Lakefront festival outdoor classes put fun in motion

In Columbia, Friday night is for dancing


It looked as if a movie musical had broken out in the middle of an ordinary evening at the Columbia lakefront. Rows of enthusiastic dancers moved in unison on the brick sidewalk while diners ate their meals on Clydes' patio, families strolled with their children and teens congregated along the wooden pier.

Outdoor dancing is a familiar sight on Friday nights during the summer when Tatia Zack leads party dances, line dances and couple's dances under the People Tree as part of the Columbia Association's three-month-long Lakefront Summer Festival.

Zack said the goal of her weekly dance sessions - which are followed by an outdoor movie - is "to get people out there and get them to feel like they want to dance, to get their confidence up."

The lakefront festival began in 1972 with outdoor films and grew to include a live musical performance or an outdoor film every night during the summer, said Michelle Miller, director of the Columbia Association's Division of Community Services. This year, nightly activities run through Aug. 21, followed by several more evenings of dancing and films through Sept. 16.

The festival started "to create an enjoyable, family-oriented use of the lakefront, to promote community building and to get people out to enjoy free entertainment and to socialize and to visit the restaurants," Miller said.

One highlight each year is Columbia International Day, scheduled for July 15, which celebrates Columbia's diversity with music, food and entertainment.

Zack said the mood on Friday nights is light as she leads the dancers through the steps. "It's just great seeing new faces and faces with smiles on them," she said. "People are giggling and laughing, and even if they mess up, we're all having fun."

Bryanna Lewis, 11, of Ellicott City said she attends the dancing regularly with her sister and other friends while she waits for her mother to finish work at nearby Columbia Association headquarters. She said, "I think it's really fun because they teach you new dances," Bryanna said. "You can meet people, and [Zack] is really nice."

Stephanie Lindsey, 17, of Columbia added: "When she explains it, it's really easy to learn."

Zack, of Owings Mills, is a choreographer and teacher who conducts dance classes for the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, among other organizations. She trained as a dancer, and once competed on the television show Dance Fever, but an injured vertebrae caused her to focus on teaching.

At the lakefront, Zack said, she likes to begin with familiar group dances.

On a recent Friday, she had about two dozen people step up for the Chicken Dance. Participants ranged from senior citizens to small children. The crowd grew as she led the Hokey Pokey and the Electric Slide; it ballooned to about 40 when a group of Wilde Lake High School students celebrating the end of the school year jumped in for the Macarena and the song "Cotton Eyed Joe."

Zack said she tries to keep the selection of dances fresh every year, but "people want the same stuff. You need something familiar to keep them coming back."

Later in the evening, Zack taught couples swing steps and Latin dancing before concluding with line dances to country and pop songs.

With the more difficult dances, Zack said, she would go over the basic steps quickly each week and then add a new step so people can build up their skills over the summer. Those who already know the steps "can dance around the edges and let loose," she said.

Debbie Cohn of Columbia and Harry Godlove of Jessup said they took part in the dancing last Friday because they took swing dance lessons with Zack over the past few months. The two, who became dance partners after both lost their spouses, regularly attend events strictly for swing dancers.

"If I can let myself get into the music and move to the music, I can forget about everything else," Cohn said. "I relax that way, and it's good exercise."

The two agreed that dancing on the sidewalk was hard on their feet and knees, but they praised Zack's enthusiasm and the variety of dances she teaches.

As DJ Bill Marsh, of Carlysle Entertainment, began to play "In the Mood," Cohn and Godlove were drawn back to the dance floor to step and turn along with Zack's calls of "slow, slow, quick-quick."

Lynda Maguire watched for a while. Then she couldn't resist joining some of the line dances. She had only been in Columbia for a week after moving from Washington with her 14-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.

"This is great," she said. "This reminds me of my home in North Carolina, the trees, the community sense, plus the mix of people."

Dancing is held Friday nights from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. through Sept. 8. Lakefront concerts start at 6:30 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. other days. Films begin about 8:30 p.m. All events are free. Information: www.Columbia

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