On Friday, April 12, Allen Davis and Barbara Robinson will go dancing at Fairhaven Community Center.
Although they've only been doing this for the past four years, they will be continuing a tradition which began 57 years before when the Friday Nighter Dance Club was first organized. The locations have changed over the years, as have the members, but the goal is the same: to provide good fun through ballroom dancing.
The idea for the club was born in the fall of 1945 when a group of employees of the Farm Administration started talking about getting together for an evening of dancing. They originally planned to dance at member's homes, but then somebody discovered that the Ashton Heights Woman's Club in Arlington could be rented for $10 per night.
The first dance was held there in October or November of 1945. The price was right, but neighbors complained about noise — the loud music, "hog callin'" and "hollerin," so they moved to the Cherrydale Firehouse, just off Lee Highway, for a couple of years. The location changed again in 1949 to the Fellowcraft Club, which was situated across the highway from the clubhouse of Belle Haven Country Club.
It was far from the neighbors but had its own challenges in that it frequently flooded, so after seven years the group switched to the Magnolia Room of the Hunting Towers Apartment Building. Dances were held there for a year, then at the George Mason Hotel for five years.
It was in 1962 when the group switched to its present location. The Fairhaven Community Center may not be fancy, but it has served the needs of the Friday Nighter Dancing Club for the past 40 years.
The group is non-profit and run by a volunteer board which uses the same by-laws drafted in 1946. While minor changes have been made to the by-laws, they continue to operate in much the same manner as they did from the beginning. The by-laws provide for the election of a president and vice-president. The president then appoints additional members of the club. Committees are established and responsible for various aspects of the dance. Yearly dues are $90, or $10 for each of the 10 dances (there are none in July or August). Last month's notice in the Gazette caught the attention of Edwin (Al) Rice. He was the president in 1962 and thought the group had folded. He came to last month's dance and is thinking of joining again.
"I don't think we've missed more than one or two [dances]," said Davis. "We certainly don't like to miss them."
Davis said that there's all levels in the group and that the music is slightly old-fashioned, more ballroom than disco. Paper products and ice are provided, but members bring their own drinks. In June and December, they hold a party and everybody contributes to a buffet.
While most members come as couples, singles have come and are welcomed into the group and are asked to dance.
August and Shirley Burgett have been members of the club for over 10 years.
"Our way of finding out about is typical of how most people found out about it. We had friends in the club and had just started taking dancing lessons and they said, 'We like to dance and have been going to this group, why don't you come on over?'" said August Burgett.
"Even though we were rank beginners and others were much better, it was a friendly group and we had a chance to practice what we learned."
The Burgetts have held several offices over the years and hardly ever miss a dance. "We go out of our way to be in town," said Burgett.
The couple who introduced the Burgetts to the group were Shirley and Bruce Bolstad. They were members for over 25 years and left a few years ago due to health problems.
"We enjoyed it and would certainly still be there if we could," said Shirley Bolstad.
The Bolstads served as president in 1970 and again several years later. It was traditional then that couples served as the president, rather than an individual. It was considered somewhat radical when Bruce let Shirley run the show the second time around and do all the talking.
Bolstad said that before they joined there used to be a waiting list to join the club and at one point there was so much money in the treasury that the club purchased engraved disc charms for all the ladies. During their tenure, they found that things went up and down and cited a time when they had to use tapes because they didn't have enough money to pay a band.
Bolstad said that ballroom dancing kind of comes and goes and is bothered because she sees a whole generation who don't dance. "What we need are some 30 and 40-year-olds."
Burgett believes that the band is very important and likes "The Family," which has been playing for the group for the past six years. "It's been a constant — they know us and we know them. One of the nice things about the band is that they play a wide variety of dance steps."
Bass player Larry Bohnert agrees and said, "We do a large variety of styles. They ask for a lot of Latin dances — samba, cha-cha and merengue. We play swing, fox trot and waltz music. And we always get a request for a tango and a polka."
The Family plays at a couple of other dance clubs, but none are as regular as this group. "We have fun playing for them, they're very appreciative and they enjoy dancing," said Bohnert. "They're fantastic dancers, I'm amazed at the quality of dancing."
<bci>The next dance will be held on April 12 from 9 p.m.-midnight at the Fairhaven Community Center. If interested in attending as a guest, call 703-799-3068.