“Teenarama was like American Bandstand for African Americans. We used to go on that show, and have ‘blue light in the basement’ parties, with Chuck Brown and Rare Essence: Live entertainment,” said Karen Day, of Silver Spring. “Hand dance is our culture.”
Hand dance, known as “fast dance” during the Teenarama days, developed in the Washington, D.C. area in the late 1940s and early 1950s, of swing and Lindy Hop dancing from the decade before.
“It was a Washington, D.C. dance, but as people moved out to the suburbs they took it with them,” said Beverly Lindsay-Johnson of Fort Washington, Md., who serves as president of the National Hand Dance Association, an organization which was formed in 1994 to preserve, educate and promote the art form of hand dance.
“We’re not teachers. We’re a resource center and a clearing house for the hand dance culture. We support and help to promote everything within that genre of dance,” Lindsay-Johnson said of the organization.
Today’s hand dancers can learn contemporary moves by taking lessons, which can incorporate a wider range of dance forms. At its roots, though, hand dance has always been something learned at home, among friends.
“Seven sisters, and they all needed someone to dance with. I didn’t want to. I wanted to play basketball. But they told me if I got good they’d take me to parties,” said Baltimore-based Lewis “Butter” Neal, who began dancing competitively at age 15 and now is nationally ranked as a professional dancer. After decades on the floor, he still seeks out inspiration from beyond the hand dance world. “I learn about dance from everybody, and I put everything into it.”
When he’s not performing or competing, Neal teaches hand dance and other dance genres out of his Baltimore studio. But when he just wants to have a good time, he comes to VFW Post 9619 on Suitland Road in Morningside, Md.
The Morningside VFW hosts hand dancing every Sunday and Thursday evening. Manager Pat Sebrell said that Sunday nights often draw a crowd of 300 dancers, while Thursdays might attract only half that number, making space on the dance floor for lessons and line dancing as well.
“This VFW is one of the only places where old school and new school hand dancers come together--usually they don’t--under the same roof, and have a good evening,” said Lindsay-Johnson.
“Old school” hand dance, of the sort learned by that first generation of Teenarama-inspired dancers who practiced at home, sometimes using their bedroom doorknob as a stopgap dance partner, “includes kicks, leg lifts, skipping, hopping and a little bit of wiggle,” said Day. “The music predicts the step. New style is very controlled. You can almost predict the next step.”
Day insists that “old school” hand dance can’t really be taught.
“It’s a culture. It’s unspoken. It’s a style of a music with a beat. You can’t hand dance to just anything,” Day said. “There are people who are being taught, but some things you can’t teach, like all that smooth stuff.”
“That smooth stuff” makes hand dancing a romantic, sexy and intimate way of dancing, whether the music is from the WOOK days or straight off of today’s playlists.
“All the signals are done through the hand. When a man asks me to dance, if he grabs my hand wrong I won’t dance with him. The man controls the dance and gives the signals to the lady, through the hands,” said Day. “When a man turns and his back is to his partner, and she slides her hand down his back and he catches it--that’s old school.”
Leo Frazier of Gaithersburg, Md. has been old-school hand dancing since he was 10 or 11 years old, thanks to his nine female cousins.
“One of them always would say, ‘Come on, let’s dance,” said Frazier. Last year, he took a year off from the dance floor after losing both of his lower legs to diabetes-related complications.
“I lost my legs, one in September and the other in December. I had to learn to walk again, and then to dance again,” Frazier said. “First, I danced like I was new to it, and then like an old man. I’m finally dancing like myself, again.”
The atmosphere at the VFW on hand dancing nights seems far from the stereotypical VFW full of heavy drinkers sitting at the bar. It’s more like prom, with a crowded dance floor and people eager to dance.
“People come here to get a workout, catch up with friends. People bring their wives, or come to meet girls. It’s a very positive place. The people here are very open to anybody.” said Neal. “We have all kinds of people here, but it’s mostly an over-40 crowd. People know how to act.”
Want to try your hand? Tonight, 8 p.m. - midnight, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Department of Parks and Recreation - Prince George’s County, in association with the National Hand Dance Association, will host “Winter White Out” at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.
