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CENTERPIECE: Dance like it’s Petaluma in 1944

USO DANCE with THE BIG BAND SOUNDS OF SWING FEVER

What: Fundraiser for the Petaluma Woman’s Club Restoration Fund.

When: Friday, Nov. 10, 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Where: The Petaluma Woman’s Club, 518 B. St.

How much: $50 a ticket. Available in advance and at the door.

Dress suggestion: 1940’s attire is suggested but not required.

Information: USOdancepetaluma.bpt.me

Time travel isn’t technically possible - not yet.

But this Friday night, it might as well be, as the Petaluma Woman’s Club offers locals a chance to step back in time, returning to the early 1940s with a detailed, authentic recreation of a USO dance party. A benefit for the Woman’s Club, to help refurbish and restore the historic building, the event will take place in the same room where such USO dances took place 70 years ago.

And nothing takes us back to that time faster than the Big Band music of the 1940s.

“That music in particular,” says Linda Buffo, chair of the USO Dance benefit, “it can really pick up your spirits, inviting you to take a deep breath, smile and dance, sway and swing.”

As Buffo describes it, ticket-buyers to the event, taking place this Friday, Nov. 10, from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., will get to do a lot more than just dance.

As attendees enter the building, they will pass a WWII-era Army jeep on the lawn and the Liberty School Singers performing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and other patriotic songs, just outside the door. Inside, they’ll spy an elaborate Saturday Evening Post-style illustration by artist Chuck Pyle, and be offered a session in one of two “photo booth” areas, including one with a Rosie the Riveter background. In the nearby “officers’ lounge,” plush sofas await, and on the fireplace mantle, photos of Petalumans who served during the war will be on display. Snacks will be served through a cafeteria-style window, and the bar will feature “aviator cocktails.” Decorating the stage will be a 48-star flag, and there will even be a WWII-period “nurses’ station,” just in case.

“That’s a reminder that, during WWII, members of the Woman’s Club did spend time rolling bandages and collecting surgical equipment,” says Buffo.

Most impressive, perhaps, is the museum-quality display of authentic WWII uniforms, including an actual uniform worn by General William Westmoreland. It’s all part of the Woman’s Club’s efforts to plunge attendees back into the world of ration books and Glenn Miller and Count Basie, of black-out curtains and scrap metal drives and “In the Mood” on the radio.

It was a time when the Woman’s Club served a number of vital community functions.

“Our members helped during WWII,” Buffo says. “They participated in doing all kinds of different service projects during the wars, including WWI. They sent off letters and care packages to the servicemen, to bolster their spirits. All kinds of things.”

As Boffo explains, the president of the Woman’s Club was contacted by the U.S.O, and was asked if the organization would put on dances on Saturday nights, so servicemen stationed in the area would have something to look forward to.

“But,” Buffo adds, with a laugh, “because no one wants to go to a dance where there’s no one to dance with, they hoped our members would encourage their daughters to show up as dance partners for the servicemen.”

That, she says, was no problem.

“Everyone wanted to help any way they could,” Buffo points out. “And if that meant dancing with a young man in uniform, then that was just fine.”

The USO was given free use of the clubhouse for the dances, which continued throughout the war years, and is still remembered as a positive and pleasant part of what was otherwise a time of rationing, hardship, loss and fear.

USO DANCE with THE BIG BAND SOUNDS OF SWING FEVER

What: Fundraiser for the Petaluma Woman’s Club Restoration Fund.

When: Friday, Nov. 10, 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Where: The Petaluma Woman’s Club, 518 B. St.

How much: $50 a ticket. Available in advance and at the door.

Dress suggestion: 1940’s attire is suggested but not required.

Information: USOdancepetaluma.bpt.me

“Sometime back, we were trying to think of ways to raise money for our clubhouse’s restoration needs,” Buffo says. “Someone came up with the idea of recreating one of those old USO dances. It sounded like so much fun we decided to do it, with the goal of making the dance as authentic as possible.”

The dance this weekend, timed to coincide with Veteran’s Day, has been planned to look and feel much like it would have during the war. Decorations, food, attire, and choice of music will all be accurate.

With one exception.

“In Petaluma, when the Woman’s Club hosted USO dances, they played vinyl swing band records on a record player,” says Buffo. “But for this event, we wanted a full sound and a real swing band. So we are upgrading our dance, just in that one way.”

To provide those authentic tunes, the services of the acclaimed Swing Fever ensemble, with bandleader Brian Gould on trombone and the great Denise Perrier on vocals. To keep the dancing as authentic as the music, swing dance lessons will be taking place as well. Even the snacks and finger foods, Buffo says, will fit the time period.

“No one should expect fancy gourmet offerings,” she laughs. “The snacks will be rather, um, austere. But that’s the way it was. And it will still be quite good and very tasty.”

An elaborate raffle will include a number of exciting offerings, including a trip to the Rosie the Riveter Museum in Oakland, and a chance to have a catered dinner with WWII veteran Joe Turner.

Mostly, says Buffo, the fun-filled event — expected to raise a large part of the money needed for a number of planned renovations — will give attendees a chance to dance, socialize, and “to blow off some steam.”

“It’s all about the music and the dancing and being uplifted,” she says, “the way our dances did during the war. Everyone was under so much stress. The dances were a great way to keep our spirits up and relax, make some friends, and appreciate everything we have.”

(Email David at david.templeton@argus-courier.com)