Playin’ and Dancin’

Eric Butler: CNJ Correspondent

The boys don’t line up on one side of the room with the girls on the other — each waiting for the first couple to get on the dance floor.

In fact, there’s little to no hesitation as soon as Bill Case and the Velvetones launch into the opening bars of “Moonlight Serenade” at the State Theatre on Main Street.
It’s a flash from the distant past, music from a bygone era, as Case and his 10-piece band play favorites mostly from the Big Band era.

“We love ballroom dancing and there’s nowhere really to do that here in Clovis except for right here,” said Danny Brija, who has attended most of the State Theatre dances with his wife Diane since Case bought the place in 1994.

“I think it’s wonderful. It’s like another world,” Diane Brija said.

Large red and white curtains line the sides of the old movie theater, which still has most of its seats. Tables have taken the place of a few rows at the front next to a dance floor. Christmas-like white lights adorn the stage where the Velvetones take their places behind swing-era music stands.

Case, who owns a Clovis auto dealership and 55 rental properties, put the band together. He’s also skilled enough on the saxophone to have played in the Air Force band in 1947.

The love of the music, according to Case, is the only reason he stages the Saturday night dances.

“I lose around $200 or $300 every time I do this,” said Case, who estimates he’s poured around $50,000 into refurbishing the theater since he bought it. “Actually, when I bought it, it was more for rehearsing, because they used to rehearse up there in my car lot.”

Still, it’s not just the musicians and the regulars who are glad Case continues to make the sacrifice.

At the rear of the theater, a mother shows her young son dance steps. Another newcomer, Kimberlee Mitchell, moved to Clovis from Las Cruces eight months ago.

“I thought the thing was going to be in some dumpy little theater where nobody ever goes, with broken seats,” Mitchell said. “But it’s really nice in there. I want to get a schedule of events, because I’d like to come to more things.”

“I don’t listen to this type of music usually, but it’s nice to hear it and see the people dance,” she added, while the band struck up strains from the Glenn Miller classic, “In The Mood.”

Another visitor to the dance was Daphna Sartain, 91, who was led down to her seat by her daughter, Pat Merritt.
“She says she likes it because it’s pretty music,” Merritt said.

Case said he has tried to advertise the dances in the usual fashion — radio, newspaper and otherwise — but normally promotes the next event these days by posting it on the building’s marquee.

“He (Case) sends fliers out and I always hang one in the office where I work and try to promote it,” Brija said.
“People always say ‘We’ve heard about it, but we’ve never been there,’” Brija said. “Well, come on down.”