Last dance at VFW
By Sarah Andrews/ Chronicle Staff
Thursday, January 5, 2006

Because contra dancers create linear patterns, itıs easy to take a head count. And by the estimation of one counter, last Thursdayıs final Contra Dance at the Mount Auburn Veterans of Foreign Wars Post drew about 100 more dancers than most weekly dances.

But while the dancers will have to now move their operation to Medford, as the city plans to build a youth center inside the VFW, many hope they can one day return to the hall that has been home to dances of all kinds for more than two decades.

Last month, the City Council approved $2.9 million for the purchase of the VFW on Huron Avenue. City officials have set aside $6 million total to renovate the facility so it can accommodate both the VFW and the new West Cambridge Youth and Community Center.

So far, though, city officials have not said whether theyıll save the VFWıs dance hall, one of the best around, according to many dancers who attend the weekly dances there.

A majority of city councilors recently expressed support for saving the floor by building an additional level onto the building for the youth center, but the plan has not been embraced by City Manager Bob Healy or Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi, who said it will cost the taxpayers an additional $1.5 million.

The issue will come before the new City Council, and dancers said they will continue to lobby for a compromise that works for everyone.

"We think [multipurpose use] makes sense for everyone in the city," said Jerry Callen of Orchard Street.

Callen said the mood of last Thursdayıs dance was a bit somber, but that most dancers were hopeful that they would be able to return. He said the support for a compromise among the City Council was encouraging.

"At the last City Council meeting, it was very clear that city councilors get this issue, and they understand that this hall could be a very valuable asset to the youth center," he said.

Contra dancer John Gintell said that keeping the hall would allow the dancers to continue their traditions and allow the community and youth center extra space for other activities, such as yoga or ballet classes and community functions.

Gintell said he "sympathized" with the plight of the city, which has been working for 10 years to build the youth center, but hoped all interests could be included in the project. The dances, especially the contra dances, appeal to people of all age groups and backgrounds.

"Thereıs nothing like this where you have people from 15 years old to 80 interacting at night without alcohol and without television," he said.

For now, the dancers who frequented the VFW will move to Spring Step in Medford. Gintell said the facility there was nice, but not as large, meaning it might not be able to accommodate the number of dancers drawn to Cambridge.

Callen estimated that at least 350 dancers attended Thursdayıs dance.

"It was a really great dance," he said. "A lot of people who were there had not necessarily been there to dance recently but because they heard, of course, that it was closing down, they came. There were a lot of reunions."

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This page last updated on October 10, 2006.