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Ballroom dancing

June 11, 1997

Ballroom dancing

Take a trip back in time

By TERI JOHNSON

Staff Writer

Drive to the northeastern corner of Washington County, and waltz down memory lane.

Ballroom dancing begins each Sunday at 2 p.m. at Pen Mar Park in Pen Mar, and the cool breezes and catchy rhythms are the only invitation you need.

Folks come from near and far to dance in the pavilion, swept into an era where courtesy and friendliness were part of everyday life.

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Each Sunday about 1,500 people are on the dance floor at some point in the afternoon, said Jim Powers, secretary and treasurer of The American Federation of Musicians, Local 770, which lines up the music for Pen Mar's summer series.

"It's a trip back in time," said Powers, who also serves as announcer.

The concerts are a cooperative effort between Local 770 and Washington County Parks and Recreation Department, said Lori Taylor, parks coordinator.

Washington County Commissioners provide funding for the bands at Pen Mar. Last year donations from people attending the concerts offset half of the costs, Taylor said.

"It's the most popular program we have," Taylor said.

Some people come to picnic, others to listen to the music, but many are there to dance.

Don and Barbara Heckman, instructors for Walkersville Ballroom Dance Club in Walkersville, Md., said the activity provides good exercise, both mentally and physically. Efforts are under way to make ballroom dancing an Olympic sport.

The Heckmans, of Purcellville, Va., said moving to music takes no special talent, and there's no such thing as having two left feet.

"It doesn't take many lessons to get fairly comfortable moving around the floor," said Don Heckman, 55.

Anyone can do it, including people who think they lack coordination, said Barbara Heckman, 49.

"It's something you can develop," she said. "You may have to work a little harder."

Don Heckman defines ballroom dancing as couples dancing together, following some prescribed figures of movement with a lead and follow action.

The term originally was applied to movements done in a ballroom, but today's dances often are performed in less formal settings. Dances include the waltz, fox trot, cha-cha and tango, and they're popular with all ages.

Young people say it's the music that draws them to ballroom dancing, Don Heckman said.

"They haven't heard this kind of music, and they like it," he said.

Last Sunday, the Pennsylvania band Four Easy Pieces provided the inspiration.

Drummer John Schoenberger of Chambersburg, Pa., said the band tries to play songs that are easy to dance to.

"Our goal is to keep them on the dance floor," he said.

Driven to dance

Some drive for hours to swirl and twirl.

Pat and Wayne Sipe, who live in Brooklyn Park, Md., near Baltimore, travel an hour and a half to get to Pen Mar. They discovered the park several years ago, and they visit as often as they can.

"We make a day of it," said Pat Sipe, 51.

When the Sipes dance, they always dress alike. Last year they won the jitterbug contest at Everybody's Day at Pen Mar.

The Sipes have been married 32 years, and they dance two or three times a week. They started ballroom dancing after their two children grew up.

"Now we're never home," said Wayne Sipe, 55.

Wauneta and Ray Shegogue have danced all over the world, but Pen Mar is one of their favorite places.

The Winchester, Va., couple danced as extras in the opening scene of the movie "Sweet Dreams," which told the story of country singer Patsy Cline.

The two, both 77, have been dancing since their teens, but they've never taken lessons.

"We just get out there and do our thing and have fun," Wauneta Shegogue said.

The Shegogues love to do the shag.

"People come up and say `We haven't seen that in 40 years,' " she said.

Dancing is good exercise for the Shegogues, who will celebrate 50 years of marriage June 25.

"The doctor doesn't say `Hi, Ray, how are you?', he says `Hi, Ray, are you dancing?' " Ray Shegogue said.

Howie and Millie Fenton drive from Laurel, Md., every Sunday to dance in the pavilion.

"It keeps you young," said Howie Fenton, 66.

"We definitely don't act our age out there," added Millie Fenton, 64.

Close to home

The magic isn't lost on local residents.

Julie Bliss, 81, and Ray Vanslette, 79, have been dancing together for eight years, and the Chambersburg friends go to Pen Mar every Sunday.

"It's a friendly, orderly group," Bliss said.

New dancers Roger Douglas, 45, and Barbara Douglas, 43, of Hagerstown have been taking lessons for eight months. They caught dance fever while they were on vacation.

"We went on a cruise, and it looked like everyone was having so much fun," Barbara Douglas said.

Their fellow Thurmont Dance Club members, Jean and Carroll Goodnight, who live outside Williamsport, also go to Pen Mar as often as they can.

"We try not to miss it," said Carroll Goodnight, 74. "It's the kind of music we like."

The couple started taking lessons after Carroll Goodnight retired, said Jean Goodnight, 66.

They go for the dancing, but the friendliness keeps them coming back.

"You meet the best people here," Jean Goodnight said.

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