by Barbara Sherf
When Bill Wadlinger came home one evening after a long day at work, his wife, Carol, handed him a catalog from Cheltenham Adult Evening School with International Folk Dancing circled on the page.
“I was really hesitant, as I broke up with a girlfriend in college over the issue of dancing,” said Bill, who had no idea this would eventually turn into a 41-year endeavor. The couple learned a variety of dances from cultures including Macedonian, Hungarian, Greek and Turkish. “But it was fun. I enjoyed it so much,” he said. “The music is so different from regular popular music, and learning new steps engages the mind.”
Following the 10-week class, they went to a five-day dance workshop in the Poconos and started joining other groups throughout the city. They learned more than a dozen types of dances from various cultures including Hungarian, Romanian, Israeli, French Canadian and Greek. “I was so smitten by all this that I bought several records of [international music to accompany] the dances I’d learned,” said Bill, who was teaching English as a second language at Beaver College (now Arcadia University).
“When spring break came, the American students vacated the campus in droves,” Bill said. “But all of my students … Saudis, Kuwaitis, Iranians, Venezuelans, Japanese … could not easily go home for a week.” In an effort to find a way to occupy his foreign students during the break, he offered to teach them some dances in the dormitory lounge. At the end of the first session, he asked if they wanted to continue. The interest grew, and the dances moved to a community gym, eventually drawing in dancers from the wider community.
“It wasn’t such a huge leap,” he said of his transition from dance student to teacher. “I’d always been a teacher and was gutsy enough to think that if I could do it, I could teach it. Once I’d taught those international students a few times, I was, as they say, ‘hot to trot.’” Carol worked as a computer programmer and had never done any teaching. Initially, she wasn’t too interested in teaching, only in dancing.
But she soon became involved with teaching as well and has become very good at it, according to Bill.
In 1977, the Erdenheim, Montgomery County couple founded Beaver Folk Dancing (beaverfolkdance.org), named after Beaver College, where Bill first began teaching.
Dance groups often have a “culture corner” to give dancers a chance to hear and discuss stories. When the Wadlingers teach the dances, they point out cultural points of interest. “For example, we did a dance, called Hora Miresii, or ‘Bride’s Dance’ in Romanian,” Bill said. “This is a dance which a bride may do in her home, with her friends, before going to the church for the wedding.”
On any given Friday afternoon at Center on the Hill, housed in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, typically 15 participants come out to dance and connect. The weekly dance sessions feature music and steps from the Balkans — Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia — plus Hungary, Greece, Israel, France and more.
Louie Asher, 68, travels more than a half-hour from Merion to start her weekend with dancing from 1 to 2:30 p.m. “They are both great teachers and do a nice assortment of dances,” Asher said. “I always appreciate Bill’s pointing out stylistics so you can get a certain aesthetic of the dance. I just hope we can attract more from the younger generation.”
Once Bill retired in 2008 as Director of Academic Computing at Chestnut Hill College, the couple had time to travel to countries where the dances originated. “We go to folk dance camps where really good teachers will tell you about the background of the dance,”
Bill said. “We’ve gone to Romania, Greece and Canada.”
Carol, 65, who grew up playing the piano and flute and later added the concertina, likes to add some Israeli, Italian and French dances to the couple’s repertoire. No partner is needed as most dances are done in lines and circles. “There is always a mix of teaching and just dancing,” Carol said. Roxborough resident Carol Sandler has participated in international folk dancing for
30 years but feels strongly connected to the Wadlingers and their group.
“They are so welcoming to new people as well as advanced dancers. It’s more than dancing,” said Sandler. “It’s a community that comes together to enjoy wonderful music, learn about the history of the dance and new steps. Bill and Carol do it for the joy they get out of it, and it shows.”
The couple also plays in two folk dance bands, Ajde (rhymes with Friday) and International Folk Sounds, which provide music for many regional dance groups and festivals. Carol plays the flute and sings while Bill plays guitar, mandolin and Macedonian tambura, a stringed instrument with an unusual sound.
The Wadlingers will continue learning, dancing and playing music in a weeklong Balkan music and dance camp in the Lower Catskills of New York this summer.
More information about the Friday folk dances at Center on the Hill at folkdancefridays. org or 215-233-9399. More information about other locations for folk dancing in Philadelphia at phillydances.org. This article is reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, the monthly publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.