By KATIE LIBECCO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Around midnight every Thursday, Duane Pitzer plays Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" at Cedars Lounge. The floor clears and the crowd forms a circle for a "swing jam," where couples are showcased.
"Swing is alive and well at Cedars," the cafe and talent manager Timmy Gilliland said.
Cedars Lounge, 23 N. Hazel St., has offered a night of swing dancing for about the past five years.
"It's our most consistent night of the week," Gilliland said. "We have about 75 to 100 people come to swing night, on average."
Swing night begins slowly at 10, when people who want to learn how to swing dance are invited to come.
"People who don't know how to swing dance are encouraged to learn here," Gilliland said. "Everyone here is more than willing to teach you."
"You don't need a partner. Everyone here will help you learn," the disc jockey, Duane Pitzer, said. "Everyone comes here because they feel welcome.
Pitzer and wife, Lisa, from New Castle, Pa., have been attending swing night regularly for years, and he has been working as the DJ for about a year.
"I used to dance ballroom, but I got bored. Everyone started to look the same to me," Lisa Pitzer said. "Then I got into swing, and I really developed my own style."
The original DJ of swing night isn't hard to recognize on the street. Richard "Doc" Dolan, with license plate "DRSWING," brought swing night to Cedars in 2000.
"We used to go out swing dancing three or four times a week," Dolan said. "Now, this is pretty much it. There aren't a lot of places for swing dancing anymore."
At age 52, he says he didn't learn how to dance until age 45. "I learned how to swing dance right out there on the floor," Dolan said.
The idea for Cedars swing night came when a similar swing-themed night in the area ended with the closing of another local club.
"We got a one-month notice," Dolan said. "Then we brought it to Cedars, livened it up and created a great monster!"
Swing night at Cedars Lounge is open to anyone, with or without swing training or a specific partner.
"There's a certain atmosphere here," Duane Pitzer said. "It's all about getting into the spirit of the music."
Cedars staff has said that the crowd has been very consistent for several months, and some nights the crowd spikes to well above 100 people.
Ages in the crowd range from young college students to people in their 70s, and it isn't uncommon to see the ages mixing on the dance floor.
"It's a great social thing, to have fun and exercise," said Renee Sheakoski. "It's just amazing how many people are here!"
Sheakoski said her son, Mike, got her and her husband, Steve, involved in swing dancing. They learned swing from Sue Sharley at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall in Youngstown.
"We have a lot of regulars who like to dress up and get into the spirit of swing night," Gilliland said. "These people will come despite rain, sleet or snow. They are the ones who really keep it going."
Many attending swing night dress in period attire, including zoot suits, bobby socks and fishnet stockings.
Brandon Martin, 20, of Liberty said he tries to go to swing night every Thursday.
"I'm getting better each week, and that keeps me coming back," he said.
He said he learned how to swing dance by observing everyone else. "I just watched others, tried to imitate them and eventually caught on," he said.
Marty Eberth also said that he has tried to go to Cedars Lounge for swing night every week for about four years.
"It always amazes me. I teach new people how to dance every week," he said. "And every week, there's always more people."
Some attending swing night learned how to dance from schools like Fred Astaire Dance Studios or instructional videos. Others come to swing night out of curiosity and learn how to dance there, the Pitzers said. They also suggest searching the Internet for more information on swing dancing.
"Swing night's popularity comes and goes in phases. This is the most popular it has ever been," Gilliland said. "I think that it's because swing dancing is interactive and not just sitting and watching something. It has a great energy."
Swing night at Cedars Lounge is open 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. every Thursday to everyone age 18 and older. There is a $2 cover charge for ages 18 through 20, while admission is free for those 21 and older.
"If I come in a bad mood, I leave in a good mood," Eberth said. You can't be down with this music."