3/8 TC TOO-HYPE HOUSE music thunders all around Leon Harris III, who sits on a bar stool away from the crowd to scope out the scene -- the blinking, frenzied lights flashing across the dark room, intermittently shining on faces, far-out hairdos and colorful baseball caps.
A mass of people swirls around him. His eyes follow mini-skirted and T-shirted young girls headed for the dance floor in a conga line, each with a hand on another's side and one arm raised in the air, swaying to the funky beat. Then his head cocks toward a posse of guys doing the latest and funkiest dance steps on the edge of the dance floor, where people are pressed against one another despite the heat and the oppressive smell of sweat. The music blares.
"It's hot energy, for real," said Harris, 21. "It's fun, all the different people you meet."
It's young adults' night at Baltimore's Original Sports Bar on Market Place, marked by funky-fresh dancing, fun and frenzy -- and no alcohol. The scene here involves a crowd that's mostly too young to drink, some too young even to vote. But they're old enough to know what's hip -- the chic fly babes and the handsome boys and the hip-hop street music that make for a good time.
More than 1,000 teen-agers and young adults come every Sunday to the Sports Bar to dance to a mix of house music that runs from Crystal Waters to C+C Music Factory to the Epitome of Hype. The crowd is composed of mostly city teens who come by bus, foot and taxi. They plunk down $7 each for the chance to ogle fly east-side girls, meet cute west-side guys and dance to house music spun by deejay Frank Ski.
Teens say dance night is one of the few fun things offered to the younger set. The appeal? "Music, some place to go and the constant flow of females," said Richard Ball, 18.
It beats staying at home and watching TV, said Shalom Patterson, 17. "There's nothing to do and that's how teens get in trouble, standing outside on the streets," she said.
"It's like a party with rules," according to Brandon Robinson, 19, who sat smoking a cigarette at Christopher's in Timonium. "A lot of people and new friends. It's a good time."
Christopher's attracts a diverse suburban crowd. A couple of Asian teens come wearing sports jackets, ties and dress pants. Preppies show up in button-collared shirts and leather boat shoes, yo boys in Ziggy Marley T-shirts and dreads, football players in shorts and T-shirts and bubbly cheerleader types in tight miniskirts. Teens flock there from as far afield as Aberdeen, Westminster, Hagerstown and Columbia.
Lines form 45 minutes to an hour before the clubs open on teen nights. At Christopher's, the parking lot scene is a prelude for what is to become. Teen-age drivers with expensive stereo sets crank up the party music, dancing and shimmying even before club doors open. At the Sports Bar, where doors open at 9 p.m., lines snake 100 yards outside and move slowly. You can feel the teens' anxiety and impatience (after the first 1,000 come in, the price shoots up to $10).
What holds up the line at the Sports Bar is the security.
Three bouncers -- two men to frisk the guys and a woman for the girls -- stand downstairs at the entrance. Benny Brown, a bouncer, asks guys to take off hats, because sometimes "they hide guns and knives up there," he said. He says he rarely finds any weapons.
But the girls are another story. "I got some neat stuff from those girls," said Tanya Williams, who pats down the girls and checks their purses. She opened a leather pouch she wore around her waist and pulled out a Swiss army knife, a switchblade, mace, nail files and metal combs, all potential weapons. "They use it for protection coming to the club," she said. She confiscates anything she finds that could pose trouble. "Afterward, I give it back to them."
Inside, even before the partying starts at the Sports Bar, a handful of security guards stand on top of chairs and speakers to monitor the dance floor for fights or disturbances.
When teen nights start jumping, it's packed on the dance floor, not enough room to move elbows. It feels like a sticky sauna and, at some corners, smells like a gym.
There's simply not enough room to dance but lots of lustful, dirty dancing goes on. Guys bend their knees, arch their back and shake at unsuspecting girls turned away from them. At the Sports Bar, everywhere, in the arcade and at the bar, booties shake and feet stomp to the house beat. Away from the packed dance floor, male loners sit by the escalator, scoping the finer-looking gender walking up the steps.
"Guys, they're going to be guys," said Yvette Jones, 18. "They're going to get everybody they can get. At places like this, you don't trust anybody."
There's not much difference at Christopher's. Mini-Madonnas and M.C. Hammers dance by the doorway, in the corner and anywhere they can find a space.
The bar at Christopher's serves up free soft drinks. The Sports Bar sells sodas, pizza and hamburgers.
"When I go off with my friends, all we do is drink," said Chrissy Burke, 16, as she stood near the bar at Christopher's. "Coming here gives us something to do instead of drinking or partying."
The girls do the dancing first at Christopher's, says Jacqueline Vargas, 17, a New York native who says the club scene is better up north. Vargas goes to Christopher's regularly for lack of anything else to do, she says, and, at first, to the chagrin of her mom.
But she said her mom now approves because no alcohol is served and there is plenty of security.
"You don't drink or you get kicked out," she said. "No one does drugs or anything like that."
It's nice to have somewhere to go one night a week, said Jake Jenkins, 18.
"There really aren't any other places for kids to go unless you go to the movies on Fridays or Saturdays."