Dancing Through the Decades

For those St. John’s students who missed the many neon orange flyers posted around campus over the past few weeks, chances are you also missed the actual event being advertised: the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s “Dancing through the Decades.”

It’s not often that one has the opportunity to witness flower children swing dancing, punk rockers doing the jitterbug and greasers practicing their disco. Yet all of this is exactly what was going on Friday, Oct. 4, from 8 p.m. until after midnight in the commons room of the University Center.

The dance, which has been in the works since August, featured music from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, and towards the end of the night, even early 90s music like Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice, Baby,” by request.

Prizes were given for the best costume from each era, with a few exceptions. The lone girl who chose to dress in 80s gear won by default and two prizes were given for 70s costumes, since no one showed up dressed for swing.

Jimmy Walters, treasurer for the St. Vincent de Paul Society and supervisor of the event, estimated that around 50 people made it to the dance Friday night, noting a poor location as the main reason for relatively low attendance.

“The problem is that the University Center is so far away,” he said, explaining that, ideally, the dance should have been located in a place where people could see in as they passed by.

However, despite the fact that the UC was not packed, it was certainly full of energy. Of course, the 50s would not have been complete without music from the movie Grease and almost no one remained seated as the famous motions to “Grease Lightning” were reenacted by the crowd. During the next song, even the cameraman from St. John’s television club WRED, who was present to do a feature on the event, was pulled away from his camera and out to the dance floor.

At 10:20, John Travolta was back, in spirit anyway, as the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” blasted out over the speakers and began the disco era. The 70s presented the largest set of people in authentic costume, which added greatly to the atmosphere of the event as a whole. Many of the costumes had been prepared as much as a week in advance and some were even rented or purchased from specialty stores.

“I actually didn’t expect so many people to be dressed up,” said junior Jacqueline Tejada, a volunteer for SVP who worked at the event.

The dance’s main purpose, however, was not simply to provide a night of entertainment for St. John’s students. Instead, in accordance with the society’s mission of providing service to the poor, all proceeds raised from Friday’s dance were donated to the St. John’s Bread and Life program, self-described as one of New York City’s largest providers of emergency food and social services for those in need.

Liz Salogub, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, estimated that about $250 and 75 canned goods were collected. This money and food will go towards Bread and Life’s many subdivisions, which include soup kitchens, employment counseling, an HIV/AIDS support group and a medical treatment program, among other things.

In fact, Friday’s event presented a special challenge for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, as it was the first dance that the organization has ever held. The dance was suggested as a way to involve the entire student body of St. John’s in the society’s mission.

“Being a fan of the oldies, I wanted to run a dance featureing the music of the 50s and 60s,” Walters said. “When I spoke to Liz about it, we decided to expand it to include swing and the 70s, and then we later added the 80s.”

Many other on-campus organizations were quick to support SVP in its endeavor. For example, Student Government donated a DJ for the night. Mary H. Pelkowski, director of Student Activities and Performing Arts, provided two tickets to the play Rent, which were raffled off to raise additional money for Bread and Life. Four members of the Chappell Players were present at the beginning of the dance to give swing lessons. The Math Club sponsored a decade and APhA-ASP sponsored two decades, funding the gift certificates that were given as prizes for best costume.

Meanwhile, many new members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society helped to purchase supplies and decorations and showed up early to join older members in preparing the commons room.

Traditionally, SVP is known for its many active service events, working in soup kitchens, mentoring children, holding food and clothing drives and visiting hospitals, for example. Yet, this affair provided a unique and creative way to combine volunteer work with entertainment.

“Whether or not they realized it, everyone that came did a service,” said Walters.

In addition to the immediate aid Friday’s dance provided, it also sparked interest among many St. John’s students in joining SVP and committing to help the needy in the future. A table was set up next to the dance floor in order to promote information about the organization, and many of those who attended inquired about future events and even signed up for the upcoming Breast Cancer Walk.

Lori-Ann Malmkvist, a junior at the University, admitted that she had only planned to come to the dance to have a good time. “However,” she added, “if the society continues to hold events like this, I would be more interested in becoming a part.”

The dance was definitely considered to be a success by Walters, as it fulfilled its only real purpose: raising money to benefit the Bread and Life organization.

“The past two weeks [of preparation] have been crazy, but when you see how far the money goes in someplace like a soup kitchen, it’s worth it,” he said, adding that he hopes to be able to hold similar events in the future.

“As long as people are interested, we could continue to do this sort of thing. It raises money for a great cause,” said Salogub.

Any St. John’s student wishing to express an interest in future events of this nature or to get more information on St. Vincent de Paul Society or Bread and Life should go to the Campus Ministry office in room 134 of Marillac or e-mail the society at [email protected]