Dance club puts members in step

North County edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune
By Marcia Manna
August 14th 2005


Before the music starts, they are an unlikely couple. She’s an older woman. He’s young enough to be her son. She’s a petite redhead, decked out in dangling black earrings and a wicked part of 6-inch high heels. He’s tall, slender and conservatively dressed.


But when a honky-tonk blues number plays, the West Coast Swing makes them one.

The dancers belong to the North County Swing & Ballroom Dance Club. The club has 150 members, and they meet monthly for dance parties. The group shows how dance can be a great leveler, transcending age, appearances and social status.


The next get-together will be Saturday, and it’s open to the public. Members pay $20 per year to join and pay a discounted $10 admission for parties. Non-members pay $12.


The event takes place in an Encinitas studio with a large dance floor surrounded by mirrored walls.


In a separate room, light hors d’oeuvres and nonalcoholic beverages are served.


The music includes a variety of genres, from Engelbert Humperdincks’s waltz, Versailles,” to Santana’s up-tempo Latin hit, “Smooth.”


The club members, who range in age from 35 to 75, take turns dancing with each other, and it’s considered bad manners to refuse a dance. The “ladies’ choice” policy means that it’s fine for women to invite men to dance.


Mary Manzella, club president and dance director, begins the first hour of each party with a group lesson. In addition to ballroom and swing, she teaches the fox trot, rumba and Argentine tango. But West Coast Swing is her favorite dance because of its versatility.


“I like to recommend that people learn swing and branch out into waltz or cha-cha,” said Manzella, a national swing dance champion and two-time judge at the annual U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships. “West Coast Swing is slower, and it can be danced to blues, contemporary, funk or country music. It’s all inclusive.”


Manzella said that after she divorced and her parents died, she decided to devote her life to dance.


Last month, the Golden State Dance Teacher’s Association awarded Manzella a Dedicated Teacher Award, hailing her 20-year teaching career.


She clearly enjoys her work and trains private students and instructors for cruise ships. She also is the dance director for the Sand Diego Swing Dance Club.


At last month’s North County dance party, Manzella demonstrated the West Coast Swing with student James Bounds.


About 60 people lined up along the walls to watch. The pair danced to “Fever” by Elvis Presley, to which Manzella had choreographed a sultry routine filled with dips, swaying hips, twists and turns.


At the conclusion of the dance, Bounds and Manzella bowed as the crowd showed their appreciation with hearty applause.


“I consider you my extended family,” Manzella said to the audience, “whether you take lessons or not.”