She’s Got the Beat

Organizer expands Highlands dance jams

By Alison Rooney

For Rhoda Averbach, choosing a dance song is a process of elimination. She has compiled a list of 2,000 but says she might listen to 50 songs before finding a suitable addition. “It’s not just about harmony and melody, it’s also about composition and performance,” she says.

Why does she listen? Because as the founder of Hudson Valley Dance Beat, she organizes near-weekly, three-to-four hour dance jams in Beacon and nearby. They began in 2012 at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon (“I wanted to dance and there was no place for it,” she says) and have since spread to the Towne Crier in Beacon, the Red Pepper Bistro in Wappingers Falls, the Beacon Elks Lodge and Infinity Lounge in Newburgh, which hosted its first in early December.

“My background is in classical and jazz music but I always loved rhythm and blues the most, and then I got exposed to Latin music at the Howland Center,” she says.

Gotta Dance

Elks Lounge, Beacon (18 or older): Saturday, Jan. 21; Saturday, Feb. 25; Saturday, March 25; all at 7 p.m.

Red Pepper Bistro, Wappingers Falls: Saturday, Jan. 14; Wednesday, Jan. 25; Saturday, Feb. 11; Wednesday, Feb. 22; all at 8 p.m.

Towne Crier, Beacon (Thursdays, 7 p.m.): Jan. 19, Feb. 16, March 16, April 20, May 18, June 15, July 20

For updates, visit, which has 340 members, or call 845-765-0667.

In addition, the Howland Cultural Center at 477 Main St. in Beacon continues to host monthly dances called C’mon Beacon, Let’s Dance. The next event, hosted by DJ Rikk, is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21. For information, call 845-831-4988.

She began her dance music collection with songs that she loved from her past, then built on it with requests, she says, which introduced her to new genres. The dances are meant to “bring people together from all over, providing them with a place of friendship and enjoyment in the community,” she says. From its beginning, the dances have attracted families, couples, friends and singles. Sometimes Averbach says she puts on a song to encourage a group dance, “to loosen everyone up.”

Averbach produces the events and co-deejays with Al Brandonisi, who, she says with admiration, appears able to recite the release date of “anything that was on the airwaves since the 1960s.” Whatever the venue, Averbach tries to create the right informal ambiance, turning the lights low, using flameless candles and playing the music through professional-level JBL speakers.

“The sound is all-encompassing; you can drown in it,” she says. The music typically includes a mix of blues, disco, funk, Afro-Latin, jazz, reggae, rock, calypso, swing, world and gospel along with such Latin sub-genres as salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia, guajira, rumba, tango and samba. Perennial favorites, she says, include Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, the Gap Band and Aretha Franklin.

Most dancers are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, she says, although children are welcome, especially at the Red Pepper Bistro, but not at the Elks Lodge, which is adults-only. Some “are great stylists,” others are not, which is fine, she says. “If someone comes in embarrassed, they’re not by the end of the night.”

The food and drink varies by location. It can be ordered at the Towne Crier, while admission at the Red Pepper includes a buffet of Sri Lankan and American appetizers and there’s a free buffet at the Elks. Averbach says she was excited to bring the dances to Newburgh, “because it’s a Latin and African-American community; we don’t get as much diversity as we’d like in Beacon — I wish [the dances held there] were less homogenous.”

Averbach began the dances as a volunteer but now hopes to maintain it as a business, although one inspired by more than profit. “When I do this, my soul is with the music and my heart is with the dancers,” she says. “I get so much pleasure knowing I have pleased the people there.”

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