Back in the woods, off a winding country road in Davidsonville, a bunch of happy people are cutting the rug in the former mess hall of a decommissioned Nike missile base.
It’s good times as usual with the Davidsonville Dance Club, which hosts weekly Saturday night dances, evening lessons during the week and occasional weekend workshops. Founded in 1980, the club’s membership is about 250, equally balanced between men and women.
This Saturday night, instructor Chip Atwood has six dozen dancers gliding across the polished bamboo dance floor to the sensuous rhythms of the bossa nova. Meaning new trend, the bossa nova is a mellow and romantic Brazilian genre blending samba and jazz. It’s a favorite among the stalwarts here tonight, bringing a good turnout for the hour-long lesson introducing two and a half hours of dancing.
Atwood, who is also tonight’s DJ, follows the bossa nova with a country two-step, raising the energy and drawing a few whoops from this otherwise laid-back group. The couples stride across the floor with steps that resemble walking but with more style and attitude.
After a few turns around the air-conditioned hall, several couples are ready for a break. Tonight, as usual, the dancers have brought snacks to share. They fill little plates with fruits, vegetables, sweet breads and cakes and sit and talk around tables at the back of the hall.
For those hearty souls still out on the dance floor, the next number is a nightclub two-step, a slow dance that would not have been out of place in a high school gym back in the day. The dance is smooth and sultry, well suited to love songs and slower ballads. It also shows off to full advantage the finery adorning some of the women dancers, with flouncy dresses, swirly skirts and sparkly jewelry. For many of the women and most of the men, the dress code is strictly casual.
Then Atwood cues a funky West Coast swing number, with heavy percussion and a lot of hip and arm action. Atwood has been playing the tunes for the club since the 1980s. He’s a crowd pleaser who knows his audience.
“That’s the great thing about this club: the teachers,” says member Kathy Pincoffs. “They’re so much fun to dance with, and that’s a great way to learn.”
Another popular instructor is Niss Albaig, who gives occasional weekend workshops on Latin dance. He’s tall and slim with elegant carriage and a long, wavy black ponytail. At a recent workshop, Albaig put about 20 students through their paces on the bachata, a dance that originated in the countryside of the Dominican Republic.
“The bachata is a sensual dance, and the music often portrays overcoming heartbreak as well as celebrating the good things in life,” says club president Elizabeth Matarese, who’s on hand at the workshop to greet the dancers and help them practice their steps.
There are two kinds of bachata: rustic music from the Dominican Republic and urban music, often based on pop hits by artists such as Prince and Michael Jackson. Playing a bit of both, Albaig demonstrates bachata moves — including the Drape, the Windmill and the Sweetheart — and hones students’ technique with the work ethic of a drill sergeant. He’s demanding but patient and kind, so no one feels overwhelmed.
As dancer Donna Larkin notes, the club is a comfortable place to try something new.
“It’s a nice place to learn something and practice it without judgment,” she says.
It’s also a place to build confidence.
“I would try some of it on the dance floor tonight,” says Steve Bishop, a participant in the bachata workshop. “Especially with Elizabeth [Matarese], who knows what she’s doing.”
When you walk into the Saturday night dance, you step into a friendly, relaxed setting where many dancers know each other and routinely dance together. The dancers also are welcoming to newcomers and eager to share their passion for dancing.
“We have mixer dances that get everybody up and dancing,” Matarese says. “Board members make it a point to sit at different tables over the course of the evening and get to know the new people.”
“We’ve been coming to the club for 15 years. It’s fun socially,” says Bob Miller. “The people are nice, friendly and helpful,” notes wife Linda Miller.
Indeed, the social scene is punctuated by some pretty interesting characters. Matarese is a retired pilot and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board Go Team. She’s also a master gardener and devoted fan of Frank Gouin, Bay Weekly’s Bay Gardener.
Curtiss Barrett was a member of the design team for the International Space Station. Now the past president is an advocate for the Davidsonville Dance Club, “My wife and I go on a lot of cruises, where I spread the word around the world,” he says.
At $10, a night on the dance floor with the Davidsonville Dance Club is a bargain. You can learn some fancy new dance steps while getting exercise, having fun, meeting new people and showing off your moves.
“Dancing is mental, physical, artistic and social,” says club member Gaby Hall, an accomplished ice skater as well as an enthusiastic dancer. “I can’t think of any other activity that combines all four of those things.”
Dance parties every Saturday night in Ford Hall, at the Davidsonville Family Recreation Center, 3789 Queen Anne Bridge Rd.. Dancing from 8-10:30pm; a lesson at 7pm is included in the price of admission ($10).
Classes from beginner to intermediate to experienced dancers meet Tuesday through Friday evenings with four different professional instructors: $70 for 8 weeks, plus club membership fee of $10.
Sunday March 26, 2-5pm advanced beginner to intermediate dancers tango with instructor Craig Bukowski: $30: www.davidsonvilledanceclub.org.