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Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 02/ 6/2007

Love Don't Cost a Thing

By Anne Kenderdine

Do you ever have the feeling that the reason a song is stuck in your head is because certain lyrics are trying to subconsciously tell you something? REM's cover of the Troggs' "Love Is All Around" keeps running through my mind these days, when some people succumb to the pressure of planning the perfect Valentine's Day. I'm taking it as a reminder that any day or any activity can be a date if it's something special to you. Here are some ideas -- all free or under $10, and all around but not on Feb. 14 -- for everyday outings suited for old-fashioned romance.

On any given weekend, you can go dancing to a live band in Glen Echo's glorious Spanish Ballroom. The Friday night (Feb. 9 or 16) contra dances are usually the cheapest at $8, and the evening always starts with a lesson. Expect that you won't always be dancing with your partner; in fact there's no need to bring your own partner, making this an ideal event for meeting new people. At the end of the song or night, when you're grabbing your water bottle, flushed and maybe a bit dizzy from the twirling and the energy of the crowd, you'll be happy to take a breather and connect with friends old or new.

Dates are all about getting to know each other better. On Monday, Feb. 12, hear an author who's made a career of fostering conversations on life's deepest questions. Christopher Phillips, called the "Johnny Appleseed of philosophy," has generated Socrates-themed meetups or salons around the country to probe topics like "what is love?" See where the discussion leads when he talks about his brand new book, "Socrates In Love: Philosophy for a Passionate Heart," for free at Politics & Prose.

Sometimes you just want the slightest reason to get dressed up. On Friday, Feb. 16, two string ensembles from the Juilliard School play in formal settings where you don't have to pay opera-house prices. The Library of Congress hosts Robert Mann, the founder of the Juilliard School's string quartet, and his fellow violin, viola and cello colleagues. Tickets are free for this, but you have to pay the silly Ticketmaster charges to get them. The same night, a string trio of Juilliard grad students plays a completely free show at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.

It's good common sense to avoid walking in parks after dark, even if you're arm in arm with your sweetheart. But some local parks organize small group walks that provide the thrill of evening exploration in a safer setting. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16 and 17, Lake Accotink Park offers 90-minute winter night hikes to watch for nocturnal animals like owls, foxes and even coyotes in their natural habitat. It's $5 to register (703-569-0285), and so far the walk participants are groups of two adults; the park's Lee Ann Shenefiel says families with kids are more common at the summer and spring walks. Some walks are chatty and others enjoy the silence, but all end up at the Visitors Center for hot chocolate. Switching between the center and pitch black woods "takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust," says Shenefiel.

That's just another way to see the week of Valentine's Day in a new light.

--Anne

By Anne Kenderdine  | February 6, 2007; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Misc.  
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