Ballroom's back: How a local woman brought dancing back to the Roseland Ballroom (2022)

TAUNTON —Ballroom dancing has returned to the Roseland Ballroom in Taunton.

On two recent Sundays, July 10 and 24, the renovated Roseland Ballroom hosted a pair of dances to mark the return of regularly scheduled events open to the public, the first since the ballroom closed to dancing and functions in August 2019.

Mikki Micarelli, the organizing force behind the events, says 160 people turned out for the July 10 event, and this past Sunday, July 24, a crowd of 121 dancers beat the heat by dancing the afternoon away at the Roseland. Micarelli says dances will be held the second and fourth Sunday of each month. Tickets are $15 per person.

“It went even better, far better than I expected,” Micarelli said. “I knew it would be good, but the feedback has been especially good after Sunday.”

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Micarelli says the closing and loss of the Roseland Ballroom in 2019was felt among a wide community of dancers who over the years and decades gathered and danced at a variety of venues around the state. One by one the venues disappeared, but the dancerspersisted. The Roseland was one of the few remaining by the end of the last decade, and its closing left those looking for an afternoon or evening of dancing with limited options.

COVID put further strain on those remaining venues, and with the recent close of Mosley’s on the Charles in Dedham and the announcement Lombardo’s in Randolph willbe closing in September 2023 —both venues hosted popular ballroom dancing nights on a regular schedule —the rebirth of Sunday afternoon events at the Roseland was welcome news and the two kickoff events highly anticipated.

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“It’s being just torn down, that's another beautiful ballroom, Mosley’s,” Micarelli said. “The same group of people would go to Moseley's in Dedham on a Wednesday night, and then we'd say, see you Sunday at Roseland.Those were our two ballrooms and we'd been doing that for about 10 years or so.”

Fortunately, the announcement of Lombardo’s impending shuttering was quickly followed by word the Roseland Ballroom was reopening.

A whole new ballroom

Micarelli says it took nearly two years of working, talking, begging and planning to bring ballroom dancing back to the Roseland Ballroom, but before that, it was an unplanned visit to the old hangout lighting the spark.

In October 2019, Micarelli got word of an open house at the Happy Health Center in Taunton. She put two and two together and realized it was a familiar spot, home of the current Hong Kong City Restaurant and former Roseland Ballroom.

She had no real interest in Happy Health Center, she freely admitted,but wanted to see what was advertised as the new, renovated space. Particularly, what she was after was a peak at the old ballroom.

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“Something said to me to go. I have to go see what they’ve done,” she said.

But Micarelli was not quite prepared to see what she came to see.

“So I walked in and I'm like, oh my God, right, like, the transformation was unbelievable,” she said, recalling her initial impressions walking through the back entrance to the building and into the renovated lobby.

“And everything was fine until I walked into that ballroom… I opened up those doors and I saw that room and I said, and I even wrote it online, I literally fell to my knees because the room was so spectacular.”

Micarelli said the last time she had seen the roomthe windows were boarded up, it was dark, and a bit depressing. But the once boarded windows had been replaced, natural light floodedthe room, which was updated in every direction.

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“There was no light, the floor was a walnut color. It needed paint.It needed everything. It needed a total renovation,” Micarelli said, describing the room as she had last seen it and prior to the renovations.

“So, I'm walking into this glamorous ballroom and I'm like, oh my. And then I see a ping pong table and card tables... and I'm like are you kidding me?The room was being used for social activities, and that’s great, but it's not being utilized for its real purpose.

“Look at the size of this room.It was being used by 10 people at a time.And it bothered me and I said I gotta do something now.I can't let this sit here.”

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New look, longstanding traditions

The Roseland Ballroom has a nearly 100-year history dating back to 1924, officially. Unofficially, and according to local history, Taunton-area folks were dancing at the future site of the Roseland Ballroom long before.

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The Roseland was a big stop for nationally-recognized touring bands and hosted iconic performers including Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald, just to name three, and it was common to pack the house with 1,000 plus visitors and dancers.

“I mean, you cannot believe the groups that have played in that place,” Micarelli said.

There was a time when the historic, landmark building on Broadway was the Roseland Ballroom. Today, the ballroom is the ballroom, and the property is longtime home of the Hong Kong City restaurant, and the more recently established Happy Health Center, which offers adult day services for seniors and the elderly.

Property owner Philip Fei Pan made the commitment and investment to update the building, and give the building a new purpose and viability through the Happy Health Center.

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Though Fei Pan has a deep appreciation for the building’s history, ballroom dancing was not part of the new business plan;that is, until he met Mikki Micarelli.

Micarelli says when she initiallyapproached Fei Pan about the ballroom dancing events he was open to the idea, but not convinced. And at the time contractual details and leasing agreements surrounding the ballroom space made it all but impossible.

