Rhythm around the room

Steve Williams noticed a flyer promoting a free dance class series with no registration required for Mt. Laurel residents at the library and decided to check it out.

After all, he had never had the opportunity to waltz before.

In the Mt. Laurel Library’s meeting room at 7 p.m., he arrived alone to face the music and steps.

Catherine Costa, too, traveled solo for the night.

Soon, the unlikely pair was showing up the room—skating before many slid their feet from the left to the right.

Costa, 86, was in high spirits after the hour-long lesson.

“I had such a good time,” she said, adding that she danced with the “nicest partner,” 20-year-old Williams, a man around the same age as her grandchildren.

That air of diversity helped to create a welcoming atmosphere, explained Karen Reiner, who attended the class with her husband Craig.

“It was a lot of fun,” she said.

Diane Alcavich of Dances by Diane in Westville hosted the class.

Six years ago, she explained, one of the students from her studio who belonged to the library suggested dance lessons to librarian Joan Serpico.

“Who ever heard of dancing at the library?” said Alcavich.

Apparently, 150 people did—in her first class alone.

They were “packed like sardines,” she said.

“Needless to say, everybody loved it,” she added with a smile.

Since then, Alcavich has taught a class series at the library for five to six weeks every summer. She also teaches a class every other month or so throughout the rest of the year.

“It gives people a chance to experience a little ballroom without the pressure of a big studio,” she said.

The program is addictive.

Once an individual attends one class, they keep coming back for more, she said, noting that she recognized about half of the students at the Thursday, July 12 class session.

Having dance classes at the library, a community hub, draws people together, she explained.

Other townships have taken heed to the idea, including West Deptford Library in Gloucester County.

“Why not? They have the space,” she said. “People love it.”

In Mt. Laurel, the recreation department provides the funds through community service outreach.

Alcavich, a resident of Bellmawr, has been teaching dance for 28 years.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s my life right now.”

If it were up to her, she would hold lessons “forever and ever.”

Her students in Mt. Laurel are quite proactive, she said.

When they want a certain dance type, they ask, and the inquiry is relayed.

Recently, the library hosted a line dancing class.

“We’ve done multiple different things because the community wants it,” she said.

People love to ballroom dance, she said, but often times there is a larger turnout among women than men.

With that in mind, Alcavich brought along three man hosts to step in with solo ladies.

As the program began, she assured her students, circled around the length of the room, that it is not a progressive class.

Stop in whenever you can, she suggested, pointing out that people come and go.

But, of course, her recommendation was to not miss any class.

After a brief explanation of the waltz, Alcavich joked, “You’re all going to be tested on this at the end of the night.”

You need to be able to count to six and have one left foot to waltz, she said.

“It just keeps repeating,” she added.

Begin to learn at the feet and work your way up, she said, to avoid slamming into each other.

As Alcavich caught sight of students Williams and Costa gliding through the room, she exclaimed, “That’s what waltz is—it’s like skating.”

After about an hour, the crowd had mastered the basic steps and was ready for their recital.

“You’re all good,” she said to the crowd. “You pay attention.”

Alcavich will teach the cha-cha on Aug. 2, the jitterbug on Aug. 9 and the nightclub two-step on Aug. 16.

Learn more about Alcavich and her dance studio by visiting www.dancesbydiane.com.

The library is located at 100 Walt Whitman Ave., Mt. Laurel. For more details, call the library at (856) 234-7319 ext. 333 or visit www.mtlaurel.lib.nj.us.