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David Rosenberg; Etiquette Coach For Navy, Folk Dance Enthusiast

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page B05

David Rosenberg, 89, who gave Navy personnel etiquette instructions for overseas travel and was deeply involved in the Washington folk dance scene, died Feb. 22 at the Hermitage retirement home in Alexandria after a heart attack.

From 1960 to 1994, Mr. Rosenberg worked as a Navy Department civilian in what the Wall Street Journal described as "overseasmanship."

David Rosenberg and other members of a folk dancing group met President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter. Mr. Rosenberg was very active in the Washington folk dance scene. (Family Photo)

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The Navy saw a need for such instruction after U.S. sailors in a Spanish seaport town once rooted for the bull in a bullfight. When a beloved matador was nearly gored, the sailors were assaulted and chased out of town. U.S. ships were barred from the harbor for months.

Mr. Rosenberg, a former illustrator with a talent for cultural appreciation, traveled worldwide, experiencing high and low culture from Oslo to Tokyo. He made sure to become familiar with waterfront bars, gaining credibility with seamen even if the experience left him with "indigestion in 20 languages."

A man of great bonhomie, he sacrificed his stomach for a greater cause: to avoid a repeat of the bullfight problem. "I inoculate sailors against cultural shock," he told the Journal. "Travel overseas is wonderful, but it isn't Disneyland like the travel posters say. Nobody ever tells you about the mosquitoes in Sweden."

He warned sailors against calling Scots "Scotch," told them the way Japanese bathhouses operate, provided advice about seeking a date in Norway and offered other skills in maneuvering through daily life.

Mr. Rosenberg was a dancer since childhood in Massachusetts. He won a Big Apple competition as a young man and discovered folk dancing one night in New York during World War II when he walked past a Polish meeting hall and became entranced by the polka.

After settling in the Washington area in 1945, he posted notices at neighborhood food stores to spur interest in starting a folk dancing group, which expanded into an entire festival before too long. He canvassed the small ethnic food shops figuring that was where Greeks, Indians, Japanese and others would go to buy their native spices.

Mr. Rosenberg was born in Roxbury, Mass., and raised in Winthrop, Mass. As a young man, he was a church decorator before becoming a portrait painter and commercial artist.

During World War II, he was a scientific illustrator for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's radiation laboratory and served briefly on active duty with the Navy in the Atlantic.

From 1945 to 1960, he was art director of All Hands magazine, a Navy publication. His Navy honors included the Superior Civilian Service Award.

Over the years, he taught folk dancing through the D.C. recreation department and was director of the old National Capital Area Folk Festival of All Nations.

He was lead dancer and director of "Alt-Washingtonia" Schuhplattler Verein, a Bavarian dance group. His traditional outfit included a Bavarian hat whose Gamsbart plume was the chin hair of a mountain goat.

He was a former board member of the Northern Virginia Folk Festival Association and chairman of cultural programs for the Christmas Pageant of Peace.

He also participated in annual conferences of the Sister Cities International program, which unites American and foreign communities. He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

His marriage to Evelyn Rosenberg ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 44 years, Nancy H. Rosenberg of Alexandria; two daughters from the first marriage, Phyllis Blum and Jean Diamond, both of Rockville; a son from the second marriage, Karl J. Rosenberg of Alexandria; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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