TAP, TANGO AND GLIDE around Washington this weekend with the Dance DC Festival, sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. This celebration of local folk dance -- from salsa to hip-hop to Italian maypole -- welcomes folks of all ages to free performances and workshops throughout the city. On Friday evening, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Mexican Cultural Institute opens its doors for a big dance fiesta featuring El Ballet Folklorico de Oyster, Ziva's Spanish Dance Ensemble and others.
Don't know a pirouette from a polka? Not to worry. "We want to give people a sense of the diversity of D.C.'s dance culture," said Mary Eckstein, the commission's specialist in traditional and folk arts. "Come with an open and curious mind and watch -- or jump right in."
With its first dance fest this fall, the commission expands its seasonal offerings, which include film and music festivals in the spring and summer, respectively. The dance festival is but one part of the commission's ongoing support of local art forms -- literature, performance, visual -- and artists through outreach, grants and education, Eckstein said.
"Dance can really connect people with their bodies -- and their communities," said Eckstein, a folklorist and longtime ballet and jazz dancer. She pointed to Sunday afternoon's "Dance Around the Circle" as a prime example of that connection. At various times, troupes will demonstrate Afro-Brazilian, Middle Eastern, Romanian and Italian dances at Dupont Circle in Northwest Washington. This outdoor, informal setting is perfect "for social village dances, which lose some of their authenticity when done on stage," Eckstein said. "And, of course, people are encouraged to try the dances" and have a good time participating.
"If you can take a step, you can salsa," promised Eileen Torres, who leads a class on Saturday at the Latin American Youth Center in Adams Morgan. Like all the festival workshops, this one starts with the basics. "But after only an hour, most people will have learned the turns and can dance on the rhythm," Torres said. Laughing, she then warned: "Salsa is addicting. You'll want to keep going." Her own love of the dance dates to childhood and hours spent listening to her grandmother's recordings of musician Perez Prado. Torres frequently speaks on and teaches salsa, which she calls an "umbrella term for Cuban rhythmic dances," at universities, government agencies and private events such as parties and wedding showers. "It's a good icebreaker," she said. "Salsa gets everyone dancing and laughing and having a rollicking good time."
Beverly Lindsay-Johnson is equally enthusiastic about a dance indigenous to Washington: hand dance, a descendant of the popular Lindy Hop. An avid "oldies but goodies" fan, she got her first glimpse of the fast-moving dance at local clubs in the early 1990s. "People came straight from work and stayed till closing. And they all had smiles on their faces. I knew I wanted to learn more," said Lindsay-Johnson, a producer for Howard University Television. Lindsay-Johnson's curiosity and growing appreciation led to her PBS documentary "Swing, Bop & Hand Dance," which aired in 1997. Still frequently shown, the documentary examines different styles of partner dancing in urban America. "There are regional variations in steps and patterns, so we have Chicago stepping, Philly bop and Washington hand dance," she explained.
When in Washington, you want to do what Washingtonians do. Namely, hand dance. As its festival offering, the National Hand Dance Association gives lessons on Saturday at Cada Vez, a restaurant on U Street. The evening also includes a historical "sketch of how the dance evolved, with demonstrations of the '50s jitterbug, a '60s dance party, with some twist and jerk thrown in -- and a big finish at the end with hand dance," said Lindsay-Johnson, the association's historian and narrator for the performance.
So put on your dancing shoes, Washington, and shake out your two left feet. At the arts commission, Eckstein sounds just one cautionary note: "Space is limited at many venues. Come early so you don't miss out." After all, you don't want to be left standing when everyone else is dancing.
DANCE DC FESTIVAL -- Sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, 410 Eighth St. NW. 202-724-5613. www.dcarts.dc.gov. Free.
Friday at 4 -- West African dance workshop, Sitar Center, 1700 Kalorama Rd. NW. 202-797-2145.
Friday at 6:30 -- Dance Fiesta, Mexican Cultural Institute, 2829 16th St. NW. 202-728-1628. Performances by El Ballet Folklorico de Oyster, Ziva's Spanish Dance Ensemble and others.
Saturday at 10:30 -- Salsa workshop with Eileen Torres, Latin American Youth Center, 1419 Columbia Rd. NW. 202-319-2225.
Saturday from 11 to 7 -- Workshops and performances, Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. 202-269-1600. Family workshops are from 11 to 3. Romanian folk dances and tango at 11; Scottish dances, gumboot and pantsla (South African dance forms) at noon; tap and drum, period dances from '50s to '80s at 1; hip-hop and hand dancing at 2; bhangra and Turkish folk dances at 3. Outdoor events from 11 to 6 include drumming, dance and story circles, and children's activities. At family fest at 7 includes Romanian, African and Afro-Cuban dance performances. Advance registration required for evening family fest; call 202-269-1600 for free tickets.
Saturday from 1 to 2 -- West African, Caribbean, Turkish and hand dance performances, National Geographic Society, 17th and M streets NW. 202-857-7700.
Saturday at 2 -- Children's workshop on West African rhythms and dance, National Zoo, visitor's center auditorium, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-673-4800.
Saturday from 5 to 10 -- "From Jitterbug to Hand Dance," performance and lessons hosted by National Hand Dance Association, Cada Vez restaurant, 1438 U St. NW. 202-667-0785.
Saturday at 6 -- "Tell Me a Story," dramatic Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese dance, Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, New Hampshire Avenue and F Street NW. 202-467-4600.
Sunday from 1 to 2 -- "Dance Around the Circle," Dupont Circle, Connecticut Avenue at P Street NW. 202-724-5613. A participatory performance with troupes demonstrating Afro-Brazilian, Middle Eastern, Italian and Romanian dances.
Sunday from 1 to 2 -- West African dance, instruments and textiles, a performance, National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW, fifth-floor performance hall. 202-783-5000 or 202-783-7372.
Sunday at 6 -- Festival finale, Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, New Hampshire Avenue and F Street NW. 202-467-4600. Performances by the Kankouran West African and Silk Road dance companies, Tappers With Attitude and Spanish Dance Society.