On Friday nights, as evening cools the day's heat, a slow transformation overtakes Bethesda's bustling downtown district.

The sun's glare fades from the glass exteriors of looming skyscrapers. T-shirts and sneakers appear in place of cumbersome suits and stiff wingtips. And the noisy grind of traffic and commerce makes way for the sweeter sound of the big-band greats.

Bethesda's Metro Center, the work-week focal point of business congestion, now focuses on spirited swing music every Friday through the end of September. The dancing began in June, but was halted during August when organizers could not find a sponsor for the event.

On the Metro Center Plaza at Old Georgetown Road and Wisconsin Avenue, the 15-piece Richard Bray Big Band revives memories of the Benny Goodman era and a community spirit that local residents had thought was wilting in the face of the massive growth that has transformed the area in the past five years.

"My first reaction to this whole growth was that I hated it," said Victoria Hackett, 22, seated at the edge of the elevated dance floor in the center of the wide-open plaza listening to the music on a recent evening. "I'm from here and this is where I grew up. And when it started to look like a downtown city, I stopped spending time here.

"But tonight," she said with a smile, "it just changed my whole impression. The music, the dancing -- it's great to see, and it's telling me that {the developers} are thinking about the community."

Area businesses combined with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation to sponsor performances around town titled "Bethesda's Alive" during the summer and fall. The events range from clown performances to a variety of live music, including jazz and classical.

Big-band dancing, which has drawn as many as several hundred spectators and participants a week, is among the most popular.

Ed Berger, 39, recently moved to the neighborhood from Boston and was enthusiastic about his first taste of the Bethesda community.

The area "tends to look very sterile at first," he said, motioning to construction cranes overhead and yet another building project across the street. "But when you have something like this, it makes it a much more appealing and inviting place."

"These performances make people get to know each other better," agreed dance partner Rosalie Mittleman above the band's whining trombones. "They make people let their hair down and be more friendly."

For Bethesda native Shelley Frandsen, the dancing was an ideal way to celebrate her 25th birthday. But can the 1980s generation appreciate music made popular in the 1930s and '40s?

"I didn't grow up with it," Frandsen said, "but it's classic; it's something we all should know."

Celebrating with a small group of friends in their twenties and seated at the cafe tables lining the dance floor one night this summer, Frandsen said she found the entertainment fun, the atmosphere exciting and the location convenient, especially for birthday dining later.

Even area youth turned out for a taste of the music Tommy Dorsey made famous. "It's kind of old," admitted 13-year-old Magnus Hyera as he swayed to the music in his best Fred Astaire form, "but it's still fun." Hyera, whose music tastes include "rap, soft rock -- actually a lot of rap," was joined by friends who walked in from the nearby suburbs.

Families, too, found their way to the Metro Center Plaza.

Kevin Adams, 33, escorted his 2-year-old daughter Catherine out onto the floor, Dad leading all the way.

And on the sidelines, Martha Young, 33, was content to watch with the rest of her Bethesda clan.

Young liked the "social activity center atmosphere," and said live performances like big-band dancing provide a nice balance to the big-city surroundings. "We even walked through the construction to get here, but this seems to help a lot."

The bulk of the evening's turnout, though, hailed directly from the golden age, when Goodman and Glenn Miller were kings and big-band dancing was truly big.

"We're regulars," said Sam Snyder, 72, with his wife Pat, 67, who outdanced most of the crowd and were reluctant to leave the floor. Dancing is a way of life for the Silver Spring couple. They twirl, side-step and kick with precisioned ease. After enjoying big-band dancing during younger years, they decided to pick it up again after retirement and have been teaching -- three classes and more than two dozen private lessons a week -- for almost 17 years.

"We love this," Sam Snyder said. "People say they like to see the older crowd out and about; we like to see the younger folks giving it a try, and this whole evening, it's simply wonderful."