- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So you think you can dance? If you don’t know the jitterbug from a jete, you may want to trade in those two left feet before you hit the inaugural ball floor.

“So many people are going to the balls, and they don’t want to sit this one out. They want to be up and dancing,” says Sally Skislak, manager of the Dance Factory in North Arlington.

Every four years, inaugural balls are events where political animals turn into party animals, but somehow the tradition of dance fell by the wayside. Not so this year.

Due to the magnitude of this inauguration, Ms. Skislak says her dance studio is offering special lessons for inaugural ball attendees who “don’t want to sit around and wait for the president to arrive.”

The lessons, two sessions for $79, won’t turn you into Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers but will teach “survival dances” — basic moves that can be used at any formal event.

Chris Thompson, dance director at the Dance Factory, says the inaugural-ball-bound should stick with “box-step” dances, such as the waltz and fox trot to avoid tripping over themselves and innocent bystanders.

“The thing we try to teach is that because the balls can be so crowded, you need to be aware of your space and dance frame so you are not a hazard in a tight space,” he says.

In addition to basic moves and dance etiquette, the Dance Factory tries to instill “good posture and confidence,” he says.

Overall, Mr. Thompson says, his inaugural students just want some reassurance for the big night, and want to feel prepared in case their dance card gets filled.

“There’s nothing worse than being dressed to the nines, but dancing to the twos,” he says.

Peter DiMuro, director of Dance Metro DC says people should not feel confined by the formality of ballroom dancing.

“Ballroom dancing was created during a time when there were defined gender roles. The man led, and the woman followed. Now people need to lighten up. Anything goes,” he says.

Indeed, even ball organizers are encouraging ball-goers’ happy feet.

“At the heart of every person is the desire to dance,” says Michael Lovitt, chairman of Tuesday’s NAACP Ball. Mr. Lovitt expects the nearly 400 attendees at his ball to be bustin’ a move, not passing around business cards.

“Balls can be boring things to go to. There’s a lot of glad-handing and waiting around,” he says.

Mr. Lovitt says he is hiring dance instructors to be on hand at the ball for sheepish ballgoers who may be reluctant to boogie.

“We wanted to follow the path of the traditional ball and have dancing. Our ball will stand out from the others in this way,” he says.

Christine Stonemartin, a modern dance instructor at the Washington School of Ballet, says the inauguration balls will make people appreciate dance as an art form.

“I think people are going to be encouraged to take a dance class or try something new. A lot of people take dance as children and then drop it,” she says.

Like a “Dancing with the Stars” judge, Mr. Thompson has some words of wisdom: “Keep it simple and short. Stand tall and watch where you put your hands. People will be watching.”

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