Dance club

Middletown swing dance club reopens to customers – with proof of vaccination

MIDDLETOWN — Louis Armstrong blasts from a loudspeaker as about nine pairs of people dance on the wooden floors of Vinnie’s Jump and Jive.

The dance comes after a 15-month hiatus at the dance hall due to the pandemic, and officials and attendees say it feels good to be back on the beat.

“It was torture,” Michael Garner said of not being able to dance. “It was really tough, because, if nothing else, we really enjoyed the exercise. I think coming back was the right time.

Garner, a Middletown resident, said he had been taking lessons from Vinnie for five years.

“It was very difficult at first,” he said. “But we left it at that – we just thought we’d get this.”

Noting that he’s always had a passion for music, Garner said he thought dancing was out of the realm of possibility for him.

“Like it’s just something you do at a wedding or something,” he said, adding that he realized it wasn’t true. “There is a very welcoming community here. After five years of involvement, we’ve met a lot of great people who keep coming back, and that’s why we keep coming back. Vinnie’s is the place to be.

Nat Holmes, wellness and community engagement program specialist for the Community Health Center, which runs the nonprofit dance hall, said it reopened in mid-June. He said all dancers show proof of vaccination and must sign a waiver.

Holmes said the swing dance program is the most popular choice among customers. He said 21 people are signed up for four weeks of classes in Lindy hop, beginner swing and blues dancing.

“Right after (Monday’s class) he enters his internship,” he said. “It’s 8 to 10 when they do one hour of swing and one hour of blues.”

Holmes noted that Vinnie’s offers country line dancing, swing lessons and monthly swing dancing, acroyoga, power yoga, private lessons and blues dancing on the third Saturday of the month.

Launched in 2000, Holmes said CHC became the first community health center to open a dance hall for the public.

“Mark (Masselli) and his wife Jennifer Alexander, founder of the KidCity Children’s Museum, believed that bringing dance into the community would advance everyone’s health,” he said. “Vinnie’s Jump and Jive opened as a fun and active way to promote wellness in the community.”

Holmes said Vinnie’s Jump & Jive is named after Vincent Amato, a longtime Middletown resident and owner of Amato’s Toys on Main Street, who originally donated the space for the classes. To thank him for his help, he said, CHC decided to make his name part of the dance hall.

Holmes said it was difficult to close the doors of the dance hall to congregants. He said there were plans to have a 20th birthday dance with classes to re-energize people about Vinnie – but they were wiped out by the pandemic.

“We have one of the best dance floors in the world,” he said. “Our swing program has groups. Normally we have bands six to eight times a year. When he has a band, we’ll bring 40 or 50 people here to dance.

People know Vinnie’s, Holmes said, adding that popular swing dancers from around the world have come to participate. While most people who come are from Middlesex County, he said others venture from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Kristi-Lynn Jacovino, a member of Vinnie’s swing committee, said people were drawn to the fun of music and dancing.

“A lot of people don’t know, hip hop has its roots in swing,” she said. “They are not unrelated. It was an African-American dance that was done in the streets of Harlem. Those roots still stick I think. It’s really fun.

Jacovino said Swing Class dancers will follow Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie and a variety of classical artists with both fast and slow beats.

“But all with the same swing,” she said.

Jen Abraham, a resident of Wetherfield, said she started dancing at Vinnie’s a few years ago after friends ‘taught her’.

“We had danced in Hartford and then came here — just to try and explore the swing community,” she said.

Abraham, 33, said she hadn’t danced before since she was a teenager, but noted that she passed up an opportunity to dance in college.

“It’s something I’m trying to learn now as an adult,” she said. “It’s great for socializing. It’s a great workout and I’m learning what my body is capable of.

Abraham agreed with Garner that it was torture not being able to go out and dance during the pandemic.

“I tried to dance at home,” she said. “It’s not the same thing. It actually kind of made it worse because you’re not with your friends. You’re not with live music when there are bands. There are no words to describe how great it is to be back.

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