As waiters bearing silver trays poured champagne and chefs served stuffed breasts of veal with morel mushrooms from steaming chafing dishes, Eileen Glassman and Donald Smith rocked across the dance floor, jitterbugging to "Blues on Parade" played by a 17-piece Big Band orchestra.
The pink and mauve ballroom smelled of waffles and chocolate, and the polished dance floor was crowded with couples in silk dresses and business suits with ties. There were pink balloons, a sizzling leg of beef and a towering ice sculpture that took nearly eight hours to create. Lights were low and soft, and romance was in the air.
It was 11 o'clock in the morning, and this was the Washington debut of the Big Band brunch. Already a phenomenon in cities such as Dallas and Chicago, yesterday's event opened at the 30-story Radisson Mark Plaza Hotel in Alexandria. Three hundred and thirty-six people showed up, paying $19.95 per person to eat and dance their way through 3 1/2 hours of such songs as "I Remember You," "Dipsy Doodle" and "Sentimental Journey."
"Listen," publicist Gloria Garcia had said several days before the event. "You'd be surprised. Music and dancing at brunch is one of the biggest things going in this country. And, you're talking about real dancing. You're not just talking about moving your feet a little."
Glassman, a junior high school French and Spanish teacher from Potomac, said between dances that she hoped those predictions would be realized.
"Here in Washington, it's not all that civilized," said Glassman, a native New Yorker. "There are not all that many places to dance. And, when you find something good, you follow it."
Even at 11 a.m.? "If you like to dance, you'll do it anytime," she said.
John Patten, a 57-year-old bookkeeper from Alexandria, brought his wife Jean, 57, a store buyer, as a surprise. Unfortunately, a muscle spasm kept Jean Patten at her table, eating a crab omelette. "This is killing me," she said. "We're big jitterbuggers, but I can't cut the mustard today."
On stage, band leader Tom Cunningham, in a salmon-colored tuxedo shirt and white tails, led his group in "Peanut Vendor" and "I've Got My Love."
The Pattens tapped their fingers on the white tablecloth as other couples whirled and twirled across the floor.
Waiters offered three kinds of smoked salmon, fresh raspberries and meringue and $28 bottles of Chateau Ste. Michele champagne from Washington state. There were five "food stations," one that offered fresh vegetables in two wooden dishes the size of small horse troughs.
"This is exactly what we've been looking for," said Larry Johnston, a 61-year-old government consultant from Alexandria, who came with his wife Irene, 60, a retired schoolteacher. "We enjoy this type of music."
Recently married, the couple formerly lived in California, where they took private lessons to learn to rhumba, fox trot, waltz and swing.
Ballroom dancing is big in the West, they said, and until yesterday, they had despaired of finding a place to do it here. "We just love this," Irene Johnston said.
"Great band," added her husband.
Also making frequent appearances on the dance floor were David Heberling, a 27-year-old pilot for New York Air, and Cheryl Campbell, a 23-year-old electrical engineer ("If I could be a dancer, that's what I'd be," she said.).
In August, they started taking ballroom dancing at a Fred Astaire studio.
"We were tired of dances on little dance floors where you couldn't hold hands -- this is more romantic," said Campbell.
"That's for sure," added Heberling.
The champagne flowed, the dancers danced and the band played. At 1 p.m., Glassman and Smith were still at it, breaking occasionally for roast beef and pasta.