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The Art Nouveau–themed Josephine (1008 Vermont Ave., NW; 202-347-8601; josephinedc.com) feels as if it belongs in London or Miami. Beyond the velvet rope, corseted bartenders and beautiful people get down to an imaginative soundtrack—anything from old-school house classics to Jay-Z. For those who want a table, it’s a minimum of $500.
Chic clubbers also head to the Park at 14th (920 14th St., NW; 202-737-7275; theparkatfourteenth.com), a loungy wood-and-glass-paneled space with four levels and several balconies where you can see and be seen. The bar downstairs serves good snacks such as sliders and spinach dip. Make a reservation to get in, or arrive early and dress well.
At Gate 54, the basement lounge in Café Saint-Ex (1847 14th St., NW; 202-265-7839; saint-ex.com), DJs spin a mix of international, Motown, and electronica for a crowd of twenty- and thirtysomethings. You and your date can sip cocktails at one of the small tables lining the walls of this aviation-inspired space before hitting the dance floor.
Or head a few doors down to the Black Cat (1811 14th St., NW; 202-667-4490; blackcatdc.com). Mousetrap, a quirky Britpop music night, runs regularly in the indie-rock club’s Mainstage area, but it can be hit or miss. We prefer to boogie down at Backstage—the Black Cat’s warehouse-like space—where DJs feature everything from ’80s alternative to punk. Equally great are the occasional “vs.” nights, which mix music from two or three legendary artists—Prince vs. Outkast was a recent example—in a mash-up everyone can sing along to.
Die-hard dancers will find funk, soul, go-go, and more at the popular Fatback (fatbackdc.com) party. Thrown the third Saturday of each month at Liv, inside Bohemian Caverns (2001 11th St., NW; 202-299-0800; livdc.com), it’s hosted by a group of seven rotating spin masters. The event is frequently touted as one of the most energetic dance parties in Washington.
The legendary Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park (7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo; 301-634-2222; glenechopark.org) still dominates the local swing scene. Every Saturday night from 9 till midnight, 500 people jump, jive, and boogie-woogie to live music in the cavernous hall with feet-friendly sprung-wood floors but no heating or air-conditioning. Lessons for beginners are from 8 to 9.
Friday nights, the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport (13869 Park Center Rd., Herndon; 703-478-2900; gottaswing.com) has live music, lessons, and open dancing. For a more formal venue—think Rainbow Room—the Carlyle Club (411 John Carlyle St., Alexandria; 703-548-8899; thecarlyleclub.com), with its dark-leather banquettes and Art Deco atmosphere, is the place for 1940s-style dinner and dancing to big-band music, often by national acts.
Cuban, or casino-style, salsa—often danced in a “rueda” circle with other couples—builds such a sense of camaraderie that instructor Barbara Bernstein sometimes uses this Latin dance as a team-building program for groups of colleagues. You don’t need to be an athletic or flashy dancer to get the hang of Cuban salsa—you just need rhythm. You’ll often find rueda circles amid the open dancing at the Salsa Room (2619 Columbia Pike, Arlington; 703-685-0790; thesalsaroom.net)— formerly Cecilia’s—where salsa classes take place several nights a week and rueda lessons Fridays at 8.
Adams Morgan’s Habana Village (1834 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-462-6310; habanavillage.com) is another popular club for salsa dancing of all styles and levels, with lessons Wednesday through Saturday 7:30 to 9 and Sunday 6:30 to 8:30. Clarendon Grill (1101 N. Highland St., Arlington, 703-524-7455; cgrill.com) is a lively Monday-night salsa spot.
The calendar at the Chevy Chase Ballroom (5207 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-363-8344; chevychaseballroom.com) features all sorts of dancing, including rueda, every Sunday, with beginner lessons at 5 and dancing at 7.
Dance Bethesda (8227 Woodmont Ave., Suite 2A, Bethesda; 301-951-3660; dancebethesda.com), another studio for ballroom dancing, hosts salsa parties the first Saturday of the month, with one room dedicated to Cuban.
You may not want to tackle tango on a first date. This Latin style is so intimate that some instructors put couples forehead to forehead to teach the moves. But for those who are game, beginner classes take place every Wednesday at 7:30 at Divino Lounge & Restaurant (7345-B Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 240-497-0300; divinolounge.com). Unlike many dance places, this chic Argentine eatery and lounge has great food and a good South American wine list, so a dance-and-dinner date is a natural.
Two other restaurants feature tango on Monday nights: CocoCabana Bar & Grill (2031-A University Blvd., Hyattsville; 301-431-1882; cococabanagrill.com), with its disco ball, spicy Latin menu, and tango lessons and dancing from 7 to midnight, and Mezè (2437 18th St., NW; 202-797-0017; mezedc.com), a Turkish restaurant and night spot in Adams Morgan where tango classes and dancing go from 7 to closing.
The tango scene shifts to Eastern Market’s North Hall (Seventh St. and North Carolina Ave., SE; 202-698-5253) for Thursday-night milongas, or tango parties, with beginner lessons at 7.
Two dance floors, live country music, karaoke, pool tables, dance lessons, and one large circular bar add up to Nick’s (642 S. Pickett St., Alexandria; 703-751-8900; nicksnightclub.com), an Alexandria honky-tonk tucked among the body shops and storage facilities of an industrial park. Nick’s offers lessons in country line dancing every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:45, and couples dancing—two-step and cha-cha—Tuesday and Friday at 7:45. Country bands on Friday and Saturday and occasionally Tuesday take over at 9, when two-steppers and line dancers get to show off their moves.
A friendly gay spot for country dancing is Remingtons (639 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-543-3113; remingtonswdc.com). Two-step and other couples-dance lessons are Monday at 8:30, line-dance lessons Wednesday at 8:30. Friday and Saturday are the big nights for open dancing. Remingtons attracts mostly men, but women are welcome.