Blues in the Night

One of my favorite things about living on the outskirts of DC is turning my back on the city and traveling down back roads through tall trees and deep underbrush as hot, muggy days turn into warm humid nights. The air is heavy with earth, grass, and water, and fireflies blaze valiantly in the immediate sky. Thursday night, I dove into the magic of the early summer night and made my way to Glen Echo for some blues dancing.

Glen Echo was an amusement park dating from the early 1900’s and is now used as an educational facility for arts, dance, and other cultural pursuits. Maintained by a non-profit organization, the park is in amazing condition, and I’ve been swing dancing there many times during the years. But Thursday I was in the mood for the blues. I parked my car, crossed the footbridge into the park, and made my way past carousel, the crystal pool, and the bumper car pavilion to get to the Spanish ballroom.

The blues dancing, hosted by Capital Blues, was in a long, narrow room behind the ballroom and had a fantastic floor. There is a beginner lesson that starts at 8:30 pm and the dancing goes from 9:00 – 11:30 pm. Several DJs took turns throughout the night and the room quickly filled up with people without ever feeling crowded. Having been out of the scene for so long, I was surprised to see two familiar faces. Two older men who terrorize their partners with movements and wandering hands that hint of obscene desires. I long ago learned the danger of pity and turn away from their outstretched hands without any pangs of regret.

In almost every dance scene there is a small circle of dancers who will only dance with people they know, forming a clique that is almost impossible to break into. I hope they do it unconsciously out of a desire for familiarity and security, not out of a distaste for newbies. Thursday, most of the dancers were incredibly generous, dancing with a wide variety of people and having fun with the dancing. No one was taking themselves too seriously.

I had forgotten how much I love blues dancing, the way you can have a wordless conversation with your partner through your fingertips, your stomach, your thighs. On the dimly lit dance floor, the music grips all of us with its magic. As the hours drag on, our hands get softer, our heads start leaning against each other, and it’s easier to surrender to the music.

And then abruptly, the lights go up, and we blink at each other as though waking from a dream, we laugh and change our shoes, wave goodbye and head our separate ways into the dark night. But we know we’ll be back next week and the week after that and the week after that. Because the release we find on that floor, in each other’s arms, is an addiction we just can’t kick.

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