Management consultant Osborn Nejo of Beltsville took a sip of his drink as he perused the dance floor, taking in the beautiful women bobbing and dipping as Mary Mary's "Shackles" blared from the sound system.
Nearby, Yolanda Lenzy, 26, a recent University of Maryland medical school graduate, also was taking a respite. A few minutes earlier, she had boogied down in the Soul Train line, a vision in silver satin with arms flailing.
It was Saturday night, and the mood in the Regency Ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Northwest Washington was right for a party. There were elegant women in Ferragamo and Versace and handsome men in Adolfo and Ralph Lauren. The 300 revelers, who paid $75 each, dined on turkey, fruit and cheesecake.
But some things were different about this party. The drinks were nonalcoholic and the music was gospel, albeit the foot-stomping, finger-popping variety often confused with secular songs. The crowd did the Glory Strut, as well as the Cha Cha and the Electric Slide, and there was no slow dancing.
Like thousands of others who headed to Washington area hot spots Saturday night, the partygoers at the Omni Shoreham came to dance, meet new friends and maybe get hooked up. But make no mistake: The main aim of this gathering was getting down in the name of God.
"I'm having a great time," said Ensign Yorel Hickerson, 24, who drew admiring glances in his Navy dress whites. "I learned the Glory Strut. There were only, like, three guys out there, so I had a great time!"
The black-tie affair, known as the King's Ball, was started four years ago -- by members of the singles ministry at Hope Christian Church in Lanham -- as an opportunity for Christian singles to have fellowship in a nontraditional setting.
The guests ranged in age from twenties to the too-old-to-want-to-tell, and included members of several local churches and people from North Carolina and New York.
"It's a Christian atmosphere, but at the same time, it's not a churchy atmosphere," said Patricia Johnson, pastor of New Hope's singles program. "There are not a lot of social outlets for single people to get together for the purpose of dating and encouragement. We are trying to walk the Christian walk, and in order to do that, you need that support from people who have similar values."
Under a giant black-and-gold banner emblazoned with "The King's Ball: A Celebration of Christian Singles," the revelers danced to tunes spun by DJ Edifier (aka Aaron Williams), 40, under the guidance of MC Big Cire (aka Eric Hines), 35. Hines patrolled the dance floor with a hand-held microphone, exhorting the dancers to "scream!" Throughout the evening, he kept the crowd praising at the top of their lungs.
"When I say, 'Freeze!' FREEZE!" Hines yelled into the microphone as Detrick Haddon's song "Oh Yeah!" blared from the speakers and dancers crowded onto the floor.
"Hold it right there! Hold it right there!
"This is a Holy Ghost exclusive party, y'all! In JEEE-ZUS's name!"
Although the event's emphasis was on dancing and praising, there was also a mood of "maybe tonight" in the room. Many said the party was an opportunity to meet someone they could relate to.
"It can be difficult dating as a Christian," said Lenzy, of New Carrollton. "Usually the barrier is when I tell men that I am waiting until I am married to have sex. They say they respect it, and I think they do, but then they believe they will be the one to change your mind."
Jeffrey Sanders, 41, a real estate agent from Fort Washington, said abstinence makes dating difficult for Christian men, as well. He noted that there were far more women than men in the ballroom -- the ratio appeared to be about 5 to 1.
"The ratio here is no different than it is in church, but if we are truly walking the walk, there should be some integrity and character about us that is reflected in what we do," he said. "I'm not interested in the game. I'm open to a committed relationship towards marriage."
Johnnie Cusack, 37, a District resident who works for the Justice Department, agreed. "I just like to have fun. It is a nice change from the club scene. Nobody has a hidden agenda, and I am not trying to see how many phone numbers I can get," he said.
Several partygoers said the paucity of men was a problem.
"It is a nice event -- there just needs to be a more mixed crowd," said Zaneta Vaughn, 34, a divorced Federal Bureau of Prisons case manager who traveled from Durham, N.C. "For a black woman, it is hard finding a mate if you want to stay within your race."
Planners included games to encourage conversation, including one in which puzzle-piece halves were passed out and people had to find the other half by introducing themselves around the ballroom. "I'm looking for my better half!" quipped Mary Willis, a data-entry worker from Upper Marlboro.
As the hour drew late, people were connecting with other singles. Nejo, who was attending the ball for the second time, said he was hopeful that he had made a connection with Upper Marlboro kindergarten teacher Rosalyn Snyder after dancing with her several times.
"She was very friendly and she had the most beautiful smile," he said. "Her smile is what drew me to her. I asked her what she was looking for in a man, and she said one who was in the right standing with God. I liked that. I'm definitely interested in seeing her again."
Sharon Prather, a legal secretary and author from Olney, gave the event high marks. "I love the Lord but I still like to have a good time," she said.