Dancing the night away
Last Saturday, the dance floor at The Country Club of Darien received scuff marks from the shoes of more than 30 local couples executing hundreds of box steps and dos-i-dos in floor-length gowns and bow-ties.
The range of the couples' dance skills spread wide and their age representation was wider -- but widest yet was the smile of Mary Franco as her husband Mike twirled her under his arm.
"For Mike and I, this is our favorite thing to do," Mary said, and joked, "When it gets really crazy, I do cartwheels."
This Saturday night hoopla was the spring dance of the New Canaan Dance Club. Four times each year, the club, which celebrates its 45th birthday this year, offers the 100 couples in its membership a night of food, drink and dance at a Fairfield County country club.
"It's kind of a misnomer because it's not just New Canaan people and we don't meet in just New Canaan clubs," said member and former president Robin Hoffman.
Club members come from across Fairfield County, and even New York, Hoffman said. The club offers membership to anyone of any age who enjoys dance, she said.
"You don't have to know how to do ballroom," Hoffman said. "I have no idea how to do ballroom dance. We dance all kinds of dances to current music."
Darienite Cindy Tye, dance club member for more than five years, said the women in the club are sometimes more enthusiastic about dancing than the men.
"For me, anything goes, but my husband is definitely better at the slower stuff," she said. "If my husband poops out, I just grab another partner."
Bob Tortorella of Wilton prefers to cha-cha. When the live band plays Latin, he said he can always be found out of his seat and on the dance floor with his wife Novella.
"This is a little hidden treasure," Bob said of the club.
For Novella, the draw of the dance club is the rare access it grants its members to the manicured banquet rooms of private country clubs.
"And besides, when else would I wear something like this?" she said, pulling at the animal print shawl draped over her ankle-length black dress. "It makes us feel young."
Novella said she and her husband have been dance club members for more than 20 years. In that time, the club has grown and diversified, she said.
"It's a very eclectic group of people," she said. "It used to be mostly older couples, but collectively we are much younger and much more lively. Who wants to hang out with old people?"
It has taken time for local dance enthusiasts to learn that, with live music sounding and wine flowing, the atmosphere of a New Canaan Dance Club event resembles a party more than anything, Hoffman said.
"We suffer a bit because people think we're too formal, but we're not at all," Hoffman said. "You don't even have to dance. We had members who didn't like to dance, they just liked to listen to the music, enjoy the food, and their friends were members, so they wanted to socialize with them."
The Franco's, of New Canaan, are long-time dance club members and former board members.
"We've only ever missed two [events] in all the years we've been members -- and we get mad when we do," Mary said.
They joined in the mid-90's, following the legacy of Mike's parents, who had been early dance club members.
"We came in as some of the youngest members," Mary recalls. "It was so much fun because every one of the octogenarians whose wives were too tired to dance tapped me on the shoulder to get me to dance with them."
Karen Elmasry, a 30-year veteran member, remembers the early days when the cocktail hour was at a home of a board member. Dinner wasn't part of the affair back then, she said.
"It used to be that when we introduced new members, they had to get up and dance on the floor," she said.
Despite the changes to its charter, the essence of the New Canaan Dance Club has stayed the same, she said: "It's like going to a wedding; you hop up and down a bit and have a great time."