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Line dancing continues to dig its heels into the Tri-State

March 11, 2011|BY TIFFANY ARNOLD | tiffanya@herald-mail.com
  • Follow the steps to learn a line-step staple move.
Graphic by Chad Trovinger

If it's Saturday night and you live in Hagerstown, there is a country western dance going on near you.

The Hagerstown Country Western Dance Association hosts Saturday night dances twice a month in Maugansville. The Waynesboro, Pa.-based Cumberland Valley Country Western Dance Association hosts dances in Pennsylvania on Saturdays, too. And then there are venues like Cancun Cantina West, a country-western bar off Dual Highway in Hagerstown, with line-dancing going on most nights of the week.

"There's always a Saturday night dance somewhere to go to," said Linda Henry, who teaches Tuesday night classes with the Hagerstown Country Western Dance Association. She also teaches line dancing at Cancun Cantina West on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Henry, who is vice president of the Hagerstown club, competed in country western dance competitions with her husband during the late 1990s.

But she emphasizes that she didn't take her first lesson until she was in her 40s.

"People should understand that everybody started at the same level," Henry said. "We were beginners at one time, too. Don't be nervous about it. One thing about country western people, is that they're very friendly. We've met a lot of wonderful people there over the years."

Most people know of her as an instructor for the local country western dance club. The Herald-Mail first caught up with Henry during one of the Tuesday night classes, held in a multipurpose room at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Halfway.

Four rows of mostly women followed along as she called and demonstrated the dances. Levels of deep concentration showed on their faces, though a few people cracked smiles. This is not a night-club crowd — the reason Sandy Nelder, 64, of Martinsburg, W. Va., takes the Tuesday classes.

"My husband doesn't dance and I love to dance, so I needed something to do by myself," Nelder said, between routines on Tuesday night.

In fact, the only male in the room was Hagerstown Country Western Dance Association President Ronald Garling. He and his wife, Carol Garling, the club's secretary, have been taking lessons for 11 years. She said it's a hobby they didn't pick up until they were in their 60s.

"For us, it's exercise," said Carol Garling, 66, of Chambersburg Pa.

Barbara Mulheron, 64, of Sabillasville, Md., said she decided to try country line dancing after seeing an ad the newspaper. Before, all she knew of line dancing was the Electric Slide. She doesn't even listen to country music, but she's learning to appreciate country line dancing.

 "It's a little bit different, but that's what I wanted," Mulheron said. "It's a challenge."

Henry, a former competitive country line dancer, said that one of the reasons its easy to translate country line dancing across musical genres is because the choreography is made up of a similar sets of moves, many you've probably seen in other contexts, such as:

Grapevine — This move travels right and left in a chain of foot-over-foot movements. See our graphic on page E1.

Kick ball change — This is a stationary move that goes by quickly. In fact, the amount of time it takes you to say "kick ball change" is the same amount of time you'll need to execute it. The good news is that it's an easy step. To start, kick out your foot. We're not talking karate kicks, so do something low and subtle. When you land that foot (the "ball" part of the choreography), you'll subtly step in place with the other foot (the "change" part of the move). Hence, kick ball change.

Mambo/cha-cha — This is a chain of steps similar to what you'd find in Latin dancing. It can travel forward and backward and from side to side. Sometimes cha-cha step is used to sneak in direction changes.

If you go dancing at a venue like Cancun Cantina West or some other social setting, you'll see two things: rows of people dancing in a clump at the center of the dance floor and dancing couples circling the perimeter.

Everybody is doing the same thing.

How do they know what to do? Sometimes line dances are rhythm specific — as with, say, the Canadian stomp — or the choreography is named after the song itself.

But in most cases, the DJ calls the dance at the start of the song. They might also spin things that aren't remotely country, like the Electric Slide or its update, the Cupid Shuffle.

"It's something virtually everyone knows because they've been to a wedding reception or something," Henry said.

Henry said she and her husband used to spend Saturday nights playing cards. One night they decided to go dancing and took up some country line dancing classes offered at a Moose Lodge near Hagerstown. Eventually, they started taking private lessons from a couple in Frederick, Md., and learned there was a club closer to home, the Hagerstown Country Western Dance Association.

They began competing in 1996 and 1997, winning some titles, though "nothing major," Henry said. It was hard work.

"To learn four different routines and do them well? It took unbelievable amount of time," Henry said. "And costumes? It's not just wearing regular country western clothes. I made ours. Burgundy and white, with fringe, sequins, the whole bit."

Henry said they had fun, and that they won a few competitions. It got expensive, but she said they weren't competing for the money.

"It's a sense of achievement, and a trophy or something like that," she said.

Like country western line dancing? Join a club.

  •  Hagerstown Country Western Dance Association | Call Linda, 301-797-6786, or Carol, 717-263-0141.
  •  Cumberland Valley Country Western Dance Association | Call 717-762-6388.

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