After 25 years, the New England Folk Festival Association Jan. 29 will dance for the last time in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Huron Avenue.
“The building belonged to the veterans, they owned it until a couple of days ago when they officially agreed to sell it to the City of Cambridge,” said Calvin R. Howard, N.E.F.F.A. member, who has danced at the post since the beginning.
When the building closes for its upcoming renovation by the city, the dancing will take place in Medford Center, he said.
The plans of the City include renovating the building, making it permanent place for the West Cambridge Youth/Community Center and an improved home for the VFW Post.
The style of dancing put on by the N.E.F.F.A. is called contra dancing, which is similar to Western square dancing, but for the bolo ties, wide skirts and formality, said Peter Barnes, whose band, Dark Carnival, performed Dec. 22.
Western square dancing is more like a re-enactment, while contra dancing is still very current, he said.
Although, many of the songs played date back to the 18th century, when they were brought over from England, he said. “In fact, one of the songs we play called “Hull’s Victory” celebrated a victory by the U.S.S. Constitution over the British.
“Another difference is that unlike Western square dances, at least half the dancers are under 20 years old,” he said.
“I have played the VFW post hundreds of times since the 1980s,” he said. “I was probably there for the first time there was dancing.”
Barnes said he enjoyed his gigs at the VFW post. “It’s a great hall to dance in, and I also enjoyed the clash of cultures that took place there.”
There was an interesting mix when the young, folky liberal contra dancers would interact with the older, non-participating VFW-types, who would watch holding their drinks from the bar downstairs, he said.
There was more interaction when the dancers wanted a drink they themselves have to go downstairs, he said.
The dancers are not yet sure whether they will be allowed to dance at the post after the reconstruction, Howard said.
“We are supportively looking for as many ways to use this space as possible to make it most useful. But we can’t tell you about any particular group that will be using it,” said Anthony D. Galluccio, a member of the city council.
“I hope they save it, but personally, I am pessimistic,” said Barnes. “It seems that to maintain a dance space in a community center would be a waste of space.
The dancers are not happy, said Katherine London, who started dancing at the post in 1981.
“It’s very sad. Look at this hall! It has wonderful acoustic, and it’s a very warm and inviting place,” she said.
London said it will be difficult for many regulars to make the transition to the new location.
“There are a lot of kids who come here by bicycle or bus, and in that place there is a bus that comes like once an hour,” she said. “So we are going to lose a lot of our team with this moving.”
“It’s just leaving 25 years of dancing history here, I know a lot of people who met a lot of friends, mates, lovers at this dance,” said Daniel D. Pearl, the chairman of the Thursday night dance committee and a member of N.E.F.F.A.
“It’s very sad to leave it. We are living behind the echoes of the previous dancers, and music still plays on these memories,” he said.
“Somewhere else we may dance forever, because the city is doing investigations on their plans of the youth center and they cooperate somehow with the community hall,” he said.
Incoming city councilor Craig A. Kelley said he did not expect the city to stonewall the dancers’ return to the post.
“Youth center is important and necessary for children. We want to make sure that the center provides everything possible,” said Kelley, who for 10 years was the chairman of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee.
“I’d be surprised if it won’t be possible for the dancers to use it, too. We’re trying to make it serve every need,” he said.
Another concern for the dancers is the new location’s capacity, Howard said.
The VFW post hall is 3,840 square feet, it has air conditioning, stage for the performing bands and a lobby, he said.
“This place is very unique, because it has a brilliant ambiance. It has lounge where we are sitting right now, bathroom, kitchen,” he said.
“You can sit here with your friends if you don’t feel like dancing. Or change your shoes. But the biggest asset of the hall is a wonderful floor,” he said.
“It’s very kind to your feet. It’s good to dance there,” he said.
On the second-to-last dance at VFW Dec. 22, about 300 people were present, and they could hardly fit in this space. The new hall of Springstep in Medford Center, a little bit smaller than the dance space at the post, he said.
“We hope that they would be able to preserve the hall because, we need all the room we can get,” Pearl said.
The activity here is enormously popular. We need a bigger hall, not a smaller one,” he said.
At the Dec. 19 city council meeting, Robert W. Healy, presented the report on the costs, zoning, parking and legal issues of the city operating the post.
Healy said he concluded that operating the post would add roughly $1.5 million to the prior cost estimate, which did not include a dance floor, and operating costs would increase by approximately $250 000 per year.
The members of the dance community, who offered testimony at the meeting said they considered the report inadequate, and the council declined to accept Healy’s report.
The dancers said they hope that the City Council will consider the post a valuable community resource that should be preserved. But still, after this month, they will be dancing in Medford and waiting to called home.