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Hardy2
November 08, 2006

Dancing With The (Local) Stars



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They say it's the largest dance floor on Long Island.

Tomorrow night, the 82 x 52 mahogany surface in the ballroom at the Inn and Spa at East Wind in Manorville will be the venue for "The Best Night of Dancing on the East End."

A Big Band Swing Dance brings together almost every form of dance a twinkle toes could want -- swing, ballroom, Latin, 50s, Motown and Disco. Thanks to a live DJ, the spinning, swirling, waltzing and jitterbugging will be continuous throughout the three-hour outing. The Trevor Davison 10-piece swing band, featuring the vocal stylings of Allyson, will be on hand for live musical enjoyment.

And, all that dancing is hungry work. Attendees can belly up to a buffet, helping themselves to a four course repast in between working their the skate and shing-a-ling.

You say you're a little insecure about your samba? The highlight of the evening promises to be a free demonstration and lesson from the famed Alfonso of Touch Dancing Studio in Westhampton Beach.

"He's a character and a half," Tony Cotignola, East Wind's marketing honcho effused.

"We've had him here before," PR maven Diane Figari said, "and everybody wants him."

That wasn't always the case. Way back when he started dancing, during the disco era, the Italian native was routinely kicked off the floor at city clubs. While novices honed their hustle skills, the very best dancers took a center spot on the dance floor a la Saturday Night Fever, he recalled. "The challenge was to break in to the middle of the circle. It looked so exciting, I threw myself in and was back out in a second," Alfonso remembered. At one point, his dance partner, annoyed by his ineptitude said to others in the circle, "Please get him out of here."

"I realized the best dancers were all dance teachers. I said 'You gotta be kidding, you do this for a living?'"

A native of the Adriatic Coast in Italy, Alfonso came to America at the age of 12. He didn't speak a word of English, but learned quickly, and ultimately received his bachelor's degree in business. Enchanted by the excitement of dancing, he decided that was the business he wanted to try.

But it wasn't easy. He auditioned to be an instructor at Arthur Murray Dance studios and won a place. His first teacher, Pierre Dulane was instrumental in launching the school dance programs made famous in the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. "I was so bad, he said to me, 'Alfonso, give it up'," the popular instructor recalled.

Tenacity and practice paid off, as did an interest in continuing to learn and try new things. Studying communications and media in graduate school, Alfonso became intrigued by public access television. His instructional dance program is now aired all over Long Island and in Manhattan as well.

With 20 years in the biz under his belt, Alfonso operates out of Touch Dance Studio, his home base in the heart of Westhampton Beach. He also offers on-site lessons throughout the island, traveling to events to provide demonstrations, tips, and, according to the folks at East Wind, lots of charisma.

Tomorrow night's event capitalizes on the resurgence of interest in ballroom dancing precipitated by the wildly popular TV show, "Dancing with The Stars." According to Cotignola, an earlier dance night drew close to 300 participants. Revelers range in age and accomplishment on the floor. Some show up in full formal dance costumes, and others arrive simply ready to cut the rug freestyle. Whichever the preference, the evening promises both enjoyable exercise, fabulous food and a chance to see Alfonso perform a "dancer's dance" -- the Argentinean tango.

The Inn and Spa at East Wind is located on route 25A in Wading River. For $39.95, plus tax, gratuity and a cash bar, attendees at the Big Band Swing dance enjoy music and a meal. Call 929-6585 for reservations.

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