THE CALL went out: "Head couple, make a bridge!"
My 6-year-old son, Scott, and his pal, David, faced each other and clasped hands. They made a bridge. A short bridge. A bridge with no more than three inches between the two boys. Passing on through, as the caller told us to do, would be difficult, and a bit silly.
Silly is one of the key words for the Family Dance held monthly in Glen Echo. The dance -- $5 per person and 11/2 hours -- is open to anyone, though it may be tricky for those younger than 4. Birthday parties, Scout troops and other groups are welcome, and the dance lines expand and contract accordingly, though they usually hold between 30 and 50 people.
The callers -- on this occasion, Beth Molaro -- use regular square dances, reels and contras, with their familiar steps of swing and promenade, but she omits the more complex geometric puzzles. Her dances can be mastered by 5-year-olds and even determined 4-year-olds. But that doesn't mean that order rules.
We all join hands and circle right. The circle fills the room, and my less-than-determined 4-year-old, Evan, breaks away from the hands holding him and runs around inside of the circle. Happy to be the center of attention, he runs back only when the caller says, "Step to the center and give a big shout!"
Evan escapes the circle and dances the rest of the time perched on my husband's hip. He is not the only child-in-arms. Many couples are made up of one adult with feet on the floor and a child with feet dangling. Or the partners may be three people. Or they simply bow out mid-dance because the child is not happy.
In an adult dance, dropping out or carrying a three-person team (even if the people are small) is somewhat bad etiquette. The other dancers can't dance as well if the floor keeps changing. At the Family Dance, the dancers are more fluid. People fill in and make the dance work with the couples and trios that we have.
"I have a strong belief that kids should dance and parents should dance with them," says Jamie Platt, who started the Family Dance in 1994.
Platt's organization, the World Music and Dance Institute, co-sponsors the dances with the Folklore Society of Greater Washington. "My parents were not dancers, and I did not get into dancing until the age of 23," he says. "I feel that I missed out on something important."
And the kids are dancing. This week there are many little girls in long dresses who twirl for the sake of twirling. They are part of a Brownie troop that came for a father-daughter dance. They pose for pictures and accept corsages. Then they dance and forget about their finery in the thrill of the movement.
Little boys in shorts and T-shirts stomp like dinosaurs and skip when the caller says sashay. They race around the room, but not quite randomly. They are dancing, too, listening to the instructions for "Birdie in the Middle" and clapping to the Virginia reel.
Even the youngest clap and stomp with the live music provided by Bob Garber, Mike McGeary and Jeff Steinberg. Molaro, the caller, watches her own almost-3-year-old daughter cut up the floor with a friend.
A little more than an hour into the dance, the band takes a break, and we look at the refreshments. Normally people are asked to bring something to share, but this week is special. A "Happy Birthday" sign hangs from the wall, and we sing to Molaro's little girl. Then everyone, all 50 or so of us, get cake and ice cream.
There's time for two more dances after the break, then the kids pour out of the building into the slightly cooler outdoors. It's 5 p.m., and the day is less bright than when we went in. The kids dash across the yard, seeming to pull more energy out of the air. The tired adults are happy to have them run.
Anne Gardner sinks onto the nearby stone wall to watch her son. "I grew up with these dances," she comments. "I'm really glad David has a chance to learn them, too."
FAMILY DANCE -- Takes place the second Sunday of most months in Glen Echo. From November through March, dances take place at Glen Echo Town Hall, 6106 Harvard Ave.; from April through October, at Glen Echo Park's Bumper Car Pavilion, 7300 MacArthur Blvd. 301-320-7099. 3-4 p.m., family dance for younger kids; 4:15-5:45, contra dance for teens and tweens. $5, younger than 4 free. Family maximum, $18. For more information, visit Jamie Platt's Web site, www.dancingplanetproductions.com/familydance.htm, or visit the Folklore Society of Greater Washington Web site, www.fsgw.org.