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Far from clubland, dancers get their kicks

It's 12:30 a.m., and just off Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner, down quiet Green Street, more than a hundred people are sweating and dancing to booming salsa music. This late-night venue is the last thing people might expect to find in Brookline, known more for refinery than revelry, where a crazy night out is likely to include two scoops with sprinkles at J.P. Licks and late-night action is mostly limited to catching native son Conan O'Brien's show on NBC.

But inside the Brookline Community Center for the Arts, couples are tangoing and salsaing to sensual music. Some are dressed to impress, with long skirts or short, short skirts. Others have come in their most casual jeans and T-shirts sans makeup. This is exactly what president and artistic director Dan Marshall had in mind when he started FEEL, the late-night dance venue cosponsored by the Boston Housemusic Coalition. Marshall says he wanted to create an environment that would offer eclectic music and state-of-the-art dance floors, without all of the pomp and circumstance found at a typical downtown club.

While most Friday night FEEL events are centered around house music and dancing -- including breaking, which is making a steady comeback -- this night is a special event, featuring salsa dancing, several professional performances, and a CD release party by Bylli Crayone, a Lawrence native who has been touring the country to promote the latest of what he calls ''freestyle dance music."

Crayone's white stretch limousine is conspicuous on the otherwise quiet street. Marshall is busy shushing small groups that gather outside the arts center. It's after midnight as he continually pushes the front door closed and begs patrons to keep their voices down, so as not to disturb the neighbors.

Marshall eyes a nearby resident who is walking past the center on his way home. "Hello, Leon," says Marshall, walking right over to the senior, who regularly attends events at the center. Marshall invites him inside, but the neighbor declines, promising to come back for an upcoming event the community center is hosting for seniors.

Although it's past midnight, the night is just beginning for Sara Lieberman, who is walking down Green Street in a hip red sweat suit, shiny red lipstick, and multiple earrings.

"I love it here," says Lieberman, 26. "It's so awesome. It's like a neighborhood hangout." Raised in Brighton, she acknowledges that coming to Brookline for something so hip was an unexpected surprise. "No one will look at you weird here," she says of why she's become a regular. "Even though it's off the beaten path, it's good. Inside, it's so bubbly."

Inside, mirrored walls, which dancers often use to check out their moves or practice with a partner, encircle the main dance room. No alcohol is served at the Friday night FEEL -- or any center events -- but few seem to care.

"Drinking gets in the way of my dancing," says Burju Hurturk, 25. "For a true mambo or salsa die-hard, this is the best place to be."

"This is for people who are interested in dancing, not drinking and doing drugs," says Marshall. "The concept is to bring together the house community and good DJs at a club."

With two floors and multiple DJs spinning, Marshall says a good night at FEEL will include 50 people, but certain events will draw as many as 90. Night owls can forgo the typically long lines at club doors and the once-over of their attire and instead come as they please, while paying only $5 before midnight and $10 after.

Marshall says FEEL is meant to draw first-time dancers as well as professional, whether for breaking, house dancing, or salsaing. He says the evenings attract everyone from teenagers to seniors, depending on what's on the weekly schedule. Many are regulars who see each other at the more traditional clubs, such as Sophia's and Ryles Jazz Club, each week. ''We come in jeans and T-shirts here and we sweat," says Hurturk, flaunting her unkempt hair, swearing that going casual is far better than primping before a night out of dancing.

"I like this type of venue because you come here to break a sweat and work hard," says J.D. Smith, 54. "If it's too elegant you worry about breaking a sweat," adds Smith.

"I like it here because it's relaxing. But I'm used to doing nightclubs," Crayone says of where he typically promotes his music.

"We don't want clubgoers. We want someone who likes the arts," says Marshall. "A lot of us have done the club scene. We don't want to do that anymore."

Most of the evening's patrons say they come for good music and good dancing. "There is no pretense here," says Liz Tambascio, 25. "You're not in a club."

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