Bid Whist and Hand Dancing at the Anacostia Community Museum

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Tony Thomas, education program coordinator at the Anacostia Community Museum, remembers when he was a boy joining other youngsters in the basement while upstairs his parents hosted a card game called, bid whist, popular in the African-American community. The adults played the game upstairs. Downstairs, Thomas says, the younger set participated in another African-American tradition: hand dancing. "When I was growing up, we used to have house parties in D.C. because our parents didn’t want to go to clubs, and they wanted to party," he says. "They would bring the children, and we would get together in the basement, and we would hand dance."

An event tomorrow at the Anacostia museum aims to recreate the parties of yesteryear by setting up card tables for bid whist and encouraging dancing through the exhibit areas.

Bid whist is similar to spades, except that players can call the trump suit. Players also decide whether the game is played "uptown," the high card wins, or "downtown," when the low card wins.

Hand dancing is a form of swing popular in black neighborhoods, especially in Washington, D.C. "As a matter of fact, there are a number of hand dance associations in D.C. along with the National Hand Dance Association," says Thomas. The dance is becoming popular again, he adds. "If you go out to some of the African American clubs in the Washington D.C. area, you will see this genre of dance. It is sort of a smooth movement where your feet really never leave the floor. You’re always in contact with your partner."

The event is an outgrowth of the museum's exhibition, "Jubilee: African American Celebration," which closes on September 20. The exhibit showcases holidays and celebrations in the African-American community by season. "A part in the Autumn section talks about what people do or what people use to do right after the harvest was brought in in late fall," Thomas says. "One of the things that was mentioned in there was bid whist."

If the bid-whist and hand dancing proves popular enough, Thomas hopes to continue it even after the exhibit closes. Worried that the community may just come out in record numbers, the event will be limited to just 100 people.  "We don't want it to explode the first time around," Thomas says.

So reservations are recommended. Bring your dancing shoes tomorrow night, Saturday, September 5,  from 6  to 10 p.m. Call (202) 633-4844 for reservations. Admission is $10.

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