Chestnut Hill: Folk Dance on Fridays Displays Culture and Diversity

Folk dancers took a break and come together to discuss the dances they had practiced.

The different types of restaurants, shops and boutiques on Germantown Avenue underline the fact that Chestnut Hill has plenty to offer for everyone no matter what their background may be.

For example, people who enjoy folk dancing have gathered at the same spot on Friday afternoons for about two years now.

Members of the group known as Folk Dance on Fridays meet every Friday at 1 p.m. at the Center on the Hill, an adult activity center located on the ground floor of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill on 8855 Germantown Ave., adjacent to Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Bill Wadlinger has been instructing the group since its inception. Wadlinger, a folk dancing enthusiast, has been running classes for years around the Philadelphia area. A resident of nearby Erndenheim, Pa., he brought the class to the Center on the Hill about two years ago.

Group instructor Bill Wadlinger (center) led the class in a dance.
Group instructor Bill Wadlinger (center) led the class in a dance.

“I had been taking part in playwriting classes over at the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment [located at 8431 Germantown Ave.] and had brought up my interest in folk dancing,” Wadlinger said.

“We had enough interest in it and eventually linked up with Center on the Hill. We’ve been here for about two years now it’s been great. The people here have been great to us.”

Wadlinger said that the group typically has about 10 members on average show up each Friday for the class, which runs from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. He said sometimes there are more or less attendees depending on other factors such as weather.

Melissa Taggart has been attending Folk Dance on Fridays for just over a year now. For the past five months, she has brought her 5-month-old son Henry, who Wadlinger jokingly referred to as the group’s mascot, with her to each session.

“Folk dancing has been an interest of mine for a while now and I really wanted to get more into it,” Taggart explained.

“A friend of mine referred me to Folk Dance on Fridays and I’ve been a member ever since. I really can’t enough good things about my time with this group.”

Though some in the group may be novices, some Folk Dance on Fridays members have been involved in folk dancing for decades.

Members participated in a group dance.
Members participated in a group dance.

Peter Notre-Francesco has been involved in folk dancing since the 1960s.

“I’ve always loved folk music since I was younger,” Notre-Francesco said.

“I got into it back before the Vietnam War in the 1960s. We had a folk dance group back then that would go up and dance on the Art Museum steps. It was a good group of people and dancers too.”

Tossi Aaron has been involved in the local folk dancing scene since the 1940s.

“My love of folk dancing began when I was a little girl way back,” Aaron said. “I was just mesmerized by both the music and the dancing and really wanted to start doing it. I started back then and have been doing it ever since for all these years. I love it just as much now as I did then.”

Wadlinger lauded the fact that the members of the group have different experience levels.

“I think it’s great that we have members who are relatively new and others with years and years of experience,” he said

“We’re an accepting group. You’re welcome no matter what. The more the merrier. Those with more experience almost serve as secondary instructors, which is always helpful.”

Perhaps what is most impressive about the group is that the members come from different parts of the Philadelphia area to Chestnut Hill for Folk Dance on Fridays.

For example, Aaron traveled from Elkins Park while Notre-Francesco drove down from Bensalem. It’s a trip to Chestnut Hill that neither minded. In fact, they said they both think that the willingness to travel and the dancing itself were typical of the Chestnut Hill community.

“We have people in this group that come from all over the area,” Aaron said. “Not only are they from different areas, they are from different cultures, different backgrounds, different religions. We learn something new from one another or about one another all the time. Add in the fact that folk dancing itself is diverse with dances and music from different places and it’s a great thing.”


Folk dancers took a break and come together to discuss the dances they had practiced.
Folk dancers took a break and came together to discuss the dances they had just practiced.

Notre-Francisco agreed. “The fact that people from all over come here to learn the various dances shows how folk music can bring people together,” he said.

“I certainly think folk dancing meshes well with this area. Just look at Germantown Avenue. Look at all the different shops and stores there and all the different types of people that walk down that street.

“Folk dancing is just as diverse as those stores and those people. I think it’s a great thing.”

Wadlinger couldn’t agree more with the group members.

“The diversity folk dancing brings is wonderful,” he said.

“Just look at what we’ll be doing today. We’ll practice Balkan dances, Israeli dances and Swedish dances, just to name a few, with different people from different areas.

“Although I live down the road in Erndenheim, I’ve had the chance to spend time in this area. I think it’s accurate to say that both folk dancing and our group display the type of cultural diversity found in Chestnut Hill.”

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