Clubs across Prince George’s County and into Washington, D.C. have hand dancing nights, sometimes with lessons. Hand dancers are a dedicated bunch, with many out dancing just about any night of the week. The National Hand Dancing Association web site lists the following classes and clubs for potential hand dancers:
Bernard & Bobby
Dancin’ To The Oldies
Knights of Columbus
3611 Stewart Road
Doors Open 6 p.m.
Admission - $7.00
DJ’s Addie and Peaches
BYOL - 50/50 Raffle-Door Prizes
Light Buffet, Free Set Ups - Ample Parking
Contact: Bernard 301-949-1395
S & S Productions Presents - Old School House Party Marygolds
8827 Annapolis Road
6 p.m. - until
Free before 7 p.m.- $3 after 7 p.m.
Music by DJs Disco Bird and Ron V
Contact: Shorte 202-431-2930
Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday
7350 Temple Hill Road
Temple Hills, MD 20748
6 p.m. - 10 p.m.
DJ Lady D - Featuring DJ Lady JC
Admission $6.00 Tuesday - $8.00 Sunday
Half Note Lounge
4881 Glenn Dale Road
Complimentary Buffet, Music by Lady JC
No Cover Charge
Hand Dance Classes 5 p.m. - 6 p.m. every Wednesday For additional information call 301-423-0963 Getting Over The Hump Wednesdays
6 p.m. - 10 p.m.
DJ Ron V
Oldies But Goodies, Line Dancing, Hand Dancing, Cash Bar Buffet While It Lasts The Elks Lodge
7350 Temple Hills Road
Temple Hills MD, 20748
Contact: Paul 301-775-6174
Local Celebrity Banquet Hall
8759 Landover Road (across from the former Landover Mall) Landover, Md.
Music by Jas. Funk & Friends
Bid Whist & Spades Card Players
BYOL, Free Set Ups, Free Parking
5 p.m. - 6 p.m. Free Admission
After 6 p.m. - $7.00
Contact: DJ Fats B 240-417-6386
The Vie de France After Hours Lounge
Capital Gallery Building
600 Maryland Avenue S.W.,
5 p.m - 9 p.m.
Hand Dance and Line Dance Music by Dr. Nick Free Admission
Tradewinds Restaurant and Lounge
5 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.
5859 Allentown Way
Camp Springs, MD 20748
Free Admission, DJ Bird and DJ Swami
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
3439 Benning Road N.E.
Thursday - 6 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Friday - 5 p.m. - 3 a.m. (Happy Hour 6 p.m. - 7 p.m.) Saturday - 9 p.m. - 3 a.m.
Sunday - 7 p.m. - 1 a.m.
Mu-Zic Mistro & Company
Silver Spring Moose Lodge 658
4343 Sandy Spring Road (Rte 198)
7 p,m. - 12 a.m.
Music by DJ Mistro
Old School, R&B and Hand Dance
Open Mic 7 p.m. - 8 p.m.
2820 Bladensburg Road, N.E.
6 p.m. - until
DJ Lady D
5 p.m. - 9 p.m. (Hand Dance/Line Dance)
725 Cady Drive
Fort Washington, Md.
DJ Mac Attack
The “P” Club
5 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
6290 Arlington Boulevard
Falls Church, Va.
Cover Charge $5.00
DJ Anthony “Bucky” Beale
Contact: Jacque Ballard 202-437-3145
VFW Post 9619
6527 Suitland Road, Morningside, Md.
DJ Disco Bird
6 p.m. - 10 p.m.
The Elks Lodge
7350 Temple Hill Road
Temple Hills Md.
DJ Lady D
The Sunday Night Party
4 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Lamont’s Entertainment Complex
4400 Livingston Road
4 p.m.-6 p.m., DJ Dr. Nick plays Southern Soul and hand dancing music.
6 p.m., The Hardway Connection Band plays R&B.
8 p. m. - midnight, Dr. Nick plays oldies hand dance EXCLUSIVELY in the MOTOWN ROOM.
5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
2625 Washington Blvd, Baltimore, Md.
DJs Sir Charles and Lady T
Featuring Hand Dancing, Line Dancing,
Chicago Steppin’, Free Style & Karaoke
Cash Bar, food menu
For more information call
DJ Sir Charles - 410-206-3082