- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2001


Dance Place is seeking to spruce up Malcolm X Park — with dance.
Washington Parks & People and Dance Place will hold a 10-week session of movement and dance in the ballroom at the historic Josephine Butler Parks Center, which overlooks Malcolm X Park, also known as Meridian Hill Park.
"The whole house has been renovated," says Hermione Rhones, 34, who directs youth programs for Dance Place. "We actually did a performance there two years ago, and we used the exact same room that we're going to use for the dance classes as a warm-up room before we went into the park.
"At that point, the room was a wreck. It looks great now."
Washington Parks & People staffers refer to the 18,000-square-foot, 40-room center as "a greenhouse for revitalizing urban neighborhoods." Built in 1927, the ornate Renaissance Revival mansion once was the Hungarian Embassy; now it houses 13 nonprofit organizations that work with the community.
Washington Parks & People is a hybrid that includes the Friends of Meridian Hill, Friends of D.C. Parks and the Potomac Parks. Its mission is "to reconnect communities with public green space," Director Steve Coleman says.
The Josephine Butler Parks Center is named for the late co-chairman of Friends of Meridian Hill. Washington Parks paid $876,000 for it; Mr. Coleman calls that sum "deeply discounted" thanks to the cooperation of participating banks and the city, which forgave back taxes on the building.
"Similar to Meridian Hill, it was falling apart and forgotten," Mr. Coleman says. "We brought in more than 1,000 volunteers with 16,000 hours of volunteer sweat to reclaim it."
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One "Dancing in the Park" class, teaching basic creative movement, will be for children and adults. The other will be just children.
"The challenge for me on the first day is to keep everybody moving," says Ms. Rhones, snapping her fingers, "get everybody interested and interested fast. If you leave people sitting around too long they'll say, 'Oh, this isn't a fun dance class.'"
On the first day, she likes to get the beginners in a circle, playing "the name game," by rhythmically tapping out the person's name. When the name is called, the person has to run around the circle, with Ms. Rhones commanding whether to run, skip, gallop or jump. It's also a way to learn everybody's name.
She then will have the students do movements across the floor so Ms. Rhones can see what she has to work with. Props such as balls and scarves come into play.
"As I see what people can do," Ms. Rhones says, "we'll start to build our piece, based on what everyone can do."
No decision has been made as to what part of Malcolm X Park will be used as their performance space.
Dance Place, in the Brookland area of Northeast, performs 10- to 15-week programs on both an in-reach and outreach basis. In-reach programs are held at Dance Place, for free to District public schools. Outreach programs go to 12 schools, such as Marriott public charter school, Piney Branch Elementary and St. Augustine, with "more and more every year," Ms. Rhones says.
"Our biggest problem is we don't have enough teachers to answer all the requests we have," she says.
WHAT: "Dancing in the Park"WHERE: The Josephine Butler Parks Center, 2437 15th St. NWWHEN: Saturdays, beginning Jan. 20 through March 24. Adults and children, 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; children, 10:30 a.m.PRICE: $80 for one class per week, $150 for two classes per weekPHONE: 202/269-1900


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