BY TOM LAVIS
One may expect to hear the sounds of recorded Big Band music coming from a senior activities center. But in the case of the Johnstown Senior Center, 550 Main St. in downtown Johnstown, passersby may be surprised to learn that the music is live and the dancing is hot.
The music is coming from Swing City, a six-piece band directed by vocalist and trumpeter Dan Perich of Beaverdale.
Perich has been playing with the band for 24 years. He started when he was
37 years old.
“When I started playing with the band, the next youngest guy was 40 years older than me,” Perich said.
The group’s roots go back to about a year after the senior center opened in 1970. Perich joined the band in 1988, and has played for three generations of dancers, many of whom came to dance well into their 90s.
The band performs from 6 to 9 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at the center.
Swing City also plays the first and third Tuesdays of each month for a dance at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in East Conemaugh.
Other members of the band, who all contribute vocals, are Jerry Sandusky, saxophone; Greg Maiocco, alto saxophone; Joel Kosmac, bass; the Rev. George Johnson, keyboards; and Doug Williams, drums. Also performing occasionally is Jim Bilitski, who plays guitar, saxophone and trombone.
Perich said the senior center takes on the air of the great ballrooms that were prevalent in the 1930s and ’40s.
“We play everything from Glenn Miller to Chicago,” he said. “We can take a wide variety of requests since we know 560 songs.”
Perich said his musical roots can be traced back to growing up with five older sisters who were hooked on rock ’n’ roll.
He started playing in a rock ’n’ roll band at age 16 and joined six other guys to form the Marauders.
“We were a horn band even before Chicago came onto the musical scene,” he said.
But it’s the big-band tunes that Perich and his bandmates enjoy.
“Swing music has elaborate arrangements,” Perich said. “We once had to learn songs for a 1950-themed dance, and after three hours of rehearsals, we learned about 50 songs because, while the lyrics are different, each song only has three chords.”
No matter what the music, it’s all about getting people on the floor. Everything the band plays has a dance tempo.
“We have many regulars who dance four or five nights a week,” he said.
“These people are more energetic than I am.”
Sandra Macey, 75, and her dance partner, Bill King, 77, of the Tire Hill area, are regulars on the band’s circuit.
“We go as much as we can to both Conemaugh and the senior center,” said Macey, who is a retired registered nurse from Arbutus Manor in Richland Township.
“Swing City has an excellent sound and plays a variety of songs.”
Macey’s favorite dances are the waltz and jitterbug.
“When I was 5 years old, I took tap, toe and ballet lessons at the Gene Kelly dance studio in Johnstown until I was about 15,” Macey said. “After raising five children and finishing work, I finally found a dance partner who enjoys this style of music. Each of our spouses are deceased.”
Macey said the people who regularly attend the dances range in age from their 40s to their 80s.
“We just had three men in our group turn 80,” she said.
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Macey is in awe of the band’s talent.
“Jerry Sandusky and Dan Perich are great singers, and Father George has a rich, deep voice that adds so much to the group,” Macey said.
“It’s a great three hours of fun.”
Socializing is a benefit of the center, said Dianna Harmotta, center manager.
“We average about 40 people for each dance and would love to see more attend,” Harmotta said. “I have seen firsthand how the music and dancing have benefitted people’s minds and bodies.”
Cost of admission is $5 a person. Anyone 50 or older is invited to attend.
“I think current seniors are more active and energetic than previous generations,” Harmotta said.
“Even if people are not physically able to get up and dance, it’s enjoyable to see people sitting at a table and tapping their toes along with the music.”
Harmotta is pleased to see how a certain song often will trigger conversation between people.
“It’s music they have heard in their homes while growing up,” she said.
Bill and Sally Reddecliff of Conemaugh Township, Somerset County, have been attending dances for more than 15 years.
Sally Reddecliff said the band is special because it takes time to get to know its audience.
“They actually learned to play the ‘Tennessee Waltz’ for my husband’s birthday because Patti Page was one of his favorite singers,” she said.
The band has a following from people outside the area.
“They come from Greensburg, Ligonier, Latrobe, Bedford, Cresson and Rockwood just to hear Swing City,” Sally Reddecliff said. “Bill and I will be celebrating our 53rd wedding anniversary soon and I know they will play us something special. They always do.”
There is plenty of room on the dance floor to accommodate more dancers.
“We need to attract younger dancers to these events,” Perich said. “Ballroom dancing is growing in popularity, and a lot of younger people are learning dances like the waltz, fox-trot, cha-cha and rumba.”
Harmotta said people only have to pay $5 “for one of the most enjoyable evenings anyone can imagine.”
Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.
Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.