DEDHAM — The owner of Moseley’s on the Charles perched on a tall stool behind a thin podium recently, collecting $15 admission for the large ballroom’s once-a-week dance night. A short while later, a trio kicked off the evening with “Isn’t It Romantic,” but only a few dozen people began swaying to the Rodgers and Hart classic.
Nearby, a sign tucked away inside Eddie DeVincenzo’s office recalled brighter days for Moseley’s, founded in 1905 and believed to be the oldest continuously operated ballroom in the country.
“Sold out. No tickets available this evening,” it read.
That’s no longer a concern. Not on this night, nor or any Wednesday night, when Moseley’s opens its riverside doors for weekly dancing on its mammoth maple floor. The same ballroom that once featured the bands of Guy Lombardo, Harry James, and Les Brown is slow-waltzing toward its last dance.
“I’m going week to week,” DeVincenzo said with a wish-it-weren’t-so shake of his head. “The dances aren’t going that well.”
DeVincenzo, 58, said he has no plans to close Moseley’s and does fine with private events such as weddings and banquets. But the dances that once made this ballroom a magnet for couples — and for singles looking to become couples — have fallen victim to changing times, an aging clientele, and competition from private dance studios.
“If I get 50 people, that’s a big crowd,” DeVincenzo said. “These people don’t have a lot of places like this to go anymore.”
Even a “big crowd” of 50 on a 7,000-square-foot dance floor barely allows the ballroom to break even, DeVincenzo said. There are musical licensing fees to pay, as well as utility costs that eat up much of that $15 admission kitty.
But if the writing is on the mirrored walls, the dancers this evening are focused elsewhere. On their footwork. On long-ago music. And on their partners as they glide, step, or shuffle around a floor where crowding is never an issue.
“I used to go dancing seven days a week,” said Louis Carabello, who drove from Somerville for the dance. “But I don’t travel around the floor like I used to.”
Carabello might be accurate, but he’s also modest. At 98, Carabello is something of a legend at Moseley’s, where he has been dancing regularly since he was a teenager in the 1930s.
And doing it well, according to Inez Genatossio, who impishly pouted that she’s Carabello’s second choice for a partner.
“He can lead somebody,” said Genatossio, who appears to be less than half Carabello’s age and has been dancing for three years. “He was very patient with me. He would keep me to the beat. If it wasn’t for this older guy at Moseley’s, I wouldn’t be dancing.”
Carabello still drives, hits the treadmill for two miles a day, and does leg exercises to keep dancing. And when he does, Carabello navigates the floor with his back straight, feet moving in rhythm, and a confidence built over eight decades of patronizing this Charles River landmark.
“There’s a lot of good, old-time music here,” Carabello said as he sat with Genatossio and Cindy, his No. 1 partner. “It’s not like the rock ‘n’ roll stuff where you’re standing 10 feet away.”
Saturday night dances were held here until 2000, when dwindling interest prompted DeVincenzo to relegate the ballroom’s fox trots, rumbas, mambos, and cha-chas to Wednesdays only. Nowadays, it’s a small but devoted group that refuses to yield to age.
“Some of these people, you see them walking in and you say, ‘How can they dance?’ ” DeVincenzo said with a smile. “But then the music starts!”
The dedicated include Pat Carbone of Wakefield and John Quilty of Wilmington, who sat out a few songs at a circular table behind a row of white pillars that separate the dance floor from an unbusy bar.
“This is how we stay young,” Carbone said before gently admonishing a stranger for asking her age. “Look, we’re still here. Let’s put it that way.”
And so is DeVincenzo, whose entire adult life has been connected with Moseley’s, where he started work in the coat room in 1976. From those teenage beginnings, he climbed the ladder to bar back, bartender, and working large events until he bought the place in 1998.
“It’s my whole life I’ve been here. I have a lot of memories,” said DeVincenzo, who lives nearby in the house where he was raised. “Everyone comes to Moseley’s at some point in their life.”
Besides the big bands, rhythm-and-blues groups such as the Platters and Manhattans drew crowds to Moseley’s, which has had a long history of expecting its customers to behave. Alcohol wasn’t officially served at public dances until the early 1970s, and jackets and ties were required for many years.
“If you didn’t have a jacket, they’d have one for you,” DeVincenzo said.
Several decades ago, when St. Susanna’s Church was being built close by, the owners of Moseley’s donated the ballroom for Sunday services. As a result, locals began calling the hall St. Moseley’s.
Absent a miracle, however, the music will stop for Moseley’s weekly dances in the not-too-distant future, DeVincenzo said. It might be sooner, it might be later, but for this rare vestige of a simpler, less-harried time, the end is drawing nearer.
Halfway through the evening, DeVincenzo walked up from the basement with two large plates of brownies and cookies as refreshments. The band — a trumpet, keyboard, and drums — eased into a silky rendition of “As Time Goes By.” Six couples danced slowly under the soft light of three chandeliers.
They traded smiles, and whispers, and a few pecks on the cheek. DeVincenzo leaned against a pillar and took a long look around the room as the music ended.
“It’s getting to that point,” he said with a wistful nod. “But I’ll keep this as long as I can.”