Toe-tapping music fills the air each Tuesday evening at Bothwell Arts Center in Livermore. Although the melodies are from many countries around the world, each tune is linked to a folk dance. Now in its sixth decade, the Del Valle Folk Dancers have been moving to the music each week from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at 2466 8th Street in Livermore.
"Everyone is welcome, schoolchildren to retirees, new dancers, former dancers, beginners, and experts," said George Pavel, the group's current leader and main instructor. "We are a congenial group, and we all help each other learn and enjoy the dances."
Pavel joined Del Valle Folk Dancers in 1985 when he and his wife Lindsay moved to Livermore.
"There are health benefits from folk dancing," noted Pavel. "It is good exercise, helps with balance, and some studies have shown that dancing helps your brain keep active when you learn new dances.
Fourteen people gathered at a recent session, including one first-timer. Pavel patiently walks the group through basic steps and instructions during the first half-hour of each session; he will later call out steps once the music begins.
"The music is wonderful," he continued. "You learn about other cultures and their music and dances. It is a great social event; you make new friends."
Most of the dances are done in a line, with the instructor standing in front to demonstrate each step, and no partners are needed. Beginners may opt to stand behind the hand-linked line of dancers to try out the steps until they are comfortable joining in the swaying line.
There is lots of laughter within the friendly group and Pavel stands next to novice dancers to encourage them as they learn a new dance. The name of each dance, along with country of origin, is written on a white board.
"A lot of the dances are from the Balkans and Eastern Europe (Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria Macedonia) and Israel," said the instructor, "but we do dances from all over the world, including, but not limited to, England, Wales, Scotland, France, Canada, USA, Bolivia, Mexico, China, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Russia."
As the evening progresses, participants often request their favorite dances. A circle mixer is added, where there are changes of partners after every pattern of steps.
Floyd Davis travels from Modesto each week to join the group. "I dance three times a week," he said proudly. "Because it's easy to do."
"I like the music," said Pleasanton resident Janell Galanis. "I love music from other countries -- it's a hobby of mine. I also like to come to see the people."
For several members, this is a return to a former hobby.
"I danced in high school and in college, and decided to take it up again," explained Mary Adamson from Pleasanton. "My husband doesn't dance -- not even at our wedding -- so I decided why wait?"
Livermore's Nancy Marling has been a lifetime dancer, moving to everything from ballet to belly dancing, and she comes to Del Valle Folk Dancers for the "Aha! moments."
"We have very nice dances," she said, "then every once in a while we learn a fabulous dance. I try to write those down (to be able to request them at future sessions)."
Nancy's husband, Jack, came along for his first visit to the class. "My wife likes it, my friend is the teacher, so I had two reasons to try it," he said.
Very soon, he was movin' to the music, with a big smile on his face.
Get to stepping with the Del Valle Folk Dancers at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. The first session is free, cost is $3 for each additional session. To learn about more folk dance groups around the Bay Area, visit the website of the Folk Dance Federation of California www.folkdance.com. n