The Elusive Dance Floor 

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A friend of mine used to complain that Richmond was "too cool to dance." Time after time he was stymied trying to find an acceptable venue, turning up lots of places best suited for standing and drinking.

If you think about it, we rarely play bar games (or jukeboxes, for that matter). Most of our drinking activities seem relegated to the entertainment that J„germeister and Irish Car Bombs can offer (and admittedly that can be significant). Sitting, standing and teetering sometimes seem the only options. A recent search for the city's few dance floors revealed that while some venues do fine, we're still in the Middle Ages as far as the evolution of the dance club is concerned.

I come from an area where most bars have a dance floor, no matter how small. Just as important, bars have DJs selecting the music to play, taking requests and ignoring requests. So no matter how cheesy, dinky or guido a place may be — the last is often the case in said home territory — the music can fool you into thinking you're at Bungalow 8. With big city clubs nearby, I've seen the mayhem that can ensue when DJs really know what they're doing.

This dubious pedigree brings me to my big gripe about Richmond bars and clubs — our DJs. Why oh why do they insist on playing hip-hop, '80s or worse? DJs: Turn on WRIR-FM 97.3 on Saturday night and listen to the electronic dance show to hear what you should be playing in clubs. House, disco, trance, hardcore — it's all dance music. Stream some music from Europe. Surprise us.

If my hopes for a true dance club in town are for naught, several bars have surfaced lately with what I like to call the spontaneous dance floor — an area available if you're struck by the need to move. Mars Bar, the always-packed, all-'80s bar, has a fun, crowded dance floor that sucks you into the group sway and pulls you along for the ride. On Saturday nights at Bandito's, the side room gets packed with sweaty twenty-somethings with a little more bumping and grinding. And while Lucky Lounge has potential, it has a missing link somewhere, and I'm looking at the DJ.

In the larger, more dance-oriented bar category: Tiki Bob's and Have a Nice Day Café are themey enough for the college crowd, a bachelorette party or a late-night fling into the masses. Richbrau's upstairs has a mostly college crowd Saturday nights, but can be worth fighting for a spot on the dance floor. For a more age-diverse crowd, head to the basement Tobacco Company Club. Big Daddy's has a nice space and can get bumpin', but watch out who you bump into, you may start a brawl.

Element Lounge is the leader in this category. It's doing a nice job creating a sophisticated, loungelike atmosphere that's conducive to dancing. While it hasn't quite caught on yet, its DJs are respectable, bartenders aren't wearing costumes or bikinis, and you don't have to worry about getting caught in the middle of a catfight.

Dance enthusiasts often point to Godfrey's as the underground favorite. DJs at the twice-monthly Friday-night dance party spin danceable synth-pop to a packed house. But go prepared to get sweaty.

Would my friend be any more satisfied with Richmond's dance scene today? Perhaps. At least there are options, but maybe our problem is that we're out of practice. Or maybe with bars closing at 2 a.m., there's not enough time to work up the liquid courage to shake our stuff. S

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