Not sure what hand dancing is? 2017 may be the year to learn.
The longtime DC-area tradition is making a comeback around the region and has found a niche in Loudoun at the Atlantis event space in Sterling.
Atlantis’ First Friday dance parties draw a crowd of enthusiastic hand dancers—and others looking to enjoy great R&B, Motown and soul music from some of the region’s top disc jockeys. And there are usually hand dancing classes for newbies looking to learn.
First Friday dance parties are just a small part of what’s happening at Atlantis, an event venue and audio-visual production studio near Dulles Town Center. The venue does a bustling business in event rentals for weddings, birthday parties and celebration of life memorial events, and owner Dean Craft, a seasoned audio-visual producer operates a thriving AV production studio in the space.
But last year, Craft and sales director Diane Lorenz were looking to expand entertainment offerings at the space, and the First Friday events were born.
“A lot of our [event rental] bookings happen on Saturdays. Instead of just remaining dark [on Fridays] I said, there’s not a lot of entertainment for adults 30, 40 plus in the area. People have to go to DC and Maryland. There are plenty of bars but not a lot have nice dance music from the ’70s and ’80s,” Craft said.
A form of swing dance, hand dancing’s history goes back to 1920s Washington, and it was recognized by the DC City Council as the city’s official dance in the late 1990s. Known for its signature gliding footwork and continuous hand connection between partners (which gave the dance style its name), hand dancing has returned to the scene in recent years, especially among baby boomers and generation Xers looking for a fun evening with other adults in their 30s and beyond. With a limited range of venues offering hand dancing, Craft said, fans are often willing to travel around the region for an opportunity to strut their stuff. Atlantis’ events draw hand dancers from Maryland, D.C. and beyond—as well as locals.
Atlantis often partners with area nonprofits for its First Friday events, including the Loudoun Chapter of the NAACP and local chapters of historically black fraternities and sororities that operate as service organizations in the county.
Atlantis started out 15 years ago as an AV production space in Sterling known as The Studio and retained that name throughout a series of local moves until last year when Craft bought out a business partner and took over operations on his own. The venue has been in its current location off Atlantic Boulevard for the past seven years.
Craft, a United Kingdom native who studied video production at University of Maryland, worked as a DJ, camera operator and promotions director at the legendary WKYS radio station before launching his own production studio.
“Coming from a background in music, I really have that in my bones. I still like to get out and DJ every once in awhile but I usually have other DJs come in and play,” Craft said.
Lorenz, Craft’s second in command, has a background in cable television marketing and helps run both the event and AV production side of the business. Television production remains a big part of Atlantis’ business. The studio produces former Washington Redskin Tony McGee’s “Pro Football Plus,” which airs on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, along with programs and commercials for a range of government and corporate clients.
But beefing up the entertainment side of things is a goal for the new year for both Craft and Lorenz. The organizers have launched a quarterly comedy night, which Craft plans to ramp up to monthly down the road (the next one is scheduled for March 25). And the collaborators also plan to expand live music offerings in coming months.
For the past few years, the venue has been home to the preliminary rounds of Loudoun Youth’s YouthFest teen Battle of The Bands, a series of fun evenings for all ages as teens compete for the final round held at Leesburg’s Tally Ho Theatre in April. This year, preliminary rounds at Atlantis are scheduled for Friday Jan. 27, Friday, Feb. 24 and Friday, March 24.
Craft has also launched a weekly retro Friday events at nearby Captain Mas restaurant, offering a similar groove to Atlantis’ First Fridays, but with a little more pop and a little less R&B.
[At Captain Mas] you’re probably going to hear Chicago, Foreigner, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye,” Craft said. “[At Atlantis], you’ll probably hear some of the same music, but with Kool and the Gang and Donna Summer.”
And while hand dancing has traditionally been biggest in DC’s African American community, events at Captain Mas and Atlantis have an eclectic, comfortable vibe.
“We want to have it very diverse so we have a mixed crowd. Its nice in this area to intertwine—it makes for a good crowd so everybody’s comfortable,” Lorenz said. “We want to be appealing to everyone.”
Atlantis is at 45449 Severn Way in Sterling. Find more information and a calendar of events at atlantisva.info.
Retro Fridays at Captain Mas takes place every Friday at 9 p.m. at 46303 McClellan Way in Sterling. Admission is free before 10 p.m. and $5 after. Find details at captainmas.com.