Photograph by Jeff Martin.
It’s a keeper of a Washington party when the after-dinner band is soulful and kicking it, the publisher of the Washington Post is among those dirty dancing, and your dinner partner reveals she’s bucking to become one of the city’s first weed merchants. We expected nothing less from the annual Kennedy Center gala for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. For 13 years it has maintained a standard of beguiling fun. Before dinner there was sensational dancing on the stage of the Opera House and, after dinner, a dancing sensation among the more than 800 rollicking guests.
The evening began at 7 PM with the sold-out show. Tickets for the benefit started at $500 and went up to $25,000. The acclaimed New York–based troupe performed “Arden Court,” “Home,” “Takademe,” and “Revelations.” First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, were in the audience, though they stayed pretty much in their box and did not linger for the after-dinner hoopla. It was a school night, after all, but also, notably, the first time Mrs. Obama has attended the event as First Lady.
As soon as the show was over, guests in black-tie attire filed along the red carpets before ducking into the elevators to get up to the roof, where they were instantly and irresistibly put in a dancing mood by the horn section and the soaring voices of Free Spirit. Many hit the dance floor before heading to their assigned tables for dinner. Just as the meal was served, Alvin Ailey artist director Robert Battle led his dancers through the three rooms, in a procession of physical beauty and grace that left us mere Washington mortals breathless, picking at our salads and wondering if we should eschew the beef and have the salmon instead, or maybe just fast.
It’s not every day that you ask the dinner partner on your right, a well-dressed and well-coiffed woman of a certain age, “What do you do?” and receive the reply, “I plan to start a marijuana dispensary. I’m waiting to find out if I get a license, and that will be at the end of this month.” Her name is Francine Levinson, and she is not the least bit shy about wanting to be in the vanguard of the Washington medical marijuana industry.
“I grew up in the business world,” she shared. “My mother was a liquor dealer on Capitol Hill—Congressional Liquors—and my father was an automobile dealer at North Capitol and H streets. To me, marijuana is a well-needed drug. It’s gonna be hard to make money the first year, but then . . . ” Levinson said she is partnering with three other “extraordinary” women in a business they will call the Greenhouse, and her son-in-law will be the manager. She already has a location in Northwest, near Seventh and Q streets, and is anxiously awaiting the next steps: making the finals list, getting approval from the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and opening for business.
Is she familiar with the merchandise? “Yes,” said Levinson, “I’ve tried all the products.” They have lined up a grower who will also make baked goods and other marijuana edibles, though Levinson “prefer[s] to smoke it.” I couldn’t help but ask what kind of reaction she gets from her circle of friends and acquaintances. “All my friends think it’s great,” she said. “But what they say behind my back—who knows?”
Levinson and her husband, Mel, then headed to the dance floor, joining the hosts of our table, George and Trish Vradenburg. Also at the table were Joan Nathan, Alan Gerson, Ray and Nina Benton, Feyi Garber, and Prita Kidder. I’m not sure if everyone danced, but it was near impossible to resist. I don’t know if it’s the water, the wine, the music, the spirit (or all combined), but this always seems to be a party at which Washington lowers its conservative veneer and cuts loose. People dance with their spouses, their friends, and alone, and they dance close and passionately.
Which brings us to Katharine Weymouth, the Post publisher and a long-term patron of Alvin Ailey. She looked stunning in a sleek gold sheath and stilettos, and she and a couple of girlfriends were quick to the dance floor and seemed very much into the music and one another’s company. Why not? No doubt she already knew that this morning the paper would announce a round of staff buyouts and—like New England Patriots Brad Gronkowski and Wes Welker, who were spotted dancing fiercely after their Super Bowl defeat—she needed to blow off some steam. This was the place.
Nearby was event cochair Lyndon Boozer of AT&T. With his unbridled energy, he’s a dance party even when he’s standing still. He had with him his posse of best friends, Yebbie Watkins, Gerry Harrington, and Dave Grimaldi, and did find a chance to actually hit the dance floor. He picked up the event’s petite organizer, Carolyn Peachey—as intensely focused on work as he is on camaraderie—lifted her up off the ground, and carried her to the middle of the dance floor. Her reaction? “She laughed,” said Boozer, relieved.
The dancing went on till midnight, which for Washington on a Tuesday is a late night.