Oct. 26, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
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‘It’s Like Falling in Love’

Tom Williams/Roll Call

Michael McElroy stood alone on the wooden floor.

As the light shone through the windows in Eastern Market’s North Hall, he took one step. His arms raised. A moment later, he started to dance the lead of the Argentine tango.

A few people sat in chairs around the room, watching as he glided across the dance floor.

McElroy knew these steps by heart. And all the while, no music played.

The 67-year-old Adams Morgan resident took up dancing after a breakup six years ago.

It started simply enough: He wanted to meet people and stay active.

Then he stumbled across Eastern Market Tango. Soon, he was a convert.

That’s just how tango works, said Jake Spatz, one of the organizers of the dance classes at Eastern Market. People intend to take only a couple of classes, but the dance quickly becomes a part of who they are.

At Eastern Market, the format is simple. Every Thursday at 7 p.m., folks gather in North Hall to dance their hearts out — or, at least, to learn a few steps. Guest teachers from places such as New York and Argentina come to teach the classes with Spatz.

Beginners start the night off by learning simple things such as walking as a pair (harder than it looks, it seems). By the end of the evening, the intermediate and advanced couples have had their lessons and the milonga, or the “dance party” portion of the night, has begun.

This all started in June 2004, when Bill Griffiths, an Eastern Market vendor, thought it would be fun to host a one-time event for tango dancers, Spatz said. Griffiths, himself a tango fanatic, rented the space and invited people to dance.

It was such a hit that Griffiths decided to keep it going until people stopped showing up.

The thing is, they never did.

Spatz has been there since the beginning. (Well, more or less: He started teaching the week after Griffiths hosted the first event.) He was first drawn to tango in 2001, while he was living in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Argentine tango is unlike any other dance out there,” the 34-year-old Crystal City resident said. “It’s wrapped up in everything that it was, with the old music and these steps that have been done for years. A man is trying to be a gentleman and a woman is trying to be a lady.”

When he moved to Washington, D.C., he sought out a tango community. At that time, there weren’t a lot of group events. Then Eastern Market Tango came along.

Manuela Carvalho has been a regular on the Eastern Market tango scene for years. She started dancing right before New Year’s Eve in 2006. This was before the North Hall fire, so the building hadn’t yet been remodeled. The 19th-century building didn’t have any ventilation, so people would come dance in their winter coats and scarves.

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