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D.C. ban on wedding dancing gets chilly reception from couples

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After rescheduling their nuptials twice, Tory Waltrip and her new husband were looking forward to celebrating their union at a June reception in D.C.

But after Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) issued a new pan­demic-related order last week banning dancing at weddings, Waltrip rethought the party they had booked, complete with a soul band, for 60 guests at Meridian House.

“We already rescheduled and revamped so many times I didn’t even want to start that process,” said Waltrip, 29, a native of Fairfax, Va., now living in Seattle. “We’re basically just June or bust.”

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Under Bowser’s order, issued April 26 and effective May 1, guests at weddings and other one-time events must remain seated and socially distanced from one another or other household groups. “Standing and dancing receptions are not allowed,” the order says.

The prohibition means no line dancing, no father-daughter dance and no mingling at cocktail hour, leaving a conga line of brides, grooms and assorted guests of honor in limbo.

The mayor’s spokeswoman said dancing was effectively banned at these events before the order, due to physical distancing requirements already in place — but the latest order explicitly prohibited getting down.

The move comes as other states, such as New Jersey and Ohio, are loosening restrictions on social gatherings as more people get vaccinated. New Jersey will reopen dance floors at private catered events beginning Friday, “with masking and social distancing requirements in place, meaning groups would have to stay six feet apart on the dance floor.”

Now, some in the nation’s capital are canceling or postponing events altogether, while others are scrambling to move their special day to Virginia or Maryland, where guests are free to cut loose — albeit masked and distanced.

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“This really just completely blindsided us,” said wedding planner Stephanie R. Sadowski.

Sadowski said she is working with a couple to move their wedding from D.C. to Virginia because of the dancing ban and is exploring moving other weddings, as well — a process that can mean changing already negotiated deals with vendors for catering, lighting, music, drapery, transportation and more. Both Virginia and Maryland have capacity restrictions for weddings, but neither state mentions dancing in their pandemic orders.

The new rule has inspired more than one “Footloose” reference, comparing D.C. to the small town that bans dancing in the 1984 Kevin Bacon film.

Jimmy Fallon made it part of his Tuesday night monologue. “So if you’ve planned a big choreographed dance, the mayor of D.C. just did you a huge favor,” the television host quipped, adding the move made it feel like the summer of 1952.

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Bowser said she hoped the ban on dancing would be short-lived. It is in effect until the end of the public health emergency — which ends May 20 but will probably be extended — or until she amends the provision.

“Every day that we have, we’re getting more and more people vaccinated, which is getting us closer to not needing those restrictions,” she said in a news conference Wednesday.

Bowser said instead of the dancing ban, people should focus on the part of her order that expands the capacity at venues to 250 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever is fewer.

Asked whether she worries that the District will lose wedding business to the suburbs in the meantime, Bowser said her responsibility is the city, not its neighbors.

“I’m the mayor of Washington, D.C. I work with our public health experts to make the decisions that are best for Washington, D.C. We require seated receptions . . . that is what the public health experts say is safest for us right now,” she said.

Rural Maryland and Virginia counties were once ahead in vaccinations. Not anymore.

Public health experts say the D.C. ban is rooted in science.

Lynn R. Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, said virus-laden droplets have a better chance of spreading when people are in close contact during activities such as dancing.

“Coming in closer to each other is of more concern than touching because it is the airborne transmission you worry about,” Goldman said. “And masks aren’t perfect. You create more droplets [when] you’re breathing heavy or exercising.”

The order is silent on how the ban will be enforced but says violators are subject to civil fines or could lose their licenses to operate.

Philip Dufour, whose company produces events for corporate and nonprofit clients, said colleagues have told him that they are letting clients out of contracts because venues can no longer allow dancing. “It’s a real mess,” he said.

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He acknowledged there’s some frivolity associated with party planning, but after more than a year of lockdown, he said, people need human interaction — and not via Zoom.

“Events are not just events,” he said. “People have events for a reason, and the reasons are often personal and professional. People miss interacting. They want to be with each other.”

Waltrip said she wanted to hold her reception in the District instead of, say, a Virginia winery because there is much to enjoy about the nation’s capital. Had she gone the Virginia route, she now realizes, the event would have gone on as planned.

She and her husband ended up having a small legal ceremony in a family backyard in August, but she had planned to wear her white wedding dress for the first time at their big D.C. reception June 19.

Now, she said, she’s thinking of donating it — or saving it to wear for an anniversary.

“But that seems kind of sad,” she said.

Julie Zauzmer, Michael Brice-Saddler and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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