Stepping out | July 2, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - July 2, 2010

Stepping out

Social-dance nights draw old-timers and newbies to Palo Alto

by Katia Savchuk

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 it's 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."

Editorial Intern Katia Savchuk can be e-mailed at


There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Save $5 when you register by Monday, July 24

Registration is now open for the 33rd annual Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run and Walk. This family-friendly event which benefits local nonprofits serving kids and families will take place on Friday, Oct. 6 at the Palo Alto Baylands.

Register Here