December 18, 2008

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Love under the disco ball
Singles dances offer alternative to online dating
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

For many singles, the prospect of weeding through the labyrinth of online dating sites to find that needle in the haystack seems too exhausting to bear. Though Internet dating has exploded in the last few years, it has not been able to quash the traditional face-to-face hook-up. And though there are plenty of speed dating events, friend fix-ups, and bars to accommodate the single person, it is singles dances that have taken hold in the Granite State.

“When I lost my fiancée, I tried going to different bars and it just didn’t work for me,” said David McDermott, who runs NH Singles Dances at Daniels Hall in Nottingham. “A bar is a bar after all, and it’s hard for a single person to walk in and really feel like they can meet somebody. Or if you do meet someone, suddenly their husband might come in and sit next to them. It’s a gamble.”

The state offers several regular singles dances, from places like NH Singles Dances, Together of New Hampshire, and even the Queen City Ballroom in Manchester (for both singles and couples).

For 14 years, their Friday night singles parties have made NH Singles Dances a popular place for local singles to meet, dance and maybe make a love connection or two. The concept originated with Brenda Owen and David McDermott, who were looking to give adult singles an inexpensive and quick way to find someone new and to provide a safe space for couples who connect online to meet up.

“People shouldn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to meet someone,” said McDermott, who now runs the Friday dances with his wife, JoAnn DiDona. “Ours is just $11 — we supply the food, atmosphere, and the music, and chemistry takes care of the rest.”

The singles dating service Together of New Hampshire, with locations in Hooksett, Nashua and Portsmouth, has been matching locals since 1982, and has been running singles dances for nearly as long.
“We do three dances a month now and have been doing them since 1988,” said Together’s president, Fred Sullivan.

Both see their dances as a more personal, face-to-face alternative to online dating sites.

“The majority of people we see have used online dating services in the past and are looking for a more hands-on approach,” Sullivan said.

“The one problem with the Internet is when people put photos up on those sites, they are often 10 or 11 years old,” McDermott said. “You can’t rely on photos. I don’t want to take anything away from those sites. If it’s two in the morning and you decide you want to meet someone, you can do it. But, eventually, the two of you are going to have to meet.”

But neither dismisses the merits of Internet dating, and in fact, both have Web sites to help connect interested singles.

“We’re sort of a convenient partner for Internet dating because we provide a safe place to meet,” McDermott said. “It allows people to find each other and then when they get to a point where they are comfortable, we provide a place for them to meet up, talk and dance. Plus, if they do meet and find they aren’t compatible, there are plenty of other singles there for them.”

The dance formula seems to be working for both places. “We attract anywhere from 200 to 400 people regularly,” Sullivan said. “We get people from Massachusetts and even Maine coming to our dances.”

According to NH Singles Dances’ Web site, more than 147 marriages have resulted from people who have met at their dance parties, but McDermott said there are probably more.
“That amount is from the people who have come back and told us,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve found that people meet, get married and still come back to the dances.”

Probably their biggest success story is McDermott himself, who met his wife JoAnn (who acts as the DJ and hostess) at one of the dances about a year ago. “She drove all the way to one from Vermont with a group of friends,” McDermott said. “Then she started coming each and every week. It worked for us.”

There is an art to creating a singles dance that works, said McDermott, and it’s not as simple as just finding a dance floor and playing some top 40 music.

“You can’t just put on a dance,” McDermott said. “It needs to enable people to meet easily. It needs to lower the obstacles that get in the way. What it really comes down to is creating the right atmosphere. Having a relaxed, inexpensive night where people can just have fun and experience that attraction. It’s all about that initial attraction.”