Country Dance Stafford kicks off new season

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Wed., Sep. 25, 2013
(Left to right) Sue Hill, Christopher Billiau and Carl Garbe provided the music at the first of nine dances by Country Dance Stafford held at Memorial Hall.  Photos by Annie Gentile.
(Left to right) Sue Hill, Christopher Billiau and Carl Garbe provided the music at the first of nine dances by Country Dance Stafford held at Memorial Hall. Photos by Annie Gentile.

If you want to make words and phrases like “do-si-do,” “promenade,” and “bow to your corner” a part of your vocabulary, then swing your partner on over to Memorial Hall at 275 Orcuttville Road in Stafford on the third Saturday night of each month, to enjoy a new season of country dance.

On Saturday evening, Sept. 21, Country Dance Stafford kicked off a series of nine barn dances to be held between September and next May. The program is an affiliate of the Country Dance and Song Society and is sponsored by the Stafford Arts Commission.

“My wife, Lynn, and I have been calling modern square dances for 20 years,” said Rich Sbardella. “About two years ago, we began teaching square dance at the Stafford Senior Center,” he said. Because the number of participants was often too low to be effective, they began inviting some home-schooled teenagers to flesh out the group. “It was amazing to see the interaction between the teens and the seniors and to witness the community being built before our eyes,” Sbardella said. It was those Monday afternoon dance sessions that eventually led to the Saturday night barn dance series. Last year the group held four Saturday night sessions, and this year it has been expanded to nine.

For country dance enthusiasts, the choice to have Ralph Sweet calling the first dance was a perfect selection.

“Ralph Sweet is the patriarch of country dancing. When he’s not up there calling, he’s dancing himself,” said one participant.

“I came last winter,” said another, Charlotte Andrews, of Stafford. “Even if you don’t know how to dance, you learn it right away. It’s very nice, very social,” she said.

At 84 years young, Sweet has been calling dances since 1948 and has honed a simple and effective routine in which he provides a short dance lesson prior to beginning his calls. In this way, even the most novice dancers feel comfortable enough with the basic steps to get up on the floor.

“We live at the Powder Mill Barn [in Enfield] and we make a living square-dancing,” said Sweet’s wife, Carol. She said she wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the Powder Mill regulars at the Stafford session, as their first dance of the season will be Sunday, Oct. 20. 
Ralph was a high school science teacher for 29 years, most of them at East Hartford High School, but throughout all those years working and raising a family, he also was calling dances.

“He has always been able to play the piano and the accordion, and he’s taking up the fiddle, and, of course we always use live music,” said Carol Sweet. The live music for the Sept. 21 event was provided by Sue Hill on the fiddle, Christopher Billiau and Carl Garbe.

Upcoming dances include Will Mentor calling on Oct. 19, accompanied by Julie Metcalf on the fiddle and Mark Kilianski on the guitar. Sweet will return on Nov. 16, with musical accompaniment by the Dead Sea Squirrels. Rich and Lynn Sbardella along with Bob Livingston will welcome the holiday season, accompanied by Sue Hill and Friends.

For more information about Country Dance Stafford, contact Rich Sbardella at 860-684-3466 or e-mail richsbardella@snet.net.


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