughout the evening, including cha-chas, rumbas, waltzes, salsas and polkas. Line dances and the occasional Greek dance are part of the lineup.
“The people who attend this event are very special. That's why we come,” Pisani said. “It's a great group at a nice facility. More locals should really understand what they have here in Youngwood. It's a unique experience.”
Each week, doors open at 6:30 p.m. and dancing begins at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $8. In addition to dancing, there's a 50/50 raffle.
Food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages, are available for purchase.
The Youngwood Volunteer Firemen's Ladies Auxiliary is on hand each week, serving foods from pizza and fries to homemade chips and their best-selling fried zucchini.
“This event is a great fundraiser for us,” said Faith Krynicky, president of the Ladies Auxiliary. “We enjoy coming out to watch the regulars dance and show our support for the fire department. These people can really dance.”
The dances attract couples from as far away as Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Somerset and other surrounding areas. However, the New Year's Eve ballroom dancing event is what many of the regulars look forward to most.
“Everyone shows up on New Year's Eve. They love any excuse to dance, but they really come for the buffet,” said Donald Crago, president of the Youngwood Volunteer Hose Company. “These seniors support us by coming to the ballroom dances all year long, so we like to give back to them. We want to give them somewhere they can go to celebrate and feel comfortable.”
Mario and Jean Fazzini of Fayette City are one of the couples who never miss an opportunity to show off their ballroom skills.
“The firemen are very gracious and accommodating. The people we've met are the best part about coming here,” said Jean Fazzini. “We'll do everything we can to support this event. Even bad weather can't keep us away.”
At 85 and 83, the couple said they enjoy the waltz most and will continue to attend the event as long as they can. Mario has been known to help those who are unfamiliar with the various dance styles.
“We'll keep dancing as long as we can still move,” he said.
The dances aren't limited to seniors. Dancers of any age and skill level are welcome to attend. Beginners who want to learn as they go are likely to find a partner willing to teach.
As a dance instructor at Westmoreland County Community College, Diane McCarthy of Greensburg often brings her students to the event.
“They take regular lessons from me, but it's immensely helpful for them to really try dancing on their own. This event allows them to do that,” she said.
Gib and Pat Clark are a couple who don't require lessons, even in their late 70s.
“As soon as you get here, this place perks you up,” said Gib Clark. “We enjoy the New Year's Eve event, but every Wednesday is a highlight for us.”
The Greensburg couple started dancing about 55 years ago. They dance at different venues four times a week, on average. It's the live music and relaxed atmosphere that keep them coming back to the Youngwood Fire Hall.
“This event is very professionally done. We don't sit down all evening,” said Pat Clark. “The firemen work tremendously hard for the community, so it means a lot to us to be able to support them in return, and we will continue to do so.”
Kaylie Harper is a freelance writer.