Couples dance around the room, some pressed close together, others keeping a little distance. Each moves at a different pace, interpreting the music's rhythm in its own way. There's no rose in the teeth, no room completely filled with synchronized motion, but this is tango nonetheless -- the Argentine tango.
Like contredanse or swing dancing, Argentine tango is about packing a room full of people, cranking up the volume and letting loose. In the language of tango, these kinds of sessions are called milongas.
Every day of the week you can find a milonga or a tango class in the Washington area. Wednesdays are Anne-Sophie Ville's night, when she teaches at B.A. Tango Lounge, an Argentine restaurant and tango haven. The 32-year-old executive assistant at the World Bank took her first class seven years ago and hasn't stopped since.
Now Ville is organizing the second annual D.C. Tango Marathon tomorrow through Sunday.
Since Ville started dancing, she says, the regulars in the local Argentine tango community (those who dance multiple times each week) have doubled to about 150 people. With newcomers, some things about the dance have changed, too. The "close embrace" that has defined tango has now been joined by the option of an "open embrace," which some beginners have found more comfortable -- they need not be concerned about dancing so closely with strangers.
"The tango that's danced in a ballroom comes from the Argentine tango," Ville says. "The roots are the same, but it's changed a lot."
The Argentine tango isn't choreographed. Rather it's an improvisational and innovative dance that springs forth on the dance floor.
"The new trend is to try to have fun with any type of music," says Ville, giving the examples of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" and the "Austin Powers" theme. But more often people dance to traditional music with a slow, even beat, a waltz rhythm or a fast tempo.
Rose in the teeth or not, tango has gotten its share of attention lately: There's the steamy tango scene in "Frida" between Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd, the stage show "Forever Tango" ran for more than a year on Broadway and has toured the country, and the new movie "Assassination Tango," in which Robert Duvall plays a hit man with a passion for tango and which opens next week.
Ville, who is from Belgium, travels every couple months to cities such as Portland, Ore., San Francisco, New York and Tampa to learn new moves from different teachers. She's visited Buenos Aires three times. Last year she toured Europe on a "tango bus." This weekend's marathon, she says, will bring some of the instructors she's met to Washington.
The best art elicits strong reaction. And tango is known for its passion.
"It's an art when you look at people dance," Ville says. "It draws you. You can't be indifferent. You either love it or hate it."
The tango originated in the 1880s in the brothels of Argentina with a strong sexual choreography. The dance spread to Europe in the early 1900s.
For Ville the history and music are important, but the key is the relationship between dancers.
"What I really enjoy is the connection you can have with your partner for those three minutes of song," she says. "You are in a different world."
Duke's Place Duke Ellington's image will be returning to U Street in about a month. If you've been in the area of the Metro stop at 13th and U streets NW, you've likely noticed the absence of the jazzman's portrait, which came down in January because of construction. Soon it will hang on the True Reformer Building at 1200 U St.
G. Byron Peck, who painted the mural on movable panels, has been working on an extension to the right side of the piece that measures 24 feet high and 12 feet wide. He's lengthened the piano keys next to Ellington's portrait and added an art deco pattern that mimics the left side of the piece.
Peck will talk about public art Saturday at "Wall to Wall: D.C. Public Murals," a panel discussion sponsored by the Humanities Council of Washington. Also participating are Sherry Schwechten of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, mural photographer Perry Frank and Marisabel Villagomez, who will address Latino arts and culture.
Though Peck was disappointed about having to move his mural, he's happy about where it has landed. As a teenager, Ellington performed with his band, the Duke's Serenaders, at what was then called True Reformers Hall.
"Even though it doesn't dominate the space like it did on the other building, at least it's on the building where he first played," Peck says.
The enlarged mural will be easier for people to see, since it will be higher up than before. Also it will cover the fading, historic Coca-Cola logo on the west side of the five-story building.
"We weren't interested in doing a free advertisement for Coca-Cola," says Larry Kressley, executive director of the Public Welfare Foundation, which owns the building. Since the organization bought the building in 1999, he has hoped the mural would move there.
Kressley says, "I think it really is a community treasure."
Wall to Wall: D.C. Public Murals at the True Reformer Building, 1200 U St. NW, is Saturday at 1 p.m. Free. 202-387-8391.
The D.C. Tango Marathon is tomorrow through Sunday. For times, locations and prices of classes and milongas, call 703-841-1509 or visit www.le-tango.com.