STOMP ’EM BOOTS
Where to learn country line dancing in Southwest Florida
Five, six, seven, eight; step left, together, cross and turn. It doesn’t sound too complicated. With Luke Bryan in the background taking you on the back roads, all you have to do is enjoy the music and remember one step after the other, and there you are: country line dancing. This style of dancing has been a popular American tradition ever since Johnny Cash first picked up a guitar. His audiences sang along with beer in their hands, stomping their boots to some familiar country tunes.
But me? Not so much. OK, I’m trying. I’ve danced since I was a little girl, but coming