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Royal Virginians Waltz Us Back Into the Falls Church Past

By Mark Dreisonstok

There is a long history of ballroom dancing in Falls Church. In the 1890s, dances were held in the Odd Fellows Lodge Hall, where dancers danced the waltz, the two-step, and the lancers.

The Holly Ball was popular for Falls Church debutants in the 1980s and 1990s. As for today, there is the Forever Dancing Ballroom on Seminary Road in Falls Church. To see ballroom dancing as it was known in the 1930s and 1940s with a live band, we recently attended a ballroom dance with the live orchestra of Joe Enroughty and His Royal Virginians at the Richmond East Moose Lodge Grand Ballroom in Richmond, Virginia.

An exciting night filled with waltzes and foxtrots at the Floyd G. Henderson Big Band Weekend began with a tasty dinner. Then couples in formal dress received dance lessons from Gwendolyn Glenn, an expert dance instructor who enthusiastically taught basic dance steps to experienced and new dance patrons alike.

The evening got well underway with a live performance of Mr. Enroughty and his orchestra, complete with the introductions of Scott Michaels, a radio host of the vintage music show “In the Mood” broadcast on a number of stations in the U.S., the U.K. and internet.

Mr. Michaels, with his sonorous broadcasting voice, added wonderful atmosphere by mimicking a radio broadcast of a mid-twentieth-century “dance band remote” and encouraged the audience to imagine the show as being broadcast over the full CBS radio network.

He even announced commercials for Jell-O in its “eight delicious flavors” and for General Motors, where he invited “radio listeners” to visit a Chevrolet show room to see the new 1950 Chevy! As for the music, Mr. Enroughty is an enthusiast of the ten-to-twenty piece big dance bands, especially the “sweet music” style of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. He was so enamored of this sound that he even styled the name of his orchestra the “Royal Virginians,” clearly emulating Lombardo’s “Royal Canadians” moniker.

Royal Virginians at the Richmond East Moose Lodge Grand Ballroom in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo: Mark Dreisonstok)

When Mr. Enroughty was a child in the 1980s, long after the passing of the swing era, he received as a gift a large collection of 78 RPM records. He discovered his niche when he spun recordings of one of the most popular band leaders of the day, Guy Lombardo. Ever since then, he has sought to promote this style of music, with its danceable rhythms, vibrato saxophones, and muted trumpets.
Not surprisingly, that night in Richmond Mr, Enroughty played several vintage charts from the Lombardo book, and his band’s renditions of the Royal Canadians’ “St. Louis Blues Cha Cha,” “Coquette” and “Sweethearts on Parade” sounded nearly identical to the Guy Lombardo recordings made generations ago.

Dancers responded enthusiastically with their feet, dancing the cha cha, fox trot, and waltz after waltz.
This event attracted a variety of age groups, including many who more likely grew up with rock and rap than with the Lombardo music Guy himself called “the sweetest music this side of heaven.”

Incidentally, Falls Church readers might be interested to know Lombardo made appearances in our region, including a May 1949 benefit appearance at an Alexandria, Virginia, roller skating rink.
Tickets for that performance, which we imagine to have been very similar in content and style to the Richmond performance of Mr. Enroughty’s orchestra, were sold in Falls Church at the Wallace and Monroe Pharmacy, which once stood at 435 South Washington Street (today the location of Colman Power Sports).

Guy Lombardo was once a major figure in various media, including radio and television shows (most famously, his New Year’s Eve appearances in which he popularized “Auld Lang Syne”) and films. When the 1946 Guy Lombardo MGM film vehicle “No Leave, No Love” played at the State Theatre in Falls Church in early 1947, Guy Lombardo (while appearing in the Washington area) showed up at the then-movie theatre with his costars Pat Kirkwood and Keenan Wynn to sign autographs and promote the film, according to Mr. Enroughty. (The Royal Canadians’ bandleader did this at other cinemas around the country as well.)

The Royal Virginians also played in other styles this June in Richmond, imitating other bands of the swing era, including Glenn Miller, Glen Gray, and Sammy Kaye. Mr. Enroughty’s musicians played smooth dance arrangements of their respective hits “Perfidia,” “Under a Blanket of Blue,” and “You’ve Got Me Crying Again.” Dancers were ecstatic as they danced — or rather hopped! — in a conga line to the Ray Anthony version of “The Bunny Hop!”

The Enroughty aggregation also played the beautiful “Fascination Waltz,” and at this point we should mention an intermission feature in which choreographer Gwendolyn led couples of accomplished dancers in beautifully danced performances to recordings of the mambo tune “Sway,” the waltz “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” and the ever-popular Gene Kelly number “Singing in the Rain,” the latter with very colorful umbrellas as a backdrop.

We asked Mr. Enroughty about his future plans for the Royal Virginians, and he told us things have been slow in the band business due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but he has plans for the future including playing outside his Richmond base and perhaps taking his band to Falls Church and other Northern Virginia locations.

We hope dancers and listeners here will have the opportunity to enjoy Joe Enroughty and His Royal Virginians, both to appreciate better a piece of musical Americana but also to take part in the timeless art of ballroom dancing.