The Upper Village Hall is alive with the sound of ballroom dance tunes.
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – While they still have a way to go before passing muster with the “Dancing With the Stars” judges, the ballroom faithful are finding their footing here, one rumba at a time.
The weekly dance lessons at the Upper Village hall have been drawing an intimate Thursday night crowd and, at the same time, going long way toward restoring a sense of community spirit that, until now, has had no place to call its own.
It's a success story measured in more than one way – how a couple found love on the dance floor, and how their mutual love of dancing brought some life back into the old town hall.
“It's an awesome space,” said Hans Vorsteveld, who along with dance partner Holly Harrison, has been teaching the basics of ballroom dancing to anyone who shows up Thursday nights at 7 p.m. So far, it's a cluster of former Pinkerton Academy classmates who got hooked after seeing Vorsteveld and Harrison in action at a Pinkerton school dance a few years back.
They weren't a couple until after becoming partners on the dance floor, during lessons in Londonderry. When they reunited during summer break from college last year, they wanted to find a way to teach others to dance while doing some good in the community. They were able to offer lessons at a local church, with proceeds going to the food pantry.
This year they wanted to reprise their role as dance instructors, so they put the word out on Facebook, and got a faction of old friends from Pinkerton – even some repeat customers – to sign up. What changed was that the Upper Village Hall was now reopened for business, after a community group were able to buy the building from the town for $1 with the promise of restoring it to full operational use as a town center.
Last year they had eight couples. Last week, they had four and a half.
“I'm sitting this one out because Maggie's dancing with Will,” said Zeph Ozaroff, 18, a junior at Eastern Nazarene College.
He explains that he's between partners right now – in life and on the dance floor. He's rooting for some more single ladies to find their way to the hall on Thursday nights.
“Guys tend to be self-conscious, and don't always want to come, but I enjoy it; I just need some more girls,” said Ozaroff.
For Will Shrout – the guy dancing with Maggie Cleary at the moment – it's all about fun and developing a new skill set.
“Tango is definitely my favorite. This is a great place to practice and have some fun,” said Shrout, 19, who, when not doing the tango, is studying classics and Spanish with a minor in Greek at Trinity University in Texas.
Robert Evans and Debra Hardy, both 19, are still getting used to one another on the dance floor. Harrison gets between them and shows them the basics of how to properly hold your dance partner while waltzing. The two follow her lead, and are soon gliding across the wood floor in three-quarter time.
Across the room, Cleary talks technique. Her main goal is to be able to dance proficiently.
“I've known Holly since sixth grade, and Hans – we took ballet together when we were kids, so I feel very comfortable learning with them,” said Cleary. “I'm, like, the clumsiest person ever, so if I can do this, anyone can. It's fun and they are really good teachers.”
As Cleary partners with Shrout for the next dance, there is some controversy over her rock-stepping.
“I'm in four-inch heels – give me a break,” said Cleary, not looking for sympathy so much as understanding. Within five minutes, she's changed partners and kicked off her shoes, after the cha-cha proves too much for the angle of her black pumps.
In the hall just outside what has become the grand ballroom for a night, Dave McPherson, a faithful Upper Hall volunteer, takes a break from puttering in the office to ponder the moment.
“This is what we worked for,” said McPherson. “When they called to inquire about renting space here, I though it was just some group of ballroom dancers. But to find out it's actually kids from right here in Derry, Pinkerton graduates, who are the very first group to utilize this space, that's fabulous.
“Six months ago we didn't know what was going to happen, but this is what we envisioned, and now it's a community center again. People are back inside, enjoying the space, feeling like they have a place in town to call their own,” McPherson said.