Alan Cormier is the owner and operator of Dance2Swing Studios. Every Sunday night at the Leominster Elks, Cormier (stage name DJ Alan Hep2theJive) gives beginner-friendly swing-dancing lessons.
Some people come stag. Others bring a partner.
It doesn't matter if you come with someone or not, Cormier says -- chances are by the end of the night you'll have danced with everybody at least once.
Hmm. With Valentine's Day creeping up next Thursday, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, the regular Sunday Night Dance2Swing event takes on a more heartfelt vibe as they this Sunday, Feb. 10, as it celebrates Valentine's Day with special guest The Band From U.N.C.L.E.
"We have all the ladies on one side and all the guys on the other," Cormier says of the typical evening. "We show them the footwork, then we partner them up. During the lesson, we rotate partners. I have some people who have been doing this for 10 years, and in the lesson, they teach the beginners how to dance."
This Sunday, after the lesson and everyone's in the mood to dance, The Band From U.N.C.L.E will take center stage and perform a medley of '60s pop, rock 'n' roll, Motown and girl-group hits. Cormier will evolve from teacher to DJ, taking requests from the audience between the live sets.
"Alan does a fabulous job putting on these dances each week," says Gretchen Bostrom, lead vocalist for The Band from U.N.C.L.E.
For his part, Cormier says U.N.C.L.E. has the ability to give an audience what it wants. He should know. He has been operating Dance2Swing for 16 years, and he says when people are learning how to dance, they emit a sense of joy that encourages them to keep learning the moves.
"Wonderful things happen when you make new friends," Cormier says. "I want to create that feeling where everybody comes together. At our dances, really good dancers dance with really bad dancers. The bad dancers get better, and the good dancers get even more better.
"Dancing really does unite people. It is a respectful form of human contact.
Based in Massachusetts, The Band From U.N.C.L.E. is a four-piece group specializing in '50s and '60s dance music. Members include Silvertone Steve Coveney on guitar and backing vocals, Gretchen Bostrom on lead vocals, "Wando" Mannell on bass and Brian "Double-O" Cutler on drums.
Bostrom says the setlist will basically consist of the dance music you may have heard at your high-school dance back in the day if you're of a certain age. They will do songs from a variety of artists, including the Monkees, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Elvis Presley and much more.
"We hope everyone will join us for a great time," Bostrom says. "Everyone is very friendly, too, so if you come in and don't know anyone, you'll make friends easily.
Coveney and Bostrom first collaborated with Cormier when they were in The Juke Joint 5, performing jump blues and swing music. They have had numerous gigs with Dance2Swing since then, and Bostrom says U.N.C.L.E. will provide plenty of swing music at Sunday's dance, with a modern twist.
The Valentine's Day Pizza Party Swing Dance will be held on Sunday, February 10th at the Leominster Elks. Doors open at 6pm; lessons begin at 6:45 pm and The Band From U.N.C.L.E will perform at 7:30 pm. Lessons are free; admission is $15. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at www.dance2swing.com. Pizza will be provided Athens Pizza in Leominster.
Local Band to Headline Contra Dance at Groton Grange
By Jacquelyn Jarnagin
Groton-based band Contra Banditos will perform a selection of traditional music at the Groton Grange Contra Dance on Friday, March 23. The family-friendly event is open to people of all ages, and no dance experience is necessary.
Banditos founder and fiddler/vocalist Daniel Fassett says contra dancing is a very specific tradition of New England, having been practiced in the region for hundreds of years.
"It's really about community," Fassett says of the contra genre. "Music is the kind of thing that builds itself and grows from and through community."
A former fiddle teacher, Fassett says he initially founded the Contra Banditos as a means of providing a new format for his students to practice their art. It started off with just three of his students, eventually growing to a total of 15 members of all ages from around the area.
"Some members have left us, but they still remain affiliated with the group," Fassett says. "These members will come back and join us on occasion. People come and go at their own convenience. Sometimes even our core members will change. "
Just as the lineup of the Contra Banditos will change from performance to performance, so, too, will the kind of songs they play. Specializing in Western culture music, they play a blend of vocal and instrumental pieces in such genres as Celtic and Cajun. Every once in a while, they'll throw in a contemporary piece -- think Bob Dylan or Garth Brooks.
"We call ourselves the Contra Banditos because I love all kinds of music," Fassett says. "I tend to be out of the box that way. That's how we have more fun."
According to their official website, the Contra Banditos' philosophy is to exist as a group that makes music and has fun so they can grow as musicians and people. They choose to play in public, delivering an open invitation to listeners to share in their passion for good music.
"Sometimes dancers will come and play, sometimes players will come and dance," Fassett says. "One of the reasons I did this was to create a strong musical community that I never had growing up."
The Groton Grange Contra Dance will be held Friday, March 23, at 7 p.m., at the Groton Grange, 80 Champney St. Admission is $5. For more information, check the Groton Grange's Facebook page.
Kari's Line Dancing Lessons Being Offered in Nashoba Valley
By Jacquelyn Jarnagin
Kari McHugh has been teaching line-dancing in towns across Nashoba Valley for 17 years now. She began her journey as an instructor quite by chance: She was looking for some kind of physical activity to fill her spare time and came across a line-dancing DVD.
Once she tried it for herself, she enjoyed it so much that she felt a need to share that enjoyment with others.
"What most people don't realize about line-dancing is how beneficial it can be to your health," McHugh says. "One of the most gratifying experiences I've had during my time as a teacher is watching my students grow and develop into better versions of themselves, both physically and mentally."
McHugh describes her line-dancing classes as so informal that it hardly feels like you're learning. Looking at the agenda, it's plain to see why. The workouts are engaging and low-impact (and, therefore, easy on joints and muscles); the dress code is casual (but layers are highly recommended as you're guaranteed to work up a sweat); and the overall environment is extremely welcoming and without judgment.
"In just five classes, you will start to see a change within yourself," McHugh says. "And chances are, you will grow to like it even more. I sincerely believe that dancing is a fundamental tool that can bring everyone in the world together in the best way possible."
For more information, visit http://kkm678main.wixsite.com/karislinedancing/class-options
Bring your dancing shoes and date to a Valentine's Dance held by Worcester Youth Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble at Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St. in Worcester, on Friday, Feb. 8, starting at 7 p.m. Dance to live music for an evening of food and fun. Tickets are $35 in advance online or $45 at the door. Visit worcesteryouthorchestras.org.