January 23 – Dance to a bygone era during classes offered at a local studio.
Sherry Lynn’s Ballroom Dance Center will be hosting Civil War-style dance classes beginning Feb. 7 at the Dance Center, 646 Main St. in downtown Johnstown.
The six-week courses will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Mondays.
Sherry Lynn Harshberger and her husband, Brian, have operated the dance studio since 1999, but this is the first time they have offered this style of dance.
“My husband and I saw a sign in a store in Jennerstown that said there would be a Victorian Civil War ball and told us what to wear,” she said.
“As a date, I thought it would be something fun to do. It wouldn’t be ballroom dancing or work like we normally do. Just go out and see what’s up. is.”
The ball, held in November in Somerset, was presented by the Civil War Dance Foundation of Camp Hill, Cumberland County.
“We got there and were blown away. It was totally awesome,” Harshberger said.
“It was intergenerational, and what we saw was a grandmother dancing with a grandson, two ladies who were friends dancing together, husbands and wives, retirees and young people. They were wearing gloves, doing honors and showing manners, things you haven’t seen in years.”
She said that at the end of the ball, the company offered training materials and music to anyone interested in learning Civil War dance.
“We had been doing ballroom dancing for years, so we thought why not look into that and see if we could offer something new and different,” Harshberger said.
“We tried it at our social dances and ballroom dances and our people loved it, and it was so much fun.”
She said she and her husband dove in to get more familiar with the dances.
“It didn’t take much for us to learn because we already have a dance background,” Harshberger said.
“It’s easy to learn, it’s a great social outlet, low pressure environment, good exercise and a return to manners and formalities. Really all you need to be able to do is walk and follow certain instructions.”
She said Civil War dancing has similarities to square dancing and there are waltzes, polkas, reels, do-si-dos and seesaws.
“My idea was to do this in the winter to give people something fun to do indoors,” Harshberger said.
“Maybe this could be suitable for a wedding reception or done outside because you really don’t need perfect ground for this, so it would be fun at a family picnic under a pavilion in a park to say we’re going to do the Virginia Reel. There’s a big group of people who can enjoy it.”
Each class will focus on a specific Civil War dance.
“When we get to Week 6, we’ll go over them all in a social environment,” Harshberger said.
For lessons, period music will be used.
“There will be a lot of fiddle music with contemporary music mixed in like ‘Bonanza’ music,” Harshberger said.
“We’re talking about stuff from the 1860s and before the actual waltz was a waltz.”
Harshberger said the goal of the classes is to provide a unique cross-generational activity that people can participate in.
“I hope it finds a new market of people to bring to the dance center who aren’t interested in ballroom dancing,” she said. “I would like to see grandmothers and grandsons or fathers and daughters, because it will create a pleasant bond between them.”
Harshberger added that dancing has many benefits for the body.
“Regular dancing keeps the body supple and flexible with unrecognizable aerobic benefits, and you don’t really know you’re exercising because you’re having fun,” she said.
“Learning dance choreography keeps the mind sharp and encourages concentration and muscle memory recall as it relates to the music.”
Depending on the response, Harshberger said the Civil War dance could become a regular offering at the dance center.
“We’ll start with this six-week course, but you can do more,” she said. “There’s probably 16 to 18 different dances in the lineup, and they get more complex as you go. I’d love to see that become a regular thing in Johnstown. And if it gets popular, maybe we could have our own ball.”
Class sizes are limited to 24 people and suitable for ages 8 and up.
Participants must come with a partner. Although period clothing is not required, gloves should be worn. Dry shoes are required.
To register or for more information, call 814-536-8760 or email [email protected]
Kelly Urban can be reached at 814-532-5073. Follow her on Twitter @KellyUrban25.