Updated November 2010
The History of D.C. Hand-Dance
Author: Rose A. Manriquez
To significantly cover the history of D.C. Hand-Dance (DCHD), we will identify the critical what, when, who, why and where of the dance as follows:
What Is D.C. Hand-Dance? DCHD is a regional and time-period specific version of the swing/jitterbug. DCHD originated in the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan area (DC, MD and VA) in the early to mid-1950s. Swing dance has existed in many different styles, versions and cultures since swing music began. From its beginning, DCHD was referred to and called “D.C. Hand-Dance/Hand-Dancing,” “D.C. Swing,” “D.C. Style” (swing), “SE Style,” “Queenstown” and “fast dance” (all meaning DCHD). This was the first time a version of “swing” dance was termed “Hand-Dance.” DCHD is characterized by very smooth footwork and movements, and close-in and intricate hand-turns, all danced to a 6-beat, 6 to 8 count dance rhythm. It is a close-contact swing dance. The footwork consists of smooth and continuous floor contact, sliding and gliding-type steps (versus hopping and jumping-type steps, and there were no aerials). Partners generally move to, from, around, and/or in front of each other while executing smooth footwork, hand-turns and other dance moves. The partners’ hands (either one or both) are always joined in some way, thereby called “Hand-Dance.” It is basically a “street” swing dance with an “attitude.” DCHD is ad-libbed and non-choreographed--danced “at and for the moment as the partners’ feelings to the music occur.” This dance is best danced to rhythm and blues (which inspired its beginning, along with rock and roll), or other sensual-type swing music (such as funk, funk or blues rock, big band and beach music). DCHD is a “sensual” swing dance. DCHD has evolved in style, but the smooth footwork and hand-turns to the 6-beat, 6 to 8 count dance rhythms remain the same.
When Did D.C. Hand-Dance Begin? DCHD began in the mid-1950s. DCHD was going on before American Bandstand (Philadelphia, PA), the Milt Grant Show (D.C.) and the Buddy Dean Show (Baltimore, MD) were televised. When these shows were on TV, we would dance along with the dancers (at home) if we couldn’t go ourselves.
Who Began D.C. Hand-Dance? Regional dancers from DC, MD and VA, from all cultures and ethnicities began this version of swing/jitterbug. DCHD is time-period and regional specific. It is also specific to the enthusiastic pre-teens of yesterday and today who love to dance. We are still going strong!
Why D.C. Hand-Dance Began and Why It is Called D.C. Hand-Dance? DCHD began when rock and roll and rhythm and blues music became the craze. A new expression for swing/jitterbug dance began to the rhythmic and sensual music. Rhythm and blues music is “blues” put to expressive and sensual rhythms. Although DCHD was designed for rock and roll, rhythm and blues and funky dance rhythms, this unique swing dance is adaptable to all types of swing dance (and other dance) rhythms. It can be danced to fast, medium and slower dance rhythms. Its unique feature to break-down faster rhythms into what we call “half-time” rhythms allows for great hand-dancing to any and all types of swing and other rhythmic music. Hand-Dancing is so-called because the partners are always “holding or touching” hands in some way throughout their dance together.
Where Was D.C. Hand-Dancing Danced and Where Is It Danced Today? In the mid-1950s, most of us began learning and dancing DCHD (at about the age of 12 or 13) while attending our various area junior high schools. (I began at Paul Junior High School in D.C.) It was more or less learned “on the street” (anywhere possible), and in small gatherings and brought back to the schools. We went to our friends' and our own homes and danced. We would teach our siblings at home and practice with them or our friends. We practiced with doorknobs and doorframes when we were alone. We danced in the gymnasiums and on the ball fields after gym classes and at break times at school. Some assumed “lead” and others assumed “follow” roles. We danced at parties and on “Hot Shoppes” and “Mighty Mo” parking lots. We danced anywhere and anytime we could. All we needed was a loud radio (e.g., car) or record player blasting our favorite music. We danced at area teen clubs and CYO clubs. In the late 1950s, we danced along with the TV dance shows, either in person or at home (since we were all dancing to the same dance beats and rhythms). In the late 1950s and early 1960s, we danced at countless church halls and firehouses, and at various D.C. area landmark armories sponsored by popular DJs (e.g., Don Dillard). In the early 1960s area nightclubs such as the Alpine, Dixie Pig and Lions Den began holding weekly dance contests. (Some of us still have trophies we won.) In the mid-1960s through the late 1980s, many hand-dancers danced at area clubs such as the Starlite, Rand’s, Benny’s, the Hayloft, Rocket Room, Shelter Room, Gus and John’s, Sonny’s Turntable Lounge, the Crossroads and Studebakers. In the 1990s and into the 2000s, popular dance venues include David’s Supper Club, various American Legion and Elks Clubs, Coconuts, Malibu’s, Legends, Mango’s, 94th Aero Squadron, Szechuan’s, Whispers, Tuckers and Coco Cabanas. DCHD is still going strong, and the club has a new venue in Ocean City, MD. Refer to the Club’s website: www.dchanddanceclub.com or call the Hotline at 301-460-0800 for pertinent Club updates and venue information. Many original D.C. Hand-Dancers active in DCHD for 55-plus years remain in or near the D.C. Metropolitan area. We all strive to dance and teach others DCHD, and to enjoy, love and preserve DCHD like we do. It’s our sport!
About the Author: Rose is an American-Spanish-Italian born in Washington, D.C., in the 1940s. She is retired after completing 30 years Federal service and 11 years in private industry. In the mid-1950s, she served as a volunteer Red Cross Nurse’s Aide, and volunteer hostess and worker for the D.C.-based USO (where she was voted Ms. Maryland, USO-D.C. in 1967). She has been dancing DCHD since it began over 55 years ago. Rose is a member of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Hand-Dance Preservation Society, a.k.a. D.C. Hand Dance Club (a name she suggested for the Club in its beginning). She is also a member of the D.C. Hand-Dance Club’s Hall of Fame. Rose originated the “Do It” slogan: “Hand Dancers Do It Holding Hands.“ We sincerely thank Rose for her longtime dedication to hand-dancing and to the D.C. Hand Dance Club.