Stepping out at Comma Coffee

What started out as a hobby has become a passion for a Carson City man.

Like most everyone else during the "Saturday Night Fever" era, Ray Cammilleri, 49, got bitten by the disco bug.

"During college, disco was all the craze. There were free lessons everywhere," he recalled. "I studied all day and danced all night."

But then school was over, and the real world beckoned. Cammilleri went to work as an electronic engineer and laid his rhinestone-studded leisure suits to rest.

Then, about five years later, a co-worker told him about dance lessons he was taking: the Lindy hop.

Cammilleri agreed to accompany him to learn the old-school style of East Coast swing.

"That was it. I was hooked," Cammilleri said.

After dancing for more than four years with the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association, he moved to Carson City, where he met JoAnne Grace.

Grace taught him the salsa, adding it to his repertoire of swing and New York hustle.

Together, the two began teaching salsa dance classes at Comma Coffee every Tuesday and Thursday. They also teach swing dancing, including the Lindy hop and Charleston, usually the first Tuesday of the month, to coincide with the rehearsals of the Mile High Jazz Band so students can dance to live music after the lesson.

Lauren Ware, 19, was first attracted to the vintage dance by the music and clothes. She also became infatuated with the dance itself and is a regular at the lessons, braving even the heat of July without an air conditioner to practice.

"I love the swing," she said. "You've got to keep up with it, or you're not going to get any better."

Cammilleri said the classes are open to anyone in high school or older, and they often have a good mix of ages and skill levels.

Chrissy Watson, 24, attended her first dance lesson Thursday.

"It's so great," she said. "They're step-by-step teaching us the dance moves. It's very slow at first, but once people get it, he goes for it. He's a great teacher."

Although women often outnumber men, partners rotate quickly, and people are rarely without a partner for long.

And it works out well for the guys who do show up.

"The fewer competition involved, the better," said Andrew Pederson, 20, who played in band in high school as well as with the Mile High Jazz band, "but never learned to dance, which is kind of a shame."

Each class costs $5, with the first hour being devoted to beginners and the second to intermediate steps.

"I always encourage them to stick around and try the intermediate moves," Cammilleri said. "It's the same $5, whether you stay for one or two classes."

He said he and Grace do not teach for the money.

"We love the dance, and we love to spread the joy."

n Contact features editor Teri Vance at or 881-1272.


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