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Dancers swing, waltz way to international honors

July 14, 1998

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer

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Blue Ridge Boot KickersBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Linda Bowers couldn't get her husband on the dance floor before the Martinsburg couple joined Blue Ridge Boot Kickers 41/2 years ago.

"Ours was a compromise. He liked country music and I liked to dance, so we started dancing to country music," said Linda Bowers, 49.

"I was so self-conscious. I never thought I had any rhythm," said Tom Bowers, 52. "Now it's a reverse. Now it doesn't bother me if nobody else is on the floor."

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The Bowerses had a lot of company on the dance floor last month, when they and 18 other Blue Ridge Boot Kickers landed the group a first-place trophy in show dance at Boot Kickers International's annual convention in Eureka Springs, Ark.

Twenty-eight members traveled to the convention. Many participated in couples dance competitions.

Members Taffy Horner and Butch Welty paired up for the swing competition just hours before they had to go on.

"We only practiced three hours. It was kind of on a lark," said Horner, 48, who joined the group with husband, Jim Horner, 48, when it first formed in 1993 as a chapter of Boot Kickers International.

With only a short time to practice, they were tickled to finish in fourth place, she said, especially since Welty had to learn the dance's jitterbug-like moves.

This was the fourth year Blue Ridge Boot Kickers members competed at the international convention.

The group combines instruction in country-western dance with monthly dances where members and nonmembers show off their fancy footwork and socialize.

It's a lot of fun, good exercise and a great way to meet nice people, members say.

The group has about 50 active members and about 100 more that aren't currently active, said Allen Keefer of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., who started the group with girlfriend Chris "Duckie" Drury.

The two have been offering Boot Kickers country-western dance classes through Berkeley County Adult and Community Education year-round ever since, said Keefer, who also started the Blue Denim Boot Kickers chapter in Berkeley Springs.

The Horners hadn't been married long when Taffy Horner, too shy to learn how to dance as a teenager, decided to take Keefer's class to be able to join her husband on the dance floor.

"He liked dancing. I thought I could take this class and pick up something I could do," said Horner, who enjoyed it so much she kept asking her husband to join her.

The first time he did, he was hooked, she said.

"The only time we miss class is when he's out of town and I go without him," Horner said.

She said she likes the challenge of learning new dances.

Keefer offers beginning, intermediate and advanced classes using choreography from Boot Kickers International every Wednesday night at Tomahawk Elementary School outside Hedgesville, W.Va.

Beyond advanced are his "reserve dancers," who are challenged with specially choreographed dances that sometime incorporate current dance crazes, like the Macarena, he said.

Though the steps are mainly country-western, the music isn't limited to that genre, Keefer said.

Inwood, W.Va., couple Butch and Sharon Welty weren't dancers when they joined the group in January 1994, after hearing good things about it.

"We needed something to do for the both of us," said Butch Welty, 53, who thinks the structure of country-western dancing helped him as a beginner.

Because they all learn the same steps, group members enjoy dancing together at the dances sponsored by their group and other local Boot Kickers chapters, Welty said.

"It's kind of like one big family," said Dr. Frank Sabado, 55, of Martinsburg, who joined the group in 1994, after a nurse at City Hospital who knew he liked to dance told him about it.

He quickly got hooked on country-western dance and met fiancee and dance partner Retha Adkins, 42, of Martinsburg, through the group.

The two took first place in the swing competition at the international convention this year.

The group contributes to the community through demonstrations at nursing homes and annual events like the June Jubilee and Berkeley County Youth Fair and its annual fund-raiser, said member Vicki Renner, 46, of Martinsburg, who participates with husband Howard Renner, 57.

This year's benefit dance and auction raised $8,100, which was donated toward medical expenses for Hedgesville child Jordy Carper's double-lung transplant.

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