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Ballroom dances draw hundreds to Pen Mar

June 24, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - Harry Hamby stepped off the dance floor Sunday but kept his body swaying from side to side while discussing why he makes weekly trips to Pen Mar Park in Cascade.

"We love to dance," said Hamby. "If they play 'New York, New York,' I'm going back out there."

Hamby was in luck. Moments later the band Twilight 3+1 played his song and the Maugansville resident made his way back to the dance floor, where couples were already gliding and twirling to the tune.

Hamby and friend Tess Summers of Hagerstown said they've been attending the park's free Summer Concert Series for about four years.

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"It's a nice park. It's a lovely park," Summers said.

The shows feature big band-era and ballroom dance music every Sunday from mid-May to the beginning of October and attract 1,500 to 2,000 people to each show, band organizer Jim Powers said.

The Washington County Commissioners and the Washington County Recreation and Parks Department sponsor the series.

Powers, of the American Federation of Musicians Local 770, hires the bands that perform each week.

"We think it's the best-kept secret in the county," Powers said. "It's just a great place for the whole family."

Powers said the park's unique features, in part, keep those who know about the concert series coming back.

The covered dance floor is adjacent to a pavilion that sits atop the northern tip of South Mountain and overlooks the valley not far from the Appalachian Trail.

"I don't know of anything else like this," Powers said. "We're fortunate to have this. It's a very unique setup."

The other big attraction, Powers said, is the music.

"Today, there are few places you can go and hear this kind of music," he said. "That may be another big part of the crowds we get."

Powers said residents from the Tri-State area attend the concerts and that a Harrisburg, Pa.-area bus line charters a trip to the park.

Everybody's Day, the highlight of the series held on the last Sunday of August, attracts about 5,000 people. This year's Everybody's Day will be Aug. 25 and marks the 25th anniversary of the series since the reopening of Pen Mar Park.

The event this year will feature The Richard Fray Orchestra, and jitterbug and waltz contests.

Hagerstown residents Frank Sullivan and his daughter, Jenny Tysen, said they have been attending the concerts for six or seven years.

"It's a beautiful day. It's a beautiful park," Sullivan said. "It's just a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon."

Tysen said the visits to the park are also special for another reason.

She said her late mother, Nancy, taught her to dance when she was about 5 years old. Now, Tysen and her father like to dance at the park in her honor.

"It's something we do that connects us with her," Tysen said.

Tysen said she hopes more people become aware of the concerts to enjoy the music.

"The bands are fantastic," Sullivan said. "Everything they play is danceable."

Pen Mar Park is on High Rock Road in Cascade, near the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line. Once a mountaintop resort and amusement park, Pen Mar Park closed after World War II when families began traveling to oceanfront resorts.

Washington County reopened the park in 1977.

For more information, contact the Washington County Recreation and Parks Department at 240-313-2805.

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