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Swing Things

Breaking a sweat over dance fever

By Christian M. Chensvold

DICK HAFNER is so "lounge" you can't help but add "lizard" to the description. Every Wednesday night the silver-haired crooner sings the old standards--usually on key--with his Little Bitty Swing Band at Massé's Billiards, Sports Bar & Grill in downtown Santa Rosa. Between tunes he engages in a brand of humor as antiquated as the songs he sings. He's also fond of addressing his modest crowd. "What do you guys think of swing?" he asks a group of 20-somethings seated nearby. The kids are all grins. Thumbs point upward. Swing is just swell.

"Joe here," says Hafner, pointing to his elderly harmonica player, "will give you five bucks if you can name this song." Joe looks up, a bit bewildered. The five-piece combo starts to play Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll." The kids look at each other, shrugging shoulders. "'New York, New York'?" one of them shouts.

"The '60s almost killed partner dancing," says Bill Buchenau of the Redwood Empire Swing Dance Club, "and it had nothing to do with dance itself." Buchenau cites new social values such as freedom of expression, relativism, and the general feeling of liberation characteristic of the '60s as being responsible for the general demise of ballroom dancing. "As much as I hated disco," he says, "at least you danced with a partner."

The RESDC draws up to 120 people to Petaluma's Kodiak Jack's the second Sunday of each month. On most nights, the age group is mostly 30s and 40s, the music primarily oldies and country.

Even Santa Rosa's nightclub the Funhouse has made room for ballroom. Every Monday, Denny Freeman offers a lesson in ballroom dancing with an emphasis on West Coast swing, which he says "is the most danced because it's danced to the music people enjoy," such as oldies and R&B.

In Sonoma, the Little Switzerland restaurant brims with vigorous dancing. Every Saturday and Sunday night the floor is full, while the omnipresent accordion accompaniment gives the music an Old World flair that harmonizes perfectly with the decor. The crowd is mostly mature and expects a heavy dose of polkas with the standard ballroom fare.

One occasionally glimpses a man in a straw boater or a woman in a flapper's dress at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park. The first Sunday of the month the Traditional Ragtime and Dixieland Jazz Appreciation and Strutter's Society, or TRADJASS, offers hours of soaring Dixieland jazz and lively dancing by a mostly mature crowd of about 100.

And the beat goes on. Upbeat Dance and Social Club, a new facility in Santa Rosa, offers a full schedule of West Coast swing classes in addition to ballroom, Latin, and country line dancing. There is an open dance every Tuesday night, and a tea dance every third Sunday afternoon. Dances are also held in Santa Rosa at the Veterans Building once a month; at the Senior Center (all ages welcome) the second Saturday of each month; and at Monroe Hall the second and fourth Fridays of the month. The Los Robles Lounge hosts Dick Hafner and his lizards each Sunday night. Finally, the Petaluma Community Center is the only place in the county to offer the labyrinthine steps of the sultry Argentine tango, the so-called "vertical expression of horizontal desire."

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From the May 15-21, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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