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Prancing, Line Dancing At The Library

When you think of the library, the images that typically spring to mind involve stacks and rows of books, studious students studying silently away, and computer monitors silently humming away.

What you don’t expect to run into are a gaggle of high-spirited ladies tearing up the carpet while engaging in a fun and exciting line dancing class. But fostering that sort of activity on a weekly basis at the Massapequa Public Library’s Bar Harbour branch is just business as usual for North Babylon resident and dance enthusiast Sherry Palencia.

Palencia, who taught Spanish, English and English as a Second Language in the West Islip school district for 30 years before retiring in 1997, has been a Line Dancing instructor for over 35 years.

“I was born a dancer,” she said. “When I graduated from high school, my parents and I met with my guidance counselor and I was asked what I wanted to do...I told everyone that I wanted to be a dancer. But my mother threatened to break both my legs if I didn’t go to college and become a teacher.”

“My mother told me dancing is for I think I’ve danced every weekend of my life!” Palencia added. “Plus, since I retired, I usually dance about five times a week as well.”

Eventually she discovered line dancing, and soon a life-long passion was developed; this became a passion that she sought to share with anyone who would care to partake of it with her. Wanting to take it out of the bars and pubs where it was primarily practiced, Palencia found it was an easy dance to modify with her own sense of individuality.

“Line dancing became popular in the 1980’s and it was a way to express yourself, by didn’t have to depend on a partner, and there was a strong western theme,” Palencia said. “But it’s all changed now...the dancing is done to contemporary music, and it’s a lot more sophisticated than it used to be. There used to be perhaps 16 patterns, and it didn’t stray from that; now, we’re much more creative, because dancing is an art that grows.”

She developed her own Adult Education program based around line dancing; attendance soon skyrocketed, necessitating the eventual rental of a dance hall to handle all of her students.

Nowadays, Palencia has scaled down her teaching efforts to make time for her side gig, which is a tango dancing club; however, she still keeps busy with a large bunch of regulars line dancing once a week, exclusively running her class in Massapequa out of the Bar Harbour Library.

“Dancing is social, and we have a very good time...this is a social group, and that’s why they come back. They’ve become very friendly with one another,” she said. “Even though it’s not an optional situation - I don’t have wooden floors here – people still come, and this is a very beneficial class for older women who otherwise might just sit at home. This keeps you young, mentally and physically.”

East Meadow resident Reberta Kalachman has just been attending Palencia’s class for just a few months, but the experience has already left a pleasant, lasting impression on her.

“I think she’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” she said. “She’s very funny and has a lot of personality, and she really loves what she does. She takes into account new people as well as the seasoned ones. I’ve been a dancer for about eight years, but Sherry really teaches much harder steps than I’m used to. It’s a challenge, but I love it.”

Mary Ellen Vahalia of Massapequa is a four year veteran of Palencia’s class, and in-between songs are clearly itching to get back to dancing as quickly as possible.

“It’s spectacular, it really is,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful class and a great really gets you going!”

Massapequa native Ann Brack has been attending Palencia’s dance classes for almost 20 years and running, getting her start with her back when she used to run a weekly line dancing program at the beach.

“I started dancing with Sherry before I came to the library...I was at Jones Beach about 20 years ago, and Sherry used to teach a line dancing class there ever Wednesday night. She’s turned me into a danceaholic!” she said. “Sherry is the best...she’s taught most of the teachers on Long Island from way back. Most of the teachers here have gotten their start in classes by Sherry.”