Teenagers Francesca Zografakis and Erica Cipollina thought they'd surprise their boyfriends with a mystery outing on a recent Saturday night.
"We told them to dress fancy," says Cipollina (in sparkly top and twirly skirt), looking in mock dismay at her date, Joe Sehne, who came in a decidedly casual outfit: well-worn jeans and plaid flannel shirt. "And this is how he showed up!"
Still, Cipollina (whose mom chauffeured the quartet) and Zografakis (whose date, Peter Marino, dressed as directed) were all smiles, not to mention giggles. The four 15-year-old Smithtown High School East sophomores had ventured out to Swing Dance Long Island's monthly event, where dozens of newbies and skilled dancers spend the evening bopping to East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop to a live big band (this one, the 20-piece LI "Sound" Swing Band) at Smithtown Historical Society's Frank Brush Barn, tucked behind the Epenetus Smith Tavern on Main Street. And they had a ball learning partner dances that were retro even when their parents were teens.
ABOUT THE CLUB
Swing Dance Long Island has been swinging here for 21 years, says retired teacher Karen Kwartler, 61, of Setauket, one of its founders. "So it's all my fault," she jokes.
Every dance begins with a free lesson - on this night, by Gilles and Sarah Fouquart of Mineola (who met swing dancing), sporting vintage '50s duds and sneakers. "Bring your eyeballs into the area where you're sending her," Gilles, 39, tells the circle of swing dance wannabes around them, demonstrating by twirling Sarah under his arm and out, while watching her every move.
"We just want you to remember that feeling," says Sarah, 30, as he pulls her toward him - and back into his arms.
After practicing a few moves, the ladies rotate, and the men - who carry the burden of learning to lead the steps - try again with another partner. And yet another and another, till the lesson ends and the band starts up.
All are welcome - even those who don't know how to dance or don't bring a partner (couples mix it up, and women aren't shy about asking men to dance).
"You get teenagers to people in their 80s coming down, and everybody dances with everybody," Kwartler says - from obvious stars to newbies stepping on their partners' toes.
"It's great exercise - and you smile," says president John Pomeroy, 52, of Lake Grove, an energetic fellow who works in media research and development, wearing his trademark sweatband. "And everything that brings out a smile is good for the heart."
Northport's Brian Ansink, 47, and his wife, Cindy, 46, a chief engineer and a pediatric occupational therapist, and parents of two young daughters (14 and 8), started a dancing "date night" two years ago ("I had two left feet," Brian says).
"Dancing kind of spiced up our marriage," Cindy says. "It gives us very good chemistry together - we feel a bit closer." Some dance every dance, stopping only to wipe off the perspiration and gulp down some water or complimentary juice.
Dustin Bartley, 24, of East Northport, a high school music teacher and graduate student, and his fiancée, Leanna McCabe, 23, of Smithtown, a substitute teacher, come to Swing Dance Long Island events to practice their moves (and bring family members to learn, too) - they're having a swing dance band at their wedding next July.
Meanwhile, the two high school couples seem to have caught on, at least to the basics. "It's good - it's cool," says Peter Marino. "This could look good on my college application."
Swing Dance Long Island with the Tommy James Orchestra
WHEN | WHERE: Intermediate Jitterbug Stroll lesson 6:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday followed by fundamental lesson at 7:30 p.m. and dancing to the Tommy James Orchestra, 8-11 p.m. at Smithtown Historical Society's Frank Brush Barn, 211 Main St., Smithtown
INFO: 631-476-3707, sdli.org
ADMISSION: $15 ($13 students with ID)