There's an old building in the heart of the Heights called the Odd Fellow's Hall. It looks abandoned. But every Monday night, stomping about on the creaky second floor, a couple dozen people from all over the city meet here to practice folk dancing.Î¾
Bud Bearce is the ringleader of this motley crew. He's a tall, lean man with weathered skin and keen blue eyes and it's clear he's the pied piper to everyone in the room.
"I was taken kicking and screaming to a folk dance camp in the late '60s and I just fell in love with it. The music -- the minor key music, the gypsy overtones -- I just loved it. And I liked the dancing too and I just got more and more involved in it until I started going to camps and learning dances and then I began teaching. And I took over this group on Monday night, probably in 1973."
Bearce has been a leading force in Houston's International Folk Dancing for nearly 35 years.Î¾ The group claims as many as 500 dancers who perform at various festivals and camps. But Monday night is for beginners, or dancers who just don't feel like leaving the beginner's group. Augie Gaona is one of the latter. He started dancing in 1968 in college, but then he joined the military, got married, started a career and left dancing behind until about nine years ago. He says the dancing is great, but the thing that keeps him coming back is the people.
"There are a lot of people from all over the world. Arved, he's from Estonia. We've got a lady from Greece. We've got two Armenian-Turks, one of them whose birthday we celebrated tonight. And a lot of other people from all over."
Everyone's response is much the same. The dancing is fun, the music is beautiful, but the people -- the sense of community and fellowship -- that's the draw. Arved Plaks, the Estonian that Augie mentioned, didn't folk dance in the old world, but picked up the hobby after he came to the U.S.
"And it's just fun. You know you come here in a lousy mood and you get here and next thing you're smiling and doing this thing. And I have no talent, by the way, for dancing. And I love it."
These dancers love it so much that during the breaks when they have a chance to rest, they keep dancing. And of course the crowd favorite -- the Hava Nagila.
Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.