Resolution: Learn to Dance

Friday, December 26, 2008

As the new year peeks over the horizon at us, we make resolutions: We'll lose weight, eat more healthfully, be more organized, be less rushed; we'll learn something new. That last idea is where Weekend comes in.

If you've yearned to break a little bit out of your mold, be a little less the person you are and a little more the person you aspire to be, then the following pages are here to help.

We offer simple ways to start the year off with a sense of accomplishment, from learning to waltz, cook or act to breaking into the art or music scene.

I fell in love with the Viennese waltz one autumn evening last year. It wasn't love at first sight, mind you. I was so focused on my feet -- trying to get the steps while desperately trying to avoid smashing my partner's toes -- that I nearly missed all the fun. But as always happens, I eventually danced with a partner whose impeccable lead had me swirling and dipping with exhilarating speed across the white marble floors of the French Embassy. I was addicted.

I am not alone in my fondness for the waltz, as anyone who attends the lessons at the French Embassy organized by the International Club of DC will know. At least once a month, an eclectic ensemble of people gather to try their hand (and feet!) at this elegant, timeless dance. For $20, you can come to a lesson whenever the fancy strikes.

The embassy has a modern, sophisticated feel: a stark white floor and soaring ceiling, a bar tucked cozily into the back corner to serve wine during breaks. As dancers of every level arrive for the 7 p.m. lesson, instructor Todd Borzych divides them into two rows: leaders and followers. Surprisingly, there were more men than women. Borzych, tall and svelte in a billowing white shirt and black pants, demonstrated the first step with his elegant partner. The students observed, and then, to the strains of a Strauss waltz, gingerly tested it out, first alone, then in pairs.

Among the group are regulars and newcomers, ages 25 to nearly 70, who come from around the corner and from far-flung corners of the world. Each comes for a different reason.

Andreas Stargard, a 31-year-old lawyer with curly brown hair and wire-rimmed glasses, laughs when asked how he first became acquainted with the waltz. "When I was 10 years old in German etiquette classes, I took my first Viennese waltz lesson!" But now, he's out for fun, enjoying "the chance to mingle and enjoy a nice outlet after work in the little free time I have."

Less than 45 minutes into the lesson, everyone seems to have mastered the basic step. ONE-two-three, DA-da-da, Borzych calls out as twosomes bravely pair up and try a whirl or two around the room. After a minute or two they rotate partners, allowing the chance for beginners to pair up with more advanced dancers. The rotation also ensures that everybody meets everyone else in the room. Among the dancers are Herb and Carol Traxler, who have been teaching the Viennese waltz in Washington since 1997. Among their students: Chelsea Clinton and five of her friends in the East Room of the White House.

Interested but a bit apprehensive? Don't be. Nancy Coviello, who is in her early 40s and works at Voice of America, explains how she also got "a little bit nervous. . . . But you get better as you go along, and you get to meet a lot of people. Everyone should give it a try. It's such a fun thing to do."

-- Rebekah Davis

Your next chance to learn to waltz (and salsa) is Jan. 9 at 6:45 p.m. at the French Embassy, 4101 Reservoir Rd. NW. Advance registration required at $25 per person.

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