Thursday, January 7, 2010

Slow Blues Dancing at Glen Echo Park

Every time new friends visit me from out of town, if the weather is nice, I grab their arms just after dinner and say "I have something to show you." Then I take them in search of my favorite spot in the city, one that comes and goes, kind of like Brigadoon: the swing set outside the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park on live music nights. I like to sit there in the dark, the warm light from inside just barely touching my feet, the occasional couple wandering out to whisper on the deck. I kick off my shoes, listen to the music from the band, watch, swing gently back and forth, say "whee" very quietly, then leave.

It's beautiful. It's also a little creepy. That's why I decided that this week, I was finally going to join the party.*

I picked Slow Blues night on the park calendar for two reasons: 1. it was cheap ($8) and 2. it had the word "slow" in the title, which is unfortunately what most dance teachers assume I am when they try to teach me. With good reason. "Step-tap-step-tap" is a challenge, and most moves more complicated than that result in internal bleeding for me and anyone unfortunate enough to be in a five-foot radius.

But slow blues night will be different! I thought. It's slow! I thought. I hope it's not a deceptive name, I thought. Uh oh, what if it is a deceptive name? I thought. This is a mistake, I thought. I should bail. But no: I'd already Facebook messaged the dance's MC to ask if I could take pictures. I was committed.

I downed two glasses of wine and then headed to David Hankla's house to pump myself up. He was cooking a dish he called the Bacon Explosion. The Bacon Explosion was almost ready, and boy, did it smell nice. He kept opening the oven to check on it. I leaned in to look. Then I gave him a hug, left, and discovered that everything on me, clothes, hair, skin, reeked of bacon. Time to head to Glen Echo by myself for intimate blues dancing cheek to cheek with people who'd never met me and whom I would probably knock unconscious by accident! Yay!

There was a free beginner's lesson before the dance. It started fifteen minutes after I said goodbye to the Bacon Explosion. As I rotated through the circle of other "beginners," most of whom were in fact accomplished swing dancers, I felt a little like this:

Turns out slow blues is kind of like swing, only more improvised, more sensual, slowed down, and (surprise) played to blues jazz. It was not easy. But my partners were all very nice and very patient, even after our initial conversations, which invariably went like this:

Guy: Hi!
Me (grinning maniacally): Hi I should warn you I've never done this before and also am kind of a catastrophe at dancing and also I smell like bacon! All over! Bacon! Sorry!
Me: I'm Anna!
Guy: Just relax.

Relax. Relax. A lot of my partners told me that during the beginner's lesson and later, when the actual dance began. Slow blues isn't really about moves. It's about communicating with your partner through touch, relaxing into his hold, not so much intuiting his next move as being in tune with the gentle touches on your back so that you can make it seem intuitive. (Or, in the case of one of my partners, it's about extensive role play: "okay, close your eyes. It's 1934. New Orleans. There's sand on the floor. Peanut shells. You're poor. Hungry. Gotta pay the bills. And your baby just left you." That's when my eyes snapped open again.)

I stepped on one guy's foot. I accidentally slapped another one in the face. I had a lot of trouble relaxing. I will always have trouble relaxing. But I giggled like an idiot the whole time, made some new friends, and the crowd there, from MC's Mike and Julie on down, seemed genuinely thrilled to welcome a bacon-scented klutz.

If you've ever sat on the swings outside the Spanish Ballroom like me, you should totally step inside.

*Credit to Caitlin Campbell for actually leaping into a contra dance in the Bumper Car Pavilion when I showed her around Glen Echo in 2005.


  1. Victory.

    So what was the problem with the perfume.

    Also, switch to WordPress.

  2. have a way to express in words...I am impressed...

    And You are not bad for the first dance class...

    But I am honor to dance with a professional dance like you in that ballroom...

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