The situation changed soon after, and Micarelli renewed her efforts to convince Fei Pan of her plan.

He agreed in March of this year, and on Sunday appeared to be happy with the decision.

“I think this is wonderful, and very meaningful to bring this historic dancing back to Taunton," Fei Pan said. "Ballroom dancing has been the tradition for this entire building, in the early 20th century to now.

"Things change a lot. The world changes, COVID changed a lot, but the dancing, you can see right away how happy it makes these people here today. To see the happiness here today is very satisfying.”

During Sunday’s dance, Fei Pan was all smilesand even took to the stage to sing a number with the day’s band, the Ray Cavicchio Orchestra. And he said, at some point, he hopes the Happy Health Center recreation staff can incorporate dancing, in some form, into their adult day programs.

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Micarelli and Sunday’s guests recognized and presented gifts of appreciation to Fei Pan, and his wife, Linda Lin, for their efforts to bring dancing back to the Roseland and host the events.

But Micarelli’s passion for dancing and Fei Pan’s commitment to serving local seniors will not be enough to sustain the every-other-week events they know,and theyhope to see more dancers come to the Roseland in the weeks and months ahead.

“I think we have a good, strong base now,” Micarelli said. “We have to have 100 or more people here for each event for it to survive.But I think word is going to get out and more and more people are going to come.”

Out on the dance floor

Most of the guests at the most recent event were seniors, many seniors who’ve been dancing for a lifetime, and the dance floor was full from start to finish.

The Ray Cavicchio Orchestra provided the soundtrack on Sunday and is one of two bands contracted to perform at the twice-a-month dance events. The other, DBs Orchestra, played the July 10 event and is on tap for the first of two dances in August.

“And you don't have to know how to dance.You can simply come and hear a fantastic band play, because they are great, great bands, both of them,” Micarelli said.

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For those who might want to dance just a bit, or maybe do not have a regular dancing partner, mixers, like the Miami Mixer, offer the chance to pair with a random partner from the crowd for a quick spin around the dance floor. And then get back in line to do it again.

It’s all part of the plan to get everybody involved and make sure guests have a good time with old and new friends.

“That's when all those people get up that normally don't dance too much," Micarelli said.

"It gives a chance forpeople that don't dance much and they get up quick, too, when that dance starts. And it usually runs 15 minutes.So it gives them 15 minutes of dancing and exercise and interaction with other people and it's a great way for them to mix and meet people and you know, it boosts them up a little bit, too. Some don’t dance much, but they do look forward to that mixer.”

For those who want to learn, Micarelli says it’s never too late. She got started dancing after watching a popular television dance show about 10 years back.

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“I never danced before.I just happened to watch Dancing with the Stars one day and said I want todo that.So that's how I got it involved.”

But most of the crowd comes to dance, and there were some skilled and experienced dancers on the floor Sunday.

“There are some of those dancers that dance five nights a week.There's a percentage of those people that take dance very seriously. They have professional dancing shoes and they will travel to events in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts.”

Lou Carabello, age 101, and Barbara Hopwood, 89, are two of the senior members of the unofficial club. Hopwood was on the floor continuously Sunday, while Carabello was mostly taking it easy and socializing with friends. But Micarelli says he was dancing up a storm well into his late nineties.

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“Up until two years ago, just two years ago, he traveled six nights a week to dances —six nights a week for the last 75 or 80 years. He's been dancing forever. He is our number one trooper.He’s a fabulous dancer.”

But the main idea is to give guests a nice afternoon out. Micarelli says many of the guests are of an age where driving at night and long distances is no longer an option.

“For some of these people this is one of their only chances to get out," she said. "This is the only place that they can go on an afternoon, where they can go and dance, because all of the other facilities are at night or too far or closed.

"But there’s a lot of people in that area that can get to Roseland easily.It's very convenient.We have a lot of people come up from the Cape and that area. It's a great location.”

Micarelli and Fei Pan hope to keep the dances on the schedule for good and welcome any and all who want to dance or just check it out to swing in some Sunday. For Micarelli, one goal is to keep it going long enough to celebrate the Roseland Ballroom’s centennial anniversary in 2024.

“I’ve already talked about it on Facebook, I said, ‘just think, in two years, we're going to have a centennial party.’ We're going to have a black tie party and we're gonna have surprise guests and surprise band. I'm already planning for 2024.”

But for now, she’s just happy to be back dancing at the Roseland.

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“I think that the primary reason for the reopening… well, it's twofold. Not only is it a benefit for the people that have nowhere else to go and dance, but to have this magnificent room just sitting there, renovated like that.And it was crying to me like ‘please come back.’”

Taunton Daily Gazette staff writer Jon Haglof can be reached at jhaglof@tauntongazette.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Taunton Daily Gazette today.

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