Get That Swing: THE SCENE
By Fritz Hahn and M. Franco Salvoza
Last updated Wednesday, September 22, 1999
ow that swing has kicked its way back into the mainstream, restaurants, clubs and bars around town have been opening their doors and buffing their floors for the saddle-shoe and fedora-wearing set every night of the week.
Steve Bailey flips for Carla Heiney at the Virginia State Open Swing Dance Championships.
(By Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com)
Use our icon key . . .
and get the night-by-night rundown: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday:
Chevy Chase Ballroom
At 9, after the regular lessons are over, the floor at here is open to anyone who wants to work out the kinks in their Charleston. The lightning-fast floor is usually packed with students, but there's always room for one more couple. $5 cover.
Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo
Yet another after-the-lessons night, but hey, this is Glen Echo, the biggest and most legendary dance venue in the area. While a DJ spins Lindy- and East Coast-friendly tunes, instructors Ellen Engle and Marc Shepanek roam the floor to answer questions and give advice on your steps. $5 cover.
It doesn't look like a dance venue, but past the framed, black-and-white photos of local musicians and past gigs, a small, devoted crowd of serious Lindy Hoppers practices on the Grill's checkerboard dance floor. Beginner and intermediate classes are offered early in the evening, but most of the people who stick around to dance to the music of DJs later on in the evening have been dancing for a while, and it shows. Wednesday is the night for East Coast Swing and jitterbug. The $13 cover includes two drinks, a lesson and dancing.
(Note: West Coast Swing is taught on Sunday nights, hustle on Monday nights, and jitterbug/East Coast Swing on Wednesday nights.)
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to swing dance in a phone booth, Felix is your place. This Adams-Morgan nightspot used to promote Wednesday night as swing night, but now the theme has changed to Sinatra Night. Come here to lounge, sip martinis, and hear Sinatra CDs and live, big-band-style music from Eric Felten's hot band. But forget about dancing the floor is about the size of your work cubicle. Cover varies.
Normally Lulu's is best known as a haven for young professionals seeking extremely loud music, sweaty dance floors and drunken escapades. But on Wednesday nights, Tom Koerner gives free swing lessons on a scratched-up, wooden dance floor to music spun by a DJ from 7:30 to 9. A healthy mix of beginners and experts usually shows up. Koerner also holds dance contests where participants can win local excursions and nights at hotels. But if you feel especially conscious, this may not be the place for you. A camera relays the scene from the dance floor to a TV screen at Lulu's entrance, giving passersby a glimpse of the action inside. $5 cover.
Johnson Center at George Mason University
Practice space is available downstairs at the Johnson Center (George Mason University, 4400 University Dr., Fairfax; 703/993-9000). It's a nice place, with smooth, hardwood floors, decent light and wall mirrors. As you'd expect, the dancers are primarily George Mason students, but other dancers are welcomed.
Maybe it's the faux-quarry decorating or the huge dragon statue tearing through a wall, but something about this place screams "RAWK!" Thankfully, though, the Monsters of Rock vacate the premises one night each week so that others might swing. The large video wall, usually blaring the latest Limp Bizkit video, shows classic dance scenes from old movies. The tile floor is splashed with water instead of cheap beer. All in all, it's a fun scene and a nice change of pace. John "Psychoboy" McCalla teaches an introductory lesson at 8:30 and runs the proceedings until 11 p.m., occasionally with a live band.
Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo
Ken Haltenhoff and Donna Barker, teachers of East Coast and Lindy Hop, host this open dance practice from 9:30 to 11. A DJ provides big-band tunes while couples work on their moves on the ballroom's spacious floor. $3 cover.
Open Practice at Avalon Dance Studio
Not really a dance, the Avalon (624 Frederick Rd., Catonsville, Md.; 410/869-9771) opens its doors every Thursday from 8:30 to 10:30 so dancers can practice their moves to a DJ spinning big-band swing sounds. Wall-size mirrors, air conditioning and a
hardwood floor make it worth the drive. $3 cover.
Timpano Italian Chophouse
You'll know this place is swingin' when you hit the bar and see the huge oil painting of St. Francis Albert hangin' over the fireplace. On the third Thursday of every month, the RKO Swing Orchestra plays classic swing music for enthusiastic dancers. There's a good sized floor and an appreciative crowd. And don't forget about the $4 make-your-own martini special. Frank wouldn't.
Mood Swings at Blob's Park
Blob's Park (8024 Blob's Park Rd., Jessup, Md.; 410/799-0155) the swingingest beer garden in the world, hosts Mood Swings on the third Thursday of each month. The band plays from 8 to 10, but its first set features slower tunes more appropriate for the foxtrot than for swing dancing. A diverse crowd, ages 15 to 75, shows up to dance, and there's lots of partner switching. $6 cover.
