As with many neighborhoods around the country, Akron’s Kenmore wants you to rethink your preconceptions about its main street.

For some folks, Kenmore Boulevard is only good for cheap Chinese food, guitar repairs and an old-school comics shop. Others pass through on their way to Old 97, or just don’t go there at all.

But the Rialto Theatre, located in the heart of the boulevard, has plans.

The empty husk of the Rialto was completely refurbished by brothers Nate and Seth Vaill, after being dark for nearly a half-century, and reopened as an intimate multi-use venue about three years ago.

The revamped Rialto is a cozy little spot with a small bar, new flooring and a low-key, relaxed ambiance. The theater is a part of the effort to refurbish Kenmore Boulevard’s reputation and make it a destination (dare I say, a hot spot?).

Throughout the month, the Rialto holds concerts, plays, art shows, burlesque revues and comedy shows. But if you like to cut a rug with your dance partner of choice (or anyone who wants to dance) on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, the theater hosts Swing Dance Night.

I know what you’re thinking: Hey, didn’t we already do this revival back in the ’90s when the (still touring) Cherry Poppin’ Daddies were considered a thing?

Yes, you may have borrowed your grandma’s poodle skirt and gramps’ old suit and gone to a hip and happening nightclub to jitterbug and throw each other around to Big Voodoo Daddy’s Zoot Suit Riot.

But in 2018, the quiet swing dance revival seems less about the theatrics and acrobatics of the previous version, and more about folks just wanting to dance with another human being without feeling like they need a full-body condom or a shower and a cigarette afterward.

The music at the Rialto is a little different. Not much Benny Goodman or Count Basie and, thankfully, no Zoot Suit Riot. The evening’s soundtrack featured classic jump blues by the Louises — Jordan and Prima — as well as plenty of Ella Fitzgerald, a smattering of Sam Cooke and uptempo blues and old school R&B by artists like Etta James.

“I like dancing,” Cathy Sullivan of Broadview Heights said as Etta wailed about something having a hold on her in the background.

Sullivan skipped the ’90s revival but has been swing dancing in various spots around Northeast Ohio for about five years.

“It looked like fun and it’s a way for me to be able to dance without having to make it up myself. I needed some structure, and I love the music,” she said.

It was Sullivan’s first time at the Rialto, and she was impressed.

“This is great. I walked in and I thought, wow, this whole building is cool. I don’t care if it’s crowded or not, it’s more room to dance in,” she said.

Sullivan says she knows all the basic dances but she’s not big on the acrobatics: “I’m too old for that … I like to keep one foot on the ground at all times.”

Nearby, David Giovinazzo of Medina had literally put on his dancing shoes, which he keeps in the trunk of his car in case of a hoofing emergency. Giovinazzo, who also takes a tap class, has attended a few of the Rialto’s swing nights.

“It’s a real nice place to come,” he said. “Number one, it has a wood floor, and the acoustics aren’t bad. Sometimes you go to these places and it sounds like you’re in a bathroom. The staff are really pretty nice people.

“[The crowd] varies, sometimes we have a full house and you meet a lot of new people, and sometimes it’s a little bit empty,” he shrugged.

Show up at 6:30 p.m. and you can get lessons from a couple of patient instructors who will show you some basic steps to help get the feet flowing. The dancing officially starts at 7:30 p.m.

The crowd on this night was small but in the mood to jump and jive.

“It’s hard to get things started. This is Kenmore. I never came to Kenmore before and when I did, I thought this is a pretty cool-looking place. All I knew about Kenmore was that [former Mayor Don] Plusquellic was from here. So it must have been a pretty rough place,” he said laughing.

“When you look at it, it was a nice place to come and it could be a nice place to come out to. It doesn’t have to be a drive-by place anymore, because there’s things for you to do. I won’t just drive by and maybe stop. I’ll make it a destination point.”

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Follow him on Facebook at or on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.