Regulars forget loss of dance hall when music starts
At a City Council meeting in late September, vice mayor Marjorie Decker promised to keep the contra dancers who use the Huron Avenue Veterans of Foreign Wars hall dancing in Cambridge, even though the hall is slated to become a youth center after Cambridge buys it.
She said she would work with the groups to find a replacement, adding, “We have a responsibility to work with the dance groups. We don’t want the groups moving to Medford.”
Less than two months later, it turns out that is exactly where the dancers are going, dance organizer Daniel Pearl said yesterday, just before some 250 dancers took to the floor.
“I’ve been a contra dancer since 1990,” he said. “It’s like barn dancing. It’s like New England-style square dancing. You just get a partner and show up.”
The crowd consisted of people from age 15 to 85, with the median around 30.
The hall was rocking by 8 p.m. All 250 people were smiling, completely absorbed by the music and each other.
It was a lesson in carpe diem.
Despite the takeover by the city, which will put the veterans in the basement and turn the 4,000-square-foot dance floor into a partitioned youth center, complete with televisions, these contra dancers were determined to have a good time.
But Pearl said he is sad the hall is to be subdivided and the dancers displaced, and he was not alone. The dancers are 300 strong in Cambridge and bring thousands more to the city.
Nell Wright, of Lynnfield, said she would miss dancing in Cambridge, as will her teenage daughters.
“I don’t like it,” her daughter Phoebe said. “I like this hall. I just started dancing here.”
The floor at the hall is ideal for dancing because with the floorboards nestled atop resilient wooden floor joists, it is tantamount to a “spring floor.”
“There is no other location in Cambridge,” Pearl said, so the group — one of three that dance at the hall every week — is off to a Medford arts center as of Jan. 5.
The veterans came up with the idea to sell the place to the city because the organization could not afford it anymore. Part of the deal was in exchange for being able to still use the space for $1-a-year rent.
A recent council meeting was consumed with Decker once again trying to get people to relax over the issue.
All three groups — the dancers, people long seeking a West Cambridge youth center and the veterans — were pressuring city officials for a solution that would allow everyone to get what they want.
The council has been able to pull off two out of three.
Pearl is still seeking a better solution, but he said he is aware that the dancers would have had to relocate temporarily anyway.
He and every one of some two dozen people interviewed yesterday said they wanted to come back after the city buys the hall. It doesn’t look as though that will happen.
But the dancers are careful not to blame city officials, other than to say they wish they had been included in the planning process years earlier.
The plan to build the youth center has been in the works for nearly a decade.
Decker, who had previously said the dancing “is a great thing; it’s what makes Cambridge so fantastic,” did not return calls seeking comment.
Pearl did not begrudge any city officials or councilors.
“They made no guarantees,” he said.
But he thinks the city “is losing a valuable community resource” when the dancers move.