On a typical Friday night, Scott Gamble puts on jeans and a T-shirt -- and goes waltzing.
The computer programmer is a regular at the Friday Night Waltz, a weekly event he co-founded nine years ago that draws up to 200 participants. Whether in eveningwear or dressed down, dancers of all ages and abilities get pointers from pros during two-hour classes. Then they let loose to a DJ spinning waltz, polka and tango music.
Social-dance nights in Palo Alto attract hundreds of enthusiasts each week and transform church halls and even an old high school gym into rhythm-filled hubs. Some attendees want to learn something new; some are old-timers. All are there to dance in a friendly atmosphere. After one or two decades, the events have become community institutions.
"We do not emphasize steps or styles or figures; we emphasize making a connection with your dance partner," said Gamble, who used to be a competitive ballroom dancer but missed the social aspects of dance.
Some regulars from his group participated in Waltz Weekend at Stanford last weekend, and many will attend a Bastille Day ball in Palo Alto on July 9.
"Many people consider it to be their social club," Gamble said.
When not waltzing, Gamble has swung by contra dance parties, also held at the First United Methodist Church, on alternate Saturdays. Events always feature a local or visiting live band playing tunes that range from bluegrass to mazurkas, while a caller instructs dancers to "swing your partner" or "do-si-do."
"It's good exercise, but mostly itís the music and the interaction with the other people," explained Diane Zingle, who has helped run the dance for 13 years. "We've got a community that's going around it."
She started dancing contra, an upbeat American folk dance done in long lines of couples, as a college student 38 years ago. Her future husband was a classmate and also danced contra, but they only met at a reunion 20 years later. He is one of the main callers at the biweekly parties, which usually host around 60 people.
Dancers of a different persuasion converge at Cubberley Community Center on Friday nights for social ballroom dancing. Cha cha, foxtrot and nightclub two-step are among the 14 styles that rotate on consecutive weeks. Around 200 novice and experienced dancers refine their moves in one-hour lessons and show them off on a 12,000-foot dance floor flooded with colored lights.
Robin Rebello, a trained ballroom dancer who has been running the weekly event for 26 years, still cannot get enough.
"It's just a lot of fun," she said. "You're moving to music, and human beings -- that's their thing. Something happens to you emotionally or spiritually."