The swinging sounds of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey – and the swish of dancing feet – will fill the Glebe Community Centre this Sunday afternoon, when Standing Room Only (SRO) brings its tea dances to Ottawa.
The 14-member big band has run its monthly dances at the Old Almonte Town Hall for 10 years now, attracting many dancers and big band aficionados from Ottawa as well as the valley. But this will be the first time they've run a tea dance in the big city.
SRO board chair and trumpeter John Haysom said the band had initially planned to run several dances at the Glebe Community Centre last year, but then found that the cost was substantially more expensive than they'd expected.
“The city stepped in and said, If you want to do this, the band will have to rent the hall. The rental was quite a bit more than we pay for the Old Town Hall in Almonte. So we hesitated, and said 'Do we want to do this?' ”
But many of the attendees at the Almonte dances are from Ottawa, and when SRO surveyed them last year, many responses said they'd like SRO dances in Ottawa. “So finally we bit the bullet and we're renting the hall and hoping we get enough people out to cover the costs.”
The band is charging $15 admission to the dance, as opposed to $14 in Almonte. Refreshments will be offered by the Pantry, the community centre's tea room.
The Sunday dance is a one-time trial, he said. “If it's reasonably successful, we'll do it again. If we lose a lot of money, we'll have to think about doing it again.”
Tea dances with a big band or orchestra are part of a long tradition, Haysom said, which “goes back to the swing era, and maybe even before. The first thing is that the 'tea' tells you there's no booze. And it's also an afternoon thing as opposed to an evening thing.”
These days, he said, the SRO dances attract everyone from “teenagers up to as old as me”, with attendance that's stayed steady over the past few years. Attendees are primarily there to dance, he said. “Usually at Almonte we get a few people who just come to listen but it's mostly dancers.”
SRO has also performed in Ottawa at events coordinated with the Capital Chordettes, and at several of the monthly dances put on by the Ottawa Swing Dance Society.
But unlike those events, the jazz music SRO plays at its dances isn't just swing, he said. “We play swing, but also waltzes and Latin, and we might even throw in the odd polka. So it's a wide range of types of music.”
For this dance, they'll be playing numbers like “'Song of India', the Tommy Dorsey arrangement, a couple of Glenn Miller arrangements, and one of our favourite arrangers is a fellow named David Wolpe. We have an arrangement of his of 'Moonlight in Vermont'.”
Surprisingly, Haysom said the band hadn't found many places to hold Sunday afternoon dances in Ottawa. They need a big space (no smaller than the auditorium at the Almonte Town Hall) to give enough room for the dancers, he said, as well as room around the perimeter to set up tables where people could eat and drink. And a good wood floor is a necessity.
Other than the Glebe Community Centre, “there is Lakeside Gardens. We haven't found any others. I suppose there's a lot of churches that have halls that would fill the bill, but they're often not available on Sunday afternoons.”
The Ottawa Swing Dance Society has regularly held its Friday and Saturday night dances in churches in Sandy Hill.
Haysom said SRO was “quite hopeful” of getting a good crowd on Sunday. “One very keen dancer” had given them some hints on how to get the word out to Ottawa dancers, and they'd got a good response already.
And they'll also get the word out at the JazzWorks monthly jam session on Friday night at the Georgetown Pub, he said. The SRO Snippets – a smaller version of the full big band – will be the host band for that jam, playing some arrangements in their book that the band doesn't normally get to play because they're for only nine instruments instead of the full big band.
– Alayne McGregor
Standing Room Only, with vocalist Pauline Proulx, will present its ‘Beat The January Blues’ Big Band Dance in Scotton Hall at the Glebe Community Centre, 175 Third Avenue, on Sunday, January 17, from 1 to 4 p.m. The cost is $15 per person cash only, at the door. No reservations are required.
The next Almonte tea dance will be held on Sunday, January 24, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Old Town Hall, 14 Bridge Street, in Almonte.