Gas House Dance Hall

Gas House Dance Hall

Do you crave to jitterbug in a haven for hepcats? Maybe you’d rather polish up your winklepickers and hit the floor for some jive with your poodle-skirted honey?

You can do both—and lots more—when you drop by the Gas House Dance Hall, one of the most hoppin’ joints in the Lehigh Valley.

Swing dance enthusiasts Robynn and Keith Shannon founded the Gas House in 2013. “They took a run-down former Texaco gas station on Front Street in Catasauqua and turned it into a real destination for the swing dance community,” says manager Vicki Bartholomew.

After major renovations to the former Blocker’s Service and Hardware building, the duo offered classes in a variety of styles: vintage East Coast swing, West Coast swing, belly dancing, and even burlesque. They regularly held dance socials, offered practice space for dancers, and booked swing and rockabilly performers.

But when their day-job responsibilities took them to Europe, the Shannons sold their business to Vincent Smith, Catasauqua Borough Council President and Vicki’s brother, who already owned the physical property.

"You'll always find someone to dance with, no matter your skill level!" - Vicki Bartholomew, Gas House Dance Hall manager

Swing fans need not fear: Vicki says they’ll stay true to the original Gas House vision.

The Lessons

Whether you’re an aspiring dancer or one who wants to “level up,” the Gas House should be your destination.

“Two nights a week, we offer beginner and advanced classes in vintage swing dancing, also called East Coast swing,” Vicki says. (That covers such classic dances as the Jitterbug, Charleston, Lindy Hop, Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Jive, and is taught in six-week sessions.) After a one-week break, a new session starts.

Wednesday nights are devoted to West Coast swing. What’s the difference? “West Coast is based on the same steps and moves as East Coast, but adds little extras to give dancers more flexibility— it’s not as strict,” Vicki says.

While East Coast style pairs well with early jazz and rockabilly music, “West Coast lets you swing dance to any kind of music,” she says. “You just find the beat, and work with it.”

Local dance instructor Eric Bass also teaches salsa and bachata on Tuesday nights.

Mention belly dancing and many people think of women seductively twirling and spinning. But at the Gas House, belly dancing represents the expression of female empowerment through performance dance.

It’s also good exercise: non-impact, non-weight-bearing, and suitable for all ages. Sessions last six to eight weeks, and are taught in a very body-positive atmosphere.

 The Hall

The Gas House doesn’t hide its service-station roots. “We have lots of stuff from the original building,” Vicki says. Vintage signs proclaim the availability of “Fire Chief” gasoline (one of Texaco’s now-defunct brands), and old motor oil bottles (yup, bottles!) complete with screw-on pouring spouts are scattered about. There’s a still-working illuminated gas pump globe, “and we have a Texaco hat that was a station giveaway in the 1940s,” she adds.

But the oil-stained concrete floor is long gone. In its place is a custom-installed hardwood dance floor that Vicki describes as “the best swing-dance floor in the Lehigh Valley.” Ordinary flooring can batter dancers’ feet and joints, but the Gas House’s sprung oak floor is much more forgiving.

With “sprung” floors, the hardwood top layer is cushioned by foam backing or rubber feet. It’s sort of like dancing on a giant shock absorber: because the floor “gives” a bit on impact, there’s less stress on your joints.

Jami Derr is a member of Gas House Swing, one of several groups that call the venue “home.” “Other than the Gas House, there really aren’t a lot of venues that have good dance floors,” she says. “Many of them are covered with vinyl or even carpeting, and some outdoor floors are just plain concrete,” she says, “That’s hard on your joints. And club floors can become sticky from spilled drinks.”

The hall sports two full walls of floor-to-ceiling mirrors, strings and strings of ambient lighting, about a dozen dimmable overhead lamps, and a floor-level space that’s reserved for the stripped-down, high-energy bands that perform at the regularly scheduled dance socials: Lara Hope and the Ark-Tones, the Rock-A-Sonics, Dibbs Preston and the Detonators, and the Crescent City Maulers, to name just a few.

A Sense of Community

Swing dancing requires a partner. But when you’re single among many couples, it’s easy to feel awkward and intimidated. You can leave that baggage at the Gas House door. “Our classes and social events are open to everyone,” Vicki says. “The atmosphere is cozy and fun, and you’ll always find someone to dance with, no matter your skill level.”

Jami agrees. “Even our best dancers remember that they were once beginners themselves,” she says. “And we offer a free swing dance intro lesson before our monthly rockabilly shows. It’s a very friendly, all-inclusive environment. You can come alone, but you won’t be alone for long. People will make you feel welcome right away, because the more dancers we have, the better we like it!”

“At the Gas House, it’s presumed that everybody will dance with everybody else,” Vicki adds. “No one gets hit on, and dancers cut in on each other all the time with no problems. Everyone’s here to have fun.”

“I just can’t say enough about the Gas House,” Jami says. “I think the whole dance scene is good for your social, mental, and physical health. It’s like getting a ‘runner’s high,’ but without
the running!”

Blocker’s Coffeehouse opened in the same building last June, and has become a key part of the Gas House scene. “It’s open all night, with many kinds of fair-trade coffees, espresso, mixers, and snacks. Our swing dancers love the idea, because they can get a little energy boost from the caffeine,” Vicki says.

Gas House Dance Hall

311 Front St, Catasauqua

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