By Maria Wiering
LIBERTYTOWN – Young men and women in formal attire lined opposite sides of St. Peter the Apostle’s parish hall, their eyes on dance instructor Jody White, who stood in the center of the room, preparing to teach them the waltz.
“Raise your hand if you’ve had a lesson here before,” she said.
Almost every hand went up.
Twice a month, youths flock to the parish in Frederick County for a dance lesson followed by a two-hour dance, where they have an opportunity to practice rumba, cha-cha, polka and other ballroom styles.
Sponsored by the parish’s Knights of Columbus Council 13290, the dances teach more than the right steps, said Jim Zik, who pitched the idea to his council four years ago, when he was grand knight.
“We teach them etiquette,” he said. “I really want them to understand the proper way to dance and (for young men) the proper way to touch a woman when they do dance, and ballroom does that.”
Zik, 56, thought the dances would attract multiple generations, and the initial ones did. However, they quickly morphed into youth events.
“The youth don’t have a lot of other places to go, particularly if they are under 21, other than movies,” said Zik, who likes to dance and ensured his own three children took lessons.
St. Peter hosts about 17 dances per year with a lull in the summer and early fall, when church activities and wedding receptions claim the ballroom. They typically draw about 150 people, but have topped 230. Many attendees are from St. Peter and area Catholic churches, but non-Catholics also attend. Some come from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
“I never imagined it being so successful,” said Chuck Gill, the council’s current grand knight. “It provides a very positive outlet for the young people in our parish and surrounding community to have fun in a controlled environment.”
The dances are the council’s biggest fundraiser. The Knights charge admission – $6 per person, with a maximum of $30 per family. One dance can bring in nearly $1,000.
Other councils have expressed interest in hosting dances, but so far only St. Michael, Poplar Springs, has launched its own.
St. Michael’s Deputy Grand Knight Dale Solarz, 76, has organized four dances since October, and plans to host about two dances per month this year. Attendance there has ranged from 30 to 80 people, mostly adults, Solarz said. St. Michael’s teenagers are used to going to St. Peter.
The music in Libertytown is a mix of classic and contemporary, peppered with crowd favorites like Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe” and PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” After the formal lesson, some girls kick their heels to the side, opting instead for bare or stocking feet. Modest dress is required, with a posted policy.
Caitlynn Starin, 17, attends St. Clement I in Lansdowne and drives 45 minutes from Arbutus to attend St. Peter’s dances. She said she went from clueless to competent in two years of St. Peter’s lessons.
“I just love coming here,” she said. “Everybody is really nice, (and) ballroom is fun.”
St. Peter parishioner Ian Wroten, 15, has been going to the dances for a year. They were awkward at first, he said, because he had to ask girls to dance. He feels more confident now, he added.
“I just enjoy hanging out with my friends and dancing,” he said.
Like Wroten, many of the dance’s attendees are homeschooled, and most are too young to drive. A few are as young as 7 or 8. Some chauffeuring parents stay for the dance, visiting at round tables on the dance floor’s outskirts.
Stephanie McGovern, 45, brings three of her four children to the dances.
“It’s a nice way for them to get together with their friends, and it’s a safe environment for them to be in,” she said. “They like getting dressed up and having someplace to go.”
Copyright (c) Jan. 3, 2012 CatholicReview.org