Hundreds dance and mingle on the Falls Bridge at emerging neighborhood tradition

After a Saturday afternoon plagued by oft-heavy rains, a cool and relatively cloudless night provided the backdrop for the East Falls Development Corp.’s fourth annual Dance on the Falls Bridge.

As the 10-piece band finished warming up, the evening’s emcee told hundreds of dancegoers that the turn in weather was an auspicious sign.

“This is going to be a great night,” said Keith Jones, of NewsWorks content partner NBC10. “I think because it is a little cooler, there’s going to be a lot of dancing. People are going to put their dancing shoes on. It’s a good way to stay warm.”

Dance routine

At the bridge which spans the Schuylkill River in East Falls, Lorina Marshall-Blake greeted attendees, who began arriving well before the 8 p.m. start time.

“At 2:30 [p.m.], we said it was going to happen,” said Marshall-Blake of early fears that weather would force a postponement. “We got the red carpet out for everybody. Here on the bridge, we’re all kings and queens for the evening. Each year, it gets better.”

Blake has lived in East Falls for more than two decades and serves on the EFDC board. She talked about the event’s roots.

“We were trying to think of an inclusive event to bring everybody in the community together,” she recounted. “We wanted to do the electric slide.”

Dancing commenced shortly after 8 p.m. with a fitting version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” performed by The Sofa Kings of Blue Bell. As the band warmed up, guitarist/vocalist Matt Perkins assessed the scene.

“It seems like a really cool mix of dress and casual,” he said.

Between Sofa Kings sets, Lesley Mitchell of DancePhiladelphia provided dance lessons in standard ballroom-dance styles like the tango and salsa.

Food and drink

Billy Murphy’s Irish Saloonery, a neighborhood-bar mainstay, offered craft beers and wine by the glass at two beverage stations on the north and south sides of the bridge.

Seven food trucks also set up shop to offer attendees a selection of dining options.

At the Kelly Drive side of the bridge was Just Jackie’s, Zsa’s Ice Cream, KAMI and The Dapper Dog. At the MLK Drive side: The Tot Cart, Baby Cakes and Poi Dog.

“Every event is different,” said Kiki Aranita of Poi Dog, which is regularly stationed at Temple University’s main campus. “But tonight, it’s gorgeous and there’s beer, which is always a good combination.”

An emerging East Falls tradition

Despite that threat of foreboding weather, organizers anticipated this year’s event will prove to be the most successful yet.

Last year, 600 total tickets sold overall. This year’s pre-dance sales tally was 800 tickets with more than 100 more available at the door.

Gina Snyder, EFDC’s executive director, said the growing event is not a fundraiser, but a means to boost visibility of East Falls as a destination.

“One of the wonderful things about the dance is its diversity,” she said. “All sorts of people from the area attend. Not just couples; seniors, singles and college students alike. It’s an opportunity to get together, kind of like a wedding but without the stress. And, we get to celebrate the river and this wonderful bridge.”

Attendee reactions

Nancy Karahuta, vice president of business development for dance-sponsor East River Bank, termed it “a uniquely Philadelphia event.”

Faye Senneca and Richard Weisenberg, who have lived in the Falls since 1982, brought their grandnephew Troy Ang along.

“Having things to bring the community together is wonderful,” Weisenberg said. “This is a model for what neighborhoods should be doing anyway. Every community has some distinctive landmark that people can gather around.”

Added Senneca, “I’m so pleased to see so many people we don’t recognize. Everyone is friendly. And we’re meeting our neighbors.”

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