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Moonlight Serenade Orchestra Puts Stars in Dancers' Eyes

MSO Plays Swingin' Good Music
Photo by Cynthia Robertson
Copyright©2006 sandiego.com, Inc.

On any given Thursday evening just before 7 p.m., a crowd of people will spill out from their cars and walk into the Lucky Star Restaurant on 54th Street in San Diego. These are not just casual week-night diners, however. The men and women are wearing their best garb, down to their shoes, because they are in for a night of dancing.

The unlikely combination of dining on Chinese food and dancing to Glen Miller tunes takes place weekly, to the beat of the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra. This volunteer group of over 30 musicians, including vocalists, has played ballroom music for dancing over the last 10 years. They play everything from cha-cha to swing to waltz.

Though my husband and I are novice dancers, we always look forward to these evenings because we especially like to swing dance, and the other dancers are great motivators for us to learn more.

The main purpose of the group is to preserve and perform swing band music. "We’re all about performance and playing for dancers. We’re not a non-profit organization, but a social one," said Ross Porter, publicity manager for the band.

One of four vocalists for MSO, as the band is also known, Porter became part of the group in 2001. He had danced to the band a couple of times and noticed they didn’t have a male vocalist. "I talked to Maridia Harrington, who was the band’s director at the time, and she welcomed me into the band when she found out I could emcee, as well," said Porter. Robert Tutelman, who is the band’s current director, joined the group 6 years ago, after a colleague at work had started playing drums a few months earlier.

For the last two years, Tutelman has been the Musical Director, choosing the music and organizing the order in which the band plays the songs. He drills the band at rehearsal, which is usually 3 hours weekly, coaches the band members as needed, and selects the soloists where the music doesn’t specify who will play.

The musical result is one of joyous precision and a warm family feeling between the band members and the audience, many of whom make MSO a weekly date. One man nicknamed "The Hat" because of his signature hat and smooth dancing, comes all the way from Escondido each week to Lucky Star, which is at the corner of 52nd and University Avenue in San Diego.

Our friends Jeff and Peg Marcus recently joined my husband and me on an evening out with MSO. They both enjoyed dancing a little cha-cha, some swing and even a two-step polka.

"It’s really nice to see everyone dressed up," said Peg.

"The food’s pretty good here, too," said Jeff. The two of them plan to make MSO a regular date. It's just one more proofl that big band music is here to stay.

"We are also seeing a new generation of dancers who find the energy and variety of ballroom dancing to big band music engaging. I think that will continue indefinitely," said Tutelman.

If a lady is seen sitting alone while the band is playing, more than likely a gentleman will ask to have this dance. More than likely, too, he is an exceptional dancer, putting stars in the lady’s eyes.

Details »
  • City: San Diego, CA
  • Phone: 619-229-8228
  • Name: Lucky Star Seafood Restaurant
  • Address: 3893 54th Street