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Swing time

Holiday dance designed to step up interest in downtown arts district

Holiday dance designed to step up interest in downtown arts district

December 27, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Swing and ballroom dancers from throughout the Tri-State area spent the day after Christmas dancing to popular hits from the 1940s and '50s at Hagerstown's first Jingle Bell Swing at the Masonic Temple on South Potomac Street.

Organized by Ken Welch, a local independent promoter, the Jingle Bell Swing is the first of many events he hopes will boost the entertainment venues available in the city's Arts & Entertainment district, he said.

The Arts & Entertainment district encompasses several blocks in the South Potomac Street area around The Maryland Theatre.

"This building is underutilized and it offers a great opportunity for this type of event. The main hall will hold 400 people," Welch said of the Masonic Temple.

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While he hoped to attract 100 to 150 people, about 45 people turned out.

Welch, who said he has served on various committees planning a variety of downtown events, said he relied on public service announcements with the local media to advertise Sunday's dance.

The dance attracted some local residents and people from as far away as Chambersburg, Pa., and Frederick, Md. Many were devoted swing and ballroom dancers who said they travel to dance events in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Jenie Bearce of Frederick and Allen Calvert of Rohrersville have been swing dancing for about two years. They said the dance gave them a chance to get some exercise and show off their talent.

"It's good music and good exercise. I'd rather dance than get on a treadmill," Calvert said.

"We travel to swing dance events all over, and it's a great way to meet people," said Bearce, dressed in black-and-white flat shoes and a short, black skirt.

Dancing to such songs as "Hey There Lonely Girl," and "Cab Driver," dancers said they enjoyed the music performed by Jay and the Jingos.

"We go to swing and ballroom dances about three to four times a week," said Barbara Burg of Buckeystown, Md.

"This band is just amazing," she said.

Swing dancing isn't new to Hagerstown's downtown community. At one time, six venues offered swing-dance events in the downtown area in the 1920s and early 1930s, City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said.

Hendershot was involved in sponsoring a swing dance at the same location about three years ago that attracted about 150 people.

Hendershot said the Masonic Temple building could become quite viable with the construction of the new parking deck nearby.

"It will make access to the building a lot easier," he said.

Meanwhile, Welch hopes to attract nearby residents.

"Swing dancing is something we hope will attract the large senior population in the downtown area," Welch said.

Sunday's swing dance is the second event sponsored by Welch this year. In October, he held a Halloween masquerade ball at the Masonic Temple. Following the ball, he said he spoke with some of the people in attendance, who said they would be interested in attending regularly scheduled socials offering swing and ballroom dance.

Washington County sponsors a series of swing-dance events at Pen Mar Park in Cascade from May to October, Hendershot said.

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