“Burkey” Macenka was the Best of the Ballroom Dancers

“Burkey” Macenka was the Best of the Ballroom Dancers...1974
(by Jack Yalch, The Valley Gazette, May 1974)

I thought I was the best around until I met ‘Burkey’ – he topped me off!” Those words came from Orville “Chappy” Shappell, one of Lansford’s best-known men about town, as he recalled the big-band ballroom-dancing heydays of the “Roaring Twenties.”

There’s certainly no doubt about it in Chappy’s book. Coaldale’s “Burkey” Macenka rates as the best dancer of that era. And he’s still damn good,” proclaimed Shappell while talking about the old days when the Lakewood and Lakeside ballrooms hosted America’s greatest name-bands on the circuit of one-night stands across the country.

Here’s Chappy’s list of the area’s top five male dancers, the way he saw it:

1. “Burkey” Macenka

2. “Chappy” Shappell

3. “Goosey” Sotak

4. Milton Konsko

5. Ernie Kerns

Then Chap remembered a mile-long list of bandleaders and dance bands that appeared over the years on the Lakewood and Lakeside stages. There was Vincent Lopez, Little Jack Little, Johnny Green, Tony Pastor, Ted Weems, Johnny Johnson, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, the favorite Easter Monday season openers; Russ Morgan, Bunny Berrigan, Kay Kaiser and Ishka Bibble, an all-girl troupe named the Fourteen Bricktops, Horace Heidt, Carmen Caballero, Cab Calloway, Blue Barron, The rippling rhythms of Shep Fields, Louie Prima, the Dorsey Brothers, Charlie Spivak, Frankie Carle, the Four Sons, popular in the early 20’s; PeeWee Hunt and Wayne King the Waltz King, who once told the jam-packed ballroom, “The best dancers in America come from the coal regions.”

Chappy’s list goes on-and-on but most of the bands are long gone and we couldn’t agree on the proper spelling of names, for instance – Ace Bagod?

However, we have enough down on paper to begin lighting the fire and start writing the proverbial “book” on the days of the big-bands and the folks around here who lived them.

Some of the vocalists who stand out in Chappy’s memory include Rudy Vallee, who drew tremendous crowds; Kate Smith, Helen O’Connell, Ella Fitzgerald, Dick Haymes, the Andrews Sisters, Vaughn Monroe and orchestra leader and vocalist supreme, the late great immortal Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

A highlight of Chappy’s dancing days that shall remain unforgettable is the night at Lakeside when he had a “few drinks” with Eddie Duchin, perhaps one of the most talented piano artists who ever sat down to tickle the ivorys on the old “88.” “He was one of us guys,” declared Chap who confessed, “Back in those days, I would rather dance than eat.”