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Queens Chronicle

Dancing the night away down by Little Bay

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Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:00 pm

Before that little television show with a similar name came along, a weekly summer event known as “Dancing Under the Stars” was already catching on at the Little Bay Park in Bayside.

“I like to say they copied me,” said Janice Melnick, the northeast Queens park administrator who led last Wednesday’s warm-up session.

Not that the crowd needed to get any warmer — temperatures were in the 90s that day; attendance was down a little from the typical 100-plus participants, but nothing could keep the die-hards away.

“It’s one of our more popular events,” Melnick said. “The weather has a lot to do with it. The first year it was very small, maybe 30 people. For the finale, if it’s a nice night, we expect around 300.”

The finale, which will allow the participants to strut all the moves they’ve learned throughout the program’s nine weeks, will take place this year on July 27 and will feature the band “One Night Stand.”

But first, the participants will be taught the basics of many of the more popular ballroom dances — from swing to tango.

The instructor for most of the sessions is an energetic professional dancer named Betina Hershey Russo, who seems to be largely responsible for the program’s popularity.

“She is very patient. She dances with anyone who has trouble. She breaks it down,” said Joe Krochak, of Fresh Meadows, who only admitted to being “over 60,” and who, along with his wife, Lillian, has become a regular.

“It’s relaxing, you’re outdoors, the fresh air. The view is very inviting. Just take a look. Isn’t this gorgeous,” he said.

Every Wednesday in June and July the dancers gather at the park’s roller hockey rink, surrounded on one side by the Cross Island Expressway and, on the other, the Long Island Sound, which, on many a stifling evening provides a welcome breeze as the sun begins to set just over the Throgs Neck Bridge.

“I love teaching people who are beginning how to enjoy dancing,” Hershey Russo said. “In American culture, people don’t learn how to partner dance. You have lots of ages and everyone is dancing together.”

Indeed, the wide age span was obvious as everyone there, from senior citizens to tots barely old enough to stand took to the floor.

For the Arguellos, of Jamaica, it’s a true family affair.

“We love to dance,” said mom Estrella, who was dancing with daughter Rebeca until dad Guido arrived and cut in.

“We’ve been dancing for so many years,” said Estrella. “We started dancing with the kids since they could move.”

They planned on having son Shane join them next week, once he comes home from college.

One couple, Phyllis Sacks and Rich Siemerling, have been participating for several years because, Sacks admitted, “We keep forgetting the steps. We need the review. It’s fun. I wish it were longer.”

Siemerling said, “We look forward to it. If we get rained out, we feel bad,” he said. Still, dancing outdoors has its benefits. “People who don’t dance come out with chairs to watch and get entertained by us,” Siemerling added.

Sponsored by the Parks Department, the sessions, which are free and open to the public, run every Wednesday, starting at 7 p.m., through July 27; they include two 45-minute sessions, the first for instruction and the second a variety of music for dancing.

“It’s a nice way to spend a night,” Melnick said.

For directions or further information, contact Melnick at (718) 352-4793 or visit nyc.gov/parks. Other city parks have Dancing Under the Stars events, so check for times and locations near you.

Dancing Under the Stars

When: Wednesdays in June and July at 7 p.m.

Where: Little Bay Park, Bayside

Call (718) 352-4793 or visit

nyc.gov/parks

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