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Dancing the night away

SALISBURY — Seven o’clock on Saturday, and the main doors of the Hurley Family YMCA are locked.
But a side door stands partway open, and the sound of music makes it way out into the night.
Finding your way into the monthly Big Band Dance at the Y is kind of like going into a jazz-era speakeasy.
There are no cocktails inside — the closest thing to red wine is Cheerwine, to complement the potluck and snacks that some dancers bring.
But there’s a lot of fun, and a family of regulars who’ve made these monthly gatherings a tradition.
And they’re looking for more dancers, of any age, to join them.
“We’ve got plenty of room, and it’s a good (dance) floor, and we get to see all our friends,” said Mildred Smith, with her husband, Carroll, by her side.
The Smiths stepped into the hall long enough to give a quick quote, but headed back inside quickly — they didn’t want to miss a song.
On Saturday, the first dance of 2013 brought about 80 people out to the YMCA.
Bonnie Misenheimer, who helps organize the dances, said the crowds are off a bit from past years, when as many as 150 would gather to dance the night away.
She said the numbers come and go throughout the year.
And although the event is billed as a dance for “active older adults” on the Hurley YMCA’s website, Misenheimer said that couples of any age are welcome, and do attend.
Some have brought their children and grandchildren, “and there’s been other young people who come in,” Misenheimer said. For some time, she said, students from Catawba would join the regulars on the dance floor.
“Anybody who comes in, we let ‘em in,” Misenheimer said.
That is, for $5, and a dish to pass if you want to share in the snacks halfway through the night.
For the money, regulars say, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday night.
At any one time, there were between 10 and 40 couples on the dance floor Saturday.
The Hi-Liters, who’ve played these dances for well over a decade — ever since they began at the former West Rowan YMCA — have changed with the times.
Although it’s still billed as a “big band” dance, the music is eclectic. The night’s tunes ranged from the 1924 classic “It Had To Be You,” made famous in films like “Casablanca,” to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
There’s a pronounced country flavor to the music, with the Hi-Liters’ pedal steel guitar flavoring many of the tracks.
Several times throughout the night, couples broke off from the main floor to line dance.
Carroll Smith said he and Mildred enjoy waltzes. “The Last Cheater’s Waltz, the Kentucky Waltz,” Mildred said.
The Hi-Liters know their clientele well, and play favorite tunes from month to month.
Bob Gibson, of Cleveland, said he and his late wife were on the original committee that started the dances at the West Rowan YMCA.
When that facility closed five years ago, Gibson said, they relocated to Salisbury.
“There’s no better place to be than right here. It’s safe, it’s fun,” Gibson said.
Mildred and Carroll Smith said they’ve been married 59 years, and those monthly dances are something they enjoy.
Another couple, Robert and Darlene Harbaugh of China Grove, said they’ve been coming to the dances for a decade.
“There are wonderful people here,” Darlene said. “Dancing is good for you, and it’s fun.”
Not all of the dancers are married couples.
“We just celebrated our 37 months anniversary,” said Curtis Simmons, with his date Jenny Watson.
They hail from Concord, but the monthly dances in Salisbury are “one of our favorite places to go,” Watson said.
In fact, she said, they met on a dance floor, when Simmons came up and asked her.
“I said, ‘I don’t dance,’” Watson said. “And he said, ‘Well, come on, I’ll show you how.’”
She said “It Had To Be You” is their favorite song, “and they always play it at the start,” Watson said.
“Just about everybody here knows each other,” Simmons said.
During the intermission, when guests lined up for snacks, regulars Allen and Wilma Collins celebrated Wilma’s 70th birthday.
“We’re here every time they have a dance,” Allen Collins said. They drive from Statesville to Salisbury each month.
“Iredell County doesn’t know what dancing is!” Allen said.
And, he added, “You can’t go anywhere in NC and get a live band and food for $5.”
At another table, the Harbaughs talked with two other couples, handing around family photos.
They look out for one another, too.
Gary and Maxine Donoghue, of Concord, met in a line dance class in Concord, Gary said.
They danced together again last year, at a New Year’s dance in Albemarle, he said.
“We had known each other two or three months by then,” Gary said.
They got engaged on January 13, and married on March 31.
“We danced four or five nights a week,” he said.
But then, this fall, a blocked artery led to a blood clot that put pressure on her spine.
Surgery was followed by weeks of inpatient and outpatient rehab. “She went in on a stretcher, she had no feeling and no movement,” Gary said.
But Maxine promised she was going to walk out of the center, and on December 12, she did.
“And we danced New Year’s Eve in Albemarle,” Gary said.
“We attribute her recovery to faith in God and prayer,” he said … but dancing also played a role.
“We’re slow dancing, now,” he said, waiting for the band to strike up the right song so they could get back out on the floor.
The next Big Band Dance at the Hurley Family YMCA will be held Saturday, February 2.
More information is available online at rowanymca.com, or by calling 704-636-0111.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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