‘A way to cope with life’: How the Muskegon Area Dance Lovers is connecting the community—and getting us all to tap our feet

MADLOS founders Florencia Colella and Tom Twining.

When Florencia Colella was planning to move from her home country of Argentina to Muskegon in order to work with area farmers as part of the Michigan State University Extension, she wanted to find where people went to go dancing around herebut she wasn’t seeing anything.

“I started getting worried because it’s a big part of my life,” Colella said. “I had always taken dance lessons throughout my life, or danced with family and friends. I did a post on Muskegon Helping Muskegon and said I was looking for people who’d be interested in dancing. A lot of people responded.”

Now, less than a year later, Colella has joined forces with Tom Twining, a Muskegon native and fellow dance aficionado, and the two have launched Muskegon Area Dance Lovers (MADLOS). Hundreds of people have joined the group on Facebook, and the organization offers free swing and salsa dance meetups for people of all skill levels throughout the community.

On a recent Friday, MADLOS dancers filled 18th Amendment in downtown Muskegon, and, amidst a melange of spinning and laughing, Colella and Twining immersed themselves in a world they’ve worked hard to create: not just a chance to dance, but a community of people coming together, strangers becoming friends, individuals getting a chance to, even just for a moment, leave the stresses of their daily lives.

“Dance to me, and I think for a lot of people, is a way to cope with life,” Colella said. “It enhances the good in life like friendships, exercise, moving around and expressing our artistic selves.”

A lifetime of dancingin Buenos Aires and Muskegon

Colella, who works with farmers on financial analyses of their farms as an MSU Extension educator, and Twining, whose career background is in sales, grew up about 5,600 miles from one another, with Colella in Buenos Aires and Twining in Muskegon. Despite the many miles between one another, the two have similar stories of falling in love with dancingand the important role it has played in their lives.

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Growing up in Buenos Aires, Colella’s father, who had been a farmer before moving to the city, and her mother, an accountant, introduced their daughter to the world of dance. Her mother, who now lives in Los Hornillos, a small town in central Argentina, even recently danced for the king of Spain during a Spanish language conference in Argentina.

“My mom’s an accountant; that’s where I get my interest in economics and finance,” Colella said. “She’s like me in that she has these two sides; she’s always doing something artistic. She’s done community theater and rock ‘n roll, tango. She moved to a rural area and started doing traditional folk dances.”

Twining, who grew up in Muskegon and has also lived in Ludington, began dancing just after college.

“It was an entertainment my wife and I could afford to do,” said Twining. “I don’t like exercise. I don’t want to go to the gym. I do karate, I do volleyball, and I dance. When I go dancing, that’s my exercise. It’s a lot of fun.”

For both Colella and Twining, one of their biggest focuses with MADLOS has centered around community: it’s about music and joy and friendship and getting to meet people you may have never encountered had it not been for dance. It’s about breaking down the walls we intentionally and unintentionally build between people, about release, about exploring your community without having to spend money to do so. While they accept donations, they rarely charge a fee to attend the events; the donations are split between promotional expenses and local causes.

“Muskegon has gone through its not-so-good times, and now it’s going through an expansion,” Colella said. “Within that trend, I think that this [MADLOS] could be a good thing for the community, to have people come together for a common goal. I think it goes well with what’s going on in Muskegon at this point.”

“In places where the economy is not as great, these types of activities, which are free and donation-based, are important,” she continued. “We also donate some of the money we receive to local charities, like Kids Food Basket and the Child Abuse Council. We don’t want people to have to pay if they can’t or don’t want to, but they still have the opportunity to have fun, relax, and see things differently.”

Muskegon Area Dance Lovers holds an event at 18th Amendment on a recent Friday night.

Upcoming MADLOS events

People of all ages and skill sets are welcome to participate in MADLOS gatherings, and no partner is needed to attend, the organizers emphasize. As the group grows, so do its dance offeringsand you’ll have plenty of chances to dance the night (and afternoon) away at numerous dance gatherings this spring and summer.

Upcoming events include:

  • Sunday, May 19, 5-7pm: Swing dancing (both lesson and open dance) at 18th Amendment (350 W. Western Ave.) Free.
  • Monday, June 3, 7-9pm: Swing dancing (both lesson and open dance) at Orchard View Elementary (2820 MacArthur Rd.) Because it’s held at the school, there is a $5 cover charge for this.
  • Friday, June 28: Salsa dancing at Aquastar (the former Port City Princess at the Mart Dock, 560 Mart St.).
  • Thursday, July 25: Swing dancing at Aquastar (560 Mart St.)
  • Sunday, July 28: Swing dancing on the LST 393 (560 Mart St.)
  • Sunday, Aug. 4: Swing dancing on the LST 393 (560 Mart St.)
  • Thursday, Aug. 29: Salsa dancing at Aquastar (560 Mart St.)
  • Saturday, Sept. 7: Dancing at the Muskegon County Latino Festival

For more information about MADLOS and their upcoming events, you can connect with them on Facebook by clicking here.

Story and photos by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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