'Social event of the year,' the Locust Point dance

April 18, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

If you're not twirling on the Knights of Columbus dance floor, Locust Point residents discuss your absence.

The South Baltimore neighborhood's spring dance is an annual event, and locally established people can't remember when it didn't dominate the calendar.

"It's the social event of the year, the heart of the community. You just have to be here for it or people will start wondering where you are and they'll begin to talk about you," says Shirley Doda, the community spark plug who has served as dance chairman for the past 20-odd years. She is also president of the Charles L. Stevens Funeral Home, which keeps her in close contact with many in the community.

There are 1,100 homes and 3,500 people in Locust Point, surrounded on three sides by the Patapsco River and an assortment of grain elevators, marine terminals, rail yards, expressways, the Domino Sugar sign and Fort McHenry.

The April 23 dance will draw about 350 people (roughly one of every 10 residents) to the 1300 block of Hull St., site of Our Lady of Lourdes Council of the Knights of Columbus hall. The committee usually puts up posters, but the dance is so famous some wonder if it is even necessary.

The dance is unashamedly sectarian. It begins with a Catholic Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. It ends when the Romano's orchestra plays the last set. The men of the parish serve a fried chicken dinner. This is such a compact neighborhood, nearly everyone walks.

Anita Doda, the chairman's daughter-in-law, sat quietly throughout one of the weekly meetings the dance committee has been holding since February. Her hands never stopped moving. While the other women talked, she used a glue gun to stick flowers on straw wreaths so that by the end of the evening there was a pile of completed dance favors ready for the start of the music.

"We decorate the hall until 5 o'clock the day of the dance, then go home and take a bath, put clothes on and come back looking great," says Catherine Scott, a Haubert Street resident.

"Some people say it's worth $18 to come in and just look at the hall. They can't believe how we can fix the place up," says Agnes Schreiner of Decatur Street.

Each year the dance committee comes up with a new theme. This year's is spring flowers, and it's a wonder there are any artificial flowers left in the Ritchie Highway craft shops the

women visit and revisit. Even the cigar boxes used to hold change and ticket stubs are spray painted mauve to cover up Uncle Willie.

"We carry bedroom slippers with us into the hall. By the time the dance is over, our feet are killing us. We put on the slippers, stay until 3 in the morning and don't leave until we've packed up every decoration and taken down every balloon," Scott says.

As the band plays, wheels of chance spin at tables set up throughout the hall. The grand prize for the dance raffle is pure Baltimore -- a bushel of crabs, 10 pounds of shrimp and a cooler of beer.

"We have no trouble getting liquor donations for a basket of cheer. There are 19 bars in this neighborhood between Woodall Street and Fort McHenry. All I have to do is go in each one and ask for a donation," Shirley Doda says.

Local issues don't get in the way of having a good time. The dance organizers are not worried about the closing of the Procter & Gamble plant, once one of the neighborhood's largest employers.

"If they make the plant into apartments that will mean we'll just have more people to come to the dance," says the chairman.

Helen Markowski, who lives on Haubert Street, sums up her attitude to the neighborhood this way:

"I'm born and raised 75 years in Locust Point and don't want to go anywhere else but Loudon Park."

"But not before you've come through my funeral home," laughs the chairman.


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