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Country Western Dancing

Selection from Dancing: A Guide to the Capital Area by Pat McNees:
After the following article ran, country-western kind of ran its course, Dave Moldover tells me, but the social groups that had built up around it wanted something else to do, so it morphed into something else. Wednesday nights at Cherry Hill (Silver Spring, MD) you can learn both country-western two-step and West Coast swing.

The following selection is from a long article I wrote for the Washington Post’s Weekend section umpteen years ago.


“I'd look at ya, but I'm trying ta steer this thing,” drawled Claude Stripling as he wheeled me around the dance floor at a packed country western dance in northern Virginia [Latela’s, now kaput--too many live bands, not enough drinking]. In one phrase Stripling caught both the flavor and essence of C-W dancing: the idea of a couple dancing together as a couple, in perpetual motion, with the man in charge and chuckling about it.

“Dancing is the only area left in life where the man still makes all the decisions,” John Gentile tells his C-W dance classes in Fairfax, VA, referring to the old-fashioned notion of the man leading and the woman following. Most people think country western dancing is square dancing. It's not. It's a cowboy version of ballroom dancing — but more laid back and energetic, and with more of a sense of forward motion. It makes you feel like you're in the nonsmoking section of Marlboro country.

Country western dancing is what you see Debra Winger doing with John Travolta in the movie “Urban Cowboy” and with Tom Berenger in the movie “Betrayed” — the kind of dancing men and women in cowboy boots do to contemporary C-W music. Remember the scene in “Urban Cowboy” where Debra Winger says “Y'know how to do a two-step?”, John Travolta says, “You bet,” she says, “Wanna prove it?”, he says, “All right,” and they proceed to get all steamed up dancing belt buckle to belt buckle? They're doing the Texas two-step, which is kind of like a fox trot with a Western accent.....

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Whoa, boy!
“What I love about country dancing,” says Bill McCoskey, “is the choreography. You have hundreds of turns and you can put them together however you want and let them flow together. I like the flow. You're not only turning the lady around, you're moving together around the room.”

That's part of the magic. “I'm in a dream when I'm dancing,” says Anita Huffman. “I get caught up in it. I don't see anything but us dancing — I don't even see the other people on the floor. Sometimes the man I'm dancing with will misinterpret that look I get in my eye and I'll have to pull back and indicate, 'Whoa, boy.' Dancing is a wonderful, sensual experience that doesn't need to lead anywhere, and I prefer that it doesn't, because I like to keep my dance partners as my dance partners and not have all the drama and trauma of dating them be a part of it.”

“I did bars for years,” says Carol Owens, “and this is better. The guys are not here to put the make on you.” They're also not here to drink, except for the odd beer or two. Asked why there weren't more C-W dancehalls, one waitress explained, “The problem is, country dancers, like ballroom dancers — and unlike disco dancers — don't drink, so they can't give a bar the support it needs.”

“They'll spend all night sucking on a glass of water,“ says Rich Swomley of Frederick, “and won't leave the waitress a tip.” That may be part of the reason one C-W saloon after another has folded in the DC area.....

On the other hand, says the waitress, “You know how when you were young the ugly girls didn't dance? It's not like that with this crowd. They don't care how you look, they probably don't even care about your personality. They just want to dance.”

"As a professional woman," says Anita, a human resources trainer, “I tend to date professional men, and I rarely run across a professional man who's a country and western dancer. Their idea of going out to dinner is to develop a contact. They don't know how to have fun. But more and more professional women are country dancing so it follows that more and more professional men will get into it, too, because we'll drag them into it. On the other hand, the men who like country and western dancing aren't usually interested in other things, like the theater. I keep my dating and dancing separate now, but some day I'd like to close the gap."

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The basic dance styles
The "touch" dances that lie at the heart of C&W dancing are:

* The two-step (the western counterpart to the foxtrot, with a little hitch and swagger added).

*The waltz (in which, as in all these dances, you keep moving forward in a counterclockwise circle around the floor, as you might in a skating rink -- stop to do a box step and they'll run over you).

*The shuffle or flatfoot (a variation on the polka, but slower and smoother, with more variation).

*Swing (and West Coast swing, which combines eight-count and six-count swing, with the woman doing most of the moving around, has come to dominate the local country-western scene).

Line dances -- done without a partner; another kettle of fish -- are especially popular with the ladies, but bring out the Gene Kelly in many men, too: They're like a cross between an easygoing aerobics exercise and a tryout for a Broadway chorus line. Half the challenge for new dancers is learning the sequence of steps before the number is over. Where line dances and couples dances are both done, the etiquette is to do the line dances in the center of the floor and let the fast-moving couples dancers move counterclockwise around the perimeter. Anything that slows that action around the dance floor, including couples practicing new moves, moves to the middle of the dance floor.

Copyright (c) by Pat McNees. For permission to reprint, get in touch with the author at www.patmcnees.com).

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Where to go honky-tonk dancin' in the Capital area

Capitol Countrydancin' (Gary Elliott's guide to Country Western Dance in the Washington - Baltimore Area, and the Eastern Shore)
CW Nightclubs & Saloons (from North to South--many listings; do not know how up-to-date listings are, but seems to be very helpful)
Baltimore area country dancing events
Washington area dance events
Eastern Shore dance events
Instructors & DJ's in DC area
Garry Elliott's page on Facebook

Dance Jam Productions (Dave Moldover's excellent guide to DC Area West Coast Swing, Hustle, Hand Dance, Country, Lindy)

Dean & Dawn Garrish (top country western instructors, and where they are currently teaching or offering dances)

Other dance pages on Pat's website


Dancing: A guide to the Capital area (Dancing in DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia)
Ballroom Dance
Ceilis (Irish céilís and set dances)
Country Western Dancing
Folk dancing in the Capital area (Contra, English country, international, Irish, Israeli, Scandinavian, Scottish)
Love at First Waltz (by Cheryl Kollin)
Shuffling Off to Buffalo Gap Dance Camp (Pat McNees)
Swing, lindy, jitterbug, shag, and hand-dancing
Dating -- again! (that's extra, but often relevant -- dancing is one way to restore your social self, after separation)
Many of the stories by Pat McNees posted here appeared first in the Washington Post

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