NORTH CREEK Ballroom dancing is dead. It’s a memory. It’s the canceled Lawrence Welk Show. It’s a caricature. It’s definitely not what Indian Lake’s Bruce and Martha Merchant were doing recently in Johnsburg Central School’s cafetorium.
What they were doing was more like doubles t’ai chi, if there were such a thing. The Merchants, in what appeared to be a comfortable moment of their middle age, were intent but fairly fluid as they moved around the evenly lit cube.
Holding each other in the disused three-point hitch (hand/hip/shoulder), they took cues from a Nelson Riddle arrangement like pollen grains nudged by invisible water molecules. Occasionally, the pair stopped abruptly, flustered at a misstep or three, and Martha gave a photographer the universal face-signal for don’t take this picture.
Bruce, eyes on a farther horizon, stood patiently as his wife shrugged off the bad energy and they resumed.
Floating nearby were dance instructor Paul LoGuercio and Donna Hier, his partner in instruction. When not working with adults, retiree LoGuercio is a coordinator with Johnsburg’s youth committee, teaching dance, archery and other arts to children. Lithe for a 30-year-old, the 70-year-old LoGuercio often remains still for as long as it takes to shift his weight in a waltz.
Hier has an immediate physicality that may or may not come from her being a massage therapist. Or from her time flat- and white-water rafting and guiding, skiing, road racing, kayaking, rock climbing or ice climbing. A coddled Manhattan socialite might describe her defined musculature as ropy, thinking she had cleverly hidden a slight.
LoGuercio teaches “seasons” of dance for children and adults, and Hier has already taken two seasons with him.
She tells stories of rigorous competitiveness, say out-barrel-rolling one of her sons in kayaks. And although there's a strain of ballroom dancers who compete internationally in contests that can be decided by a poorly turned coccyx, Hier is utterly relaxed and open dancing with LoGuercio. It’s possible that she’s never even considered the possibility that there might a game in it.