Dancing was never a part of her early life, but today — just shy of 65 — Charlene Dougherty cannot imagine life without it. Her love is for ballroom dancing, an activity for all ages but one that allows seniors like her and her husband, Steve, to enjoy improved mental and physical health as well as the social aspects dance provides.
Co-founding the Ballroom Dance Preservation Society in 2017 with a local dance instructor meant Charlene and Steve could become more involved with keeping ballroom dance opportunities alive in the area of their North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, home. And, as President of the nonprofit organization, it meant Charlene could share the joy she and Steve receive from dancing while helping to grow the local dance community.
FROM PA TO SC
Charlene grew up in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, and lived there until she and Steve married and moved to work in Washington, D.C., in 1979. They settled in Northern Virginia where they remained for the next 30 years. Charlene had worked in accounting and bookkeeping and was encouraged to start her own company after her first son was born in 1981. While in D.C., she provided accounting for numerous nonprofit agencies and government contractors. After 10 years, Steve, a CPA, joined her company.
“It took off and we were working so many hours at home, we decided we could pick up and transfer to Myrtle Beach,” Charlene said.
Busy with careers and raising two sons, they were tired of the fast paced D.C. area and by 2005 they made their decision to start a new life at the beach. While they continued to work, they began dance lessons around 2008.
“It was one of the things I always wanted to do but when you are establishing a career and raising kids and so forth, you just don’t have the time,” Charlene said.
She said the idea in moving was that they would both cut back their hours and work their way into retirement. They kept a handful of clients from their Washington business and went part-time.
With their now less hectic lifestyle, the couple started dance lessons but Charlene admits there was little ballroom activity going on in the area at that time. However, both she and Steve had gotten involved in the social dance network. They both served on the USA Dance Nationals organization that has chapters across the country for social and competitive dancing. With their appetites whetted, they wanted more and with Charlene’s experience with nonprofits, she knew any organization she would be willing to spend her time developing would have to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
PRESERVING BALLROOM DANCE
As they began seeking out opportunities to dance in the Myrtle Beach area, Charlene said they found the typical age of the individuals interested in ballroom was around 80. There was on average one dance a month and about 35 people who would show up, she said. Perhaps in part it was a selfish desire to have more ballroom dance activities and networking that led Charlene to co-found an organization that would promote the health benefits – both mental and physical – of dance and help grow the ballroom dance community.
However, it was hard work and dedication that made the idea come to fruition. Creating the Ballroom Dance Preservation Society meant Charlene and Steve could contribute to preserving ballroom dancing for future generations through education and events.
“We started from scratch,” Charlene said of the organization. “We brought 10 people together and each turned over $35 for a total of $350 to go towards filing fees so we could get our federal ID number, etc.”
The hardest part, she said, was finding places to hold dances. There were no big ballrooms in the area so they settled for senior centers, churches and recreation centers. However, in mid-2019, the group found St. John’s Hall at the Greek Orthodox Church in Myrtle Beach.
“It has a beautiful 6,000 square foot dance floor,” Charlene said. “We started dancing there the first Tuesday of every month. Everyone loves the dances we host there and attendance has taken off.”
Now after a year of being unable to host dances due to the COVID pandemic, the opening of 3001 Nightlife, a dance club in Myrtle Beach once popular as 2001 Nightlife, has provided more opportunities for dances and community awareness, she said.
FINDING JOY IN VOLUNTEERISM
Another big problem Charlene has faced is finding volunteers who can help with some of the physical and social media aspects of running the organization since most members are senior citizens in their later years. Charlene said she has always been an active volunteer and enjoys the time she spends organizing events and helping to promote her favorite pastime. She feels volunteering for worthy causes is a crucial part of a life well lived.
While raising her sons, she was a team mom for sports and school parties. Before she got so involved with managing the Ballroom Dance Preservation Society, she served on the Barefoot Caring Council and helped with fundraisers for the North Myrtle Beach Teen Angels project, a program that benefits homeless teens in the area.
She has found true joy, however, in her volunteer work with ballroom dance. Charlene said ballroom dance offers health benefits of improved muscle and bone strength, posture, balance and motor skills, as well as the joyfulness it brings into people’s lives. Taking measures to help preserve membership during the pandemic, Charlene said the group has grown to some 180 members with 800 people on the email list including “snow birds” and Canadians who travel to the beach during winter. Now the average attendance at dance activities is around 125 and the group is drawing more “empty nesters” that have retired and moved to the area.
While some dance organizations folded due to the lengthy pandemic that kept people apart, Charlene worked tirelessly to maintain membership. With the help of some other members, she made phone calls to check on members; she made facemasks for everyone with a ballroom logo on them; she sent newsletters, cards and pictures and sent out ballroom dancer magnets.
“I was worried I would lose a lot of people but I knew we would be back and we have come back stronger than ever because we are ballroom dancers,” she said.
She also thinks the organization has thrived because it is built on the premise that there will always be a “welcoming atmosphere” for anyone walking through the door.
“I know the names of all 180 members,” Charlene said. “We treat people like they are guests in our house. We help new people find a connection and it has worked.”
Charlene said the most rewarding part to her is the people and their appreciation.
“It has grown the dance community and as new people come in, we are able to promote the physical, mental and social benefits. The social part is big because there are so many people moving here. Single people are meeting people and the dance instructor business has grown,” she said.
Charlene said many dance instructors come to the social events to dance with their students and give them a chance to practice what they learn. “Even if they don’t get to dance, they enjoy the social aspect,” she said of those attending.
While Steve continues to serve as treasurer, utilizes his talents as a disc jockey at the social events and enjoys dancing, Charlene said he does not share her desire to continue learning or to do performances.
“He enjoys just having fun dancing,” Charlene said.
There are 13 different ballroom dances and levels from bronze to silver to gold. But dancing and helping to spread the joy of dancing, Charlene said, remains their primary goal.
“We have always liked that it is something couples can do together,” Charlene said. “And, we can do it for the rest of our lives. It’s our thing. This is our thing now and it keeps us close!”
While senior citizens have made up the primary membership of the Ballroom Dance Preservation Society to date, Charlene and the other nonprofit board members are hopeful that continuing to provide educational information on the health and social benefits of dance will help to attract individuals of all ages. Drawing younger individuals would help ensure the future of ballroom dance while also providing some much-needed volunteers for the organization.
For more information on the Ballroom Dance Preservation Society visit ballroomdancepreservation.com.