With all of the dating and social media apps out there, do people even make friends offline anymore? As it turns out, yes, plenty of Washingtonians still do — and they’re showing off their best dance moves while doing it.
D.C.’s social dance scene offers an abundance of classes and events where you can practice your do-si-do, master your tango moves or try to one-up Shakira with your best hip-shaking salsa dance — and meet new and interesting people in the process.
“You feel a rhythm of the human spirit when you have people all dancing together,” says Don Fahey, publicist and a co-organizer of the DC Square Dance Collective. “It’s really something special.”
Even if you’re a novice with two left feet, there’s a place in the world of social dancing for anyone who’s interested in giving it a whirl — or a twirl. Here are four ways to take the first step.
Tango generally has very defined roles, with a man leading a woman through the partner-based dance. Queer Tango is on a mission to erase those gender norms.
“We emphasize giving people the opportunity to dance with whoever they want,” says Liz Sabatiuk, who runs the Queer Tango program at nonprofit arts education studio Tango Mercurio. “The point is to not be constrained to your gender identity or biological sex.”
Sabatiuk began the weekly program last September with the intent of making tango more accessible to D.C.’s LGBTQ community. Classes are held Thursday nights at Columbia Heights’ BloomBars (3222 11th St. NW; 7 p.m., $20 per class or $100 for six classes), where anyone, regardless of dance experience, can learn the fundamentals of tango. Dancers who want to get in a little more practice can stay an hour after class to master their technique. You don’t need to bring a partner — all that’s required is a willingness to get close with your neighbor, and comfy shoes that don’t stick on the floor (Sabatiuk suggests dancers wear just socks if they don’t have shoes that fit the bill).
DC Square Dance Collective
Perhaps dancing isn’t your strong suit and you need someone to guide you every step of the way. At DC Square Dance Collective’s events, callers instruct and prompt the dancers through a series of moves as you swing around your partner and do-si-do to old-timey music played by a live string band.
The collective hosts its recurring Great American Square Dance Revival events at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church (the dances typically draw 200 people, many young professionals in their 20s and 30s), in addition to smaller events throughout the year.
The dances are organized, but offer enough wiggle room for improvisation, according to Fahey, the publicist.
“There’s a looseness to square dance — if some dancers are a little slower than others, or are off the beat, it’s OK,” he reassures.
You also don’t have to show up with a partner in order to join in on the fun. The next opportunity for you to try out your moves is the collective’s annual Dare to Be Square DMV festival (Prince William Forest Park, Cabin Camp 4, 16180 Pleasant Road, Dumfries, Va.; May 17-19, $25-$70). The three-day event features dance workshops; live performances from acts such as The Black Twig Pickers and Tui; and, of course, plenty of dancing.
For five years, Earl Rush spent his weekends trekking from D.C. to New York City and Philadelphia to dance at the liveliest salsa parties he could find. Eventually, his stamina for traveling wore thin, as did his hopes that his ideal party would materialize in D.C. So he took matters into his own hands and started StuckOnSalsa in 2003.
The 63-year-old salsa instructor hosts weekly parties at Mix Bar and Grille (8241 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.-midnight, free), Alba Osteria (425 I St. NW; Fridays, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., $10-$15) and Lucky Strike (701 Seventh St. NW; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.-1 a.m., $7-$14.50).Beginners can take a one-hour salsa crash course before hitting the dance floor for the open dance. DJs supply the music as dancers work their best moves.
“I specialize in teaching people with two left feet, no rhythm at all and with no experience whatsoever,” Rush says. “If they really want to learn, by the end of the beginner’s class they’ll be able to participate by dancing the basics of salsa.”
Rush also hosts special events throughout the year, such as Salsa on the Mall, which will take place near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday. For that event, there will be midday (11:15 a.m.-2 p.m.) and evening (5-8 p.m.) parties where Rush will teach a quick beginner’s course for salsa newbies before the DJs and dance performers kick off the festivities.
Capital City Swing
Attempting to do the Lindy Hop or the Balboa sounds terrifying for someone who’s not an experienced dancer, but Capital City Swing artistic director Gretchen Midgley insists the moves are easier to master than you’d think.
“Both dances are very social — you’re dancing with a partner to upbeat, fun jazz music and getting quick and to-the-point instruction,” she says, referring to the nonprofit organization’s classes. “[Swing is] an easy dance to pick up in half an hour to an hour.”
Compared to other forms of dance, swing is one of the most social. There’s no need to bring a partner — dancers typically rotate partners throughout each class, which provides ample opportunity to meet people. The best footwear is flat, comfortable shoes with traction — sneakers such as Converse or Keds will do the trick. Capital City Swing offers three classes every Wednesday at Dumbarton House (2715 Q St. NW; $20 per class or $115 for a six-week course) that cover the Lindy Hop (an East Coast swing dance) and the Balboa (a West Coast swing dance).
A 30-minute beginner’s drop-in class also takes place every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., in addition to a social dance with a live band from 9 to 11:30 p.m. If you can’t make it on Wednesdays, Capital City Swing hosts a social dance on the first Friday of each month at Catholic University of America’s Caldwell Hall (including one this Friday, 8:30 p.m.-midnight, $20).