The dance floor here is small, so on Friday nights, there are often as many people watching as dancing. And being surrounded by Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg's showy, fast-kicking students can be intimidating or inspiring, depending on your point of view. But the electrifying sounds of Tom Cunningham's orchestra are usually worth the price. $12 cover.
The best of the no-cover swing nights around town, Politiki has recently experienced an upsurge in popularity. With nowhere else in town to go on Friday nights, the floor's gotten crowded, but Politiki's never a bad time. The music is a great mix of everything from Benny Goodman to the Mills Brothers, but what would you expect from a DJ who co-owns a record store? Matt and Paul from Flying Saucer Discs spin CDs from 9 until 2 a.m.
A Place to Dance
When it gets hot outside, this is the coolest place to dance in the entire Washington area. The powerful air conditioning can make temperatures at this Washington Sports Club feel almost arctic at times, so it's a good thing there's live music every week to keep your body moving. The crowds are moderate and friendly, the bands are good and you can even buy your dance shoes here.
The only real negative is that A Place to Dance lacks the atmosphere of Politiki, not to mention Nick's or Glen Echo. The mirrors on the wall, the nearby basketball court and the exercise bikes remind you that you're dancing at a health club, not a nightclub. If you can get past that, this is a good place to swing while the temperature soars. $10 cover.
Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo
If you go swing dancing at one place in Washington, this should be it. Built in 1933, the Ballroom has fallen into some disrepair, but it still manages to capture the feel of the swing era with a picturesque breezeway and legendary jam sessions where the dancers show off their death-defying aerial moves.
The 7,500-square-foot dance floor, the largest in the area, accommodates everyone from Lindy Hop champions to college students with two left feet. Events put on by the Washington Swing Dance Committee have two dances per night: one from 7 to 9:30 (including a 45-minute lesson) and another from 10 to 12:30 a.m. Those featuring the Tom Cunningham Orchestra on the last Saturday of the month have one long dance from 9 to midnight, with a lesson at 8 p.m. Also note that the second Saturday of the month is reserved for Zydaco dancing those Zoot suits might look a little out of place.
Words of caution: The Ballroom has no air conditioning or heat, so dress appropriately. If you go to any of Tom Cunningham's dances, get there before the doors open or you probably won't get in until well after the dance has started. $8-$12 cover.
As the primary alternative to Glen Echo, Nick's is usually packed the second week of the month, and when a good band plays like Tom Cunningham's Orchestra, for example the floor can get frustratingly crowded. There's the obligitory beginners lesson at 7 p.m., followed by live music until 11.
After that is when things really get started, as the swing dancers move to the back room for even more dancing with DJ Tom Koerner until 1 a.m.
Nick's isn't the most upscale joint in the area one editor likened it to a "Goodfellas" bar but unlike some bars, Nick's welcomes dancers, giving them water, floor space and even their own waitress for the back room after-party. The cover charges are $10 for DJ nights and $12 for live music nights.
Swing night at the Lucky Bar has been cancelled.
America This dance has been moved to Chevy Chase Ballroom until October 10
While America attracts many of the best dancers in the area, the crowd is essentially under 25. After Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg's regularly scheduled lessons on Sunday nights, many of the dinner tables are cleared out for a wide-open dance floor. Sometimes that's not even enough, and you'll find dancers practicing advanced steps in the back corners of the restaurant in between some of the larger tables. Many of the swingers here are Koerner and Sternberg's fast-kicking students, and sharing the floor with them can intimidate or inspire beginners.
John "Psychoboy" McCalla at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad
After John "Psychoboy" McCalla finishes teaching Lindy Hop classes at 9 p.m., the rescue squad's ballroom (with its 4800-square-foot wooden floor) is opened to all comers. Most weeks will find expert DJ Bill Lehman spinning big band discs, although the ballroom hosts a live band about once a month. And Psychoboy is always available to answer questions about aerials, aerials and more aerials. $5 cover most nights, $10 for live bands.
The Last Chance Saloon
If hot jazz and dixieland make you want to swing and why shouldn't they? Swing Street and the Last Chance Jazz Band are in residence at this Columbia pub every week from 5 to 9 p.m. The dance floor is away from the stage and probably only big enough for six couples at a time. The friendly crowd is older (we're talking grandparent-old), but they're not afraid to get up and foxtrot like they did back in the day. They're also very appreciative of Lindy Hopping youngsters.
Have we missed any places? E-mail Fritz Hahn or M. Franco Salvoza and let us know!
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