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So, You Think They Can Dance?

Capital Dancesport Championships feature amateurs, professionals vying for glory.

It's not exactly "Dancing with the Stars." There are no former football stars and soap opera actors tripping over their own feet while trying to keep up with a professional hoofer.

But what the Capital Dancesport Championships lack in starpower, they make up for in volume. "Think of it as 'Dancing with the Stars' on a massive scale," said John DePalma, who along with wife Marianne Nicole organizes the annual ballroom dance competition.

There are more than 5,000 entries for the Dancesport championship scheduled for Aug. 24-26 at the Hilton Mark Center, 5000 Seminary Road. They are split into three categories of dance: pro-am, featuring a student dancing with his or her teacher; amateur, including non-professional couples; and professional, featuring some of the finalists for the U.S. Dance Sport Championships scheduled to begin on Sept. 5 in Hollywood, Fla.

"This is their livelihood," said Jackie Greek, Dancesport competition coordinator, of the professional dancers. "They compete for professional prize money as well."

Greek said the dancers compete in International and American ballroom styles. "The international style is that you always stay in close partnership, so it's much more of a regal, closed look with the dancing. The American style is more in the style of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — you open up, dance around but dance close as well."

DEPALMA SAID the entire D.C. area has been a hotbed for Dancesport competitions, which draw competitors from around the nation and from Canada.

This edition at the Hilton Mark Center serves as a final tune-up for the professionals before the U.S. finals. It's also a chance for amateurs to compete in a three-day event side-by-side with the pros and in front of veteran dance judges.

Doors open for Thursday's competition at noon, with several amateur events. The second session is on Thursday night, featuring Pro-Am American Rhythm Championships, rising star competitions and other events.

On Friday, doors open at 9 a.m. for a matinee competition featuring Pro-Am Open American Smooth Championships as well as All-Amateur American Smooth Events. Friday evening's session, beginning at 6 p.m., features several variations of Latin dance. On Saturday, doors open at 9 a.m. and several Pro-am events are scheduled. The Saturday evening session, with doors opening at 7 p.m., features the professional championship events for all events, awards presentations, and a special showcase of many of the dancers to end the weekend's festivities.

Tickets are $25 at the door for each of Thursday's sessions; $35 for the Friday matinee and $40 for Friday evening; $35 for Saturday's matinee and $45 for Saturday night's finals. There is a $5 discount on tickets purchased in advance of the event. Capacity is limited. Tickets can be purchased at the Hilton or by calling 1-866-345-5154. Visit www.capitaldancesport.net for more information.

WITH REALITY TELEVISION shows and a slew of teen movies, dancing has become a national sensation once again.

DePalma said that dance is a time-tested way to keep in shape and meet new people. But this latest surge in popularity may have more to do with what's happening away from the dance floor.

"Historically, when times are tough, people always turn to activities that help them escape their everyday troubles," said DePalma. "They look for a place that's safe and welcoming, and that's what our dance community is all about."