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$50 TO BURN IN DOWNTOWN L.A.

Footloose and fancy that, parking's free!

September 30, 2004|Zan Dubin Scott | Special to The Times

At first glance, it was hard to tell who was having more fun: the swing dancers, bobbing and swiveling to the sounds of a live band with roots in Benny Goodman and boogie-woogie bugle boys, or the bemused ticket-holders, craning their necks to watch or turning their own pirouettes as they crossed the spacious plaza of the Los Angeles Music Center to catch their show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

We dancers had the better deal. Our main entertainment for the evening was free.

Swing time

The occasion was the first in a series called Dance Downtown! The Music Center laid down a dance floor in the middle of the plaza, hired a band and invited dancers of all skill levels to enjoy downtown after hours.

Dancing arm-in-arm under the night sky is one of life's great pleasures, and beneath a canopy of rotund Chinese lanterns swaying in a balmy evening breeze, my husband Paul and I swiveled round and round, the twinkling white lights ringing the plaza's ficus trees swirling around us.

We struggled to stay on beat -- somehow, I married a rhythmically challenged guy -- until Paul graciously set me free to express my inner ballerina with more practiced Lindy Hoppers.

Open-air dining

The plaza's Spotlight Cafe was only a few steps away. I opted to hit the small salad bar that included marinated veggies, cheese and chicken, and Paul ordered a grilled ahi steak and redeemed a free-beer coupon (he'd completed a marketing survey) from Pinot Grill, also nearby. We sat, alfresco, to eat and watch.

A scenic stroll down Grand Avenue took us to the California Plaza Watercourt, an oasis of fountains and pools beneath towering skyscrapers. It's next to the Omni Hotel, where we enjoyed a cappuccino in the cozy lounge -- not forgetting to tip the bar's insouciant piano player.

What made our swing downtown even cheaper was parking: It's free for fully electric vehicles (EVs) like ours at the L.A. Department of Water and Power's EV charging station, across the street from the Music Center.

*

The tab

Dancing Free

Where: Dance Downtown!, L.A. Music Center Plaza, 135 N. Grand Ave. (213) 972-3660

What: Free outdoor dancing to live music on select Friday evenings. Beginning lesson at 6:30 p.m., followed by dancing until 10 p.m.

Dinner $31.34

Where: The Spotlight Cafe and Pinot Grill, Music Center Plaza, 135 N. Grand Ave. (213) 972-3190

What: A big salad for her; an ahi tuna steak with asparagus for him.

Nightcap $15.04

Where: The Noe Bar at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel, 251 S. Olive St., L.A. (213) 356-4100

What: Coffee drinks (and tip for the piano player).

Total $46.38

Dance Downtown!

Lineup: Oct. 1, salsa with Octavio Figueroa and Willie Cadenas y La Combinacion; Oct. 15, swing with the Fabulous Esquires Swing Band; Oct. 29, salsa with Oye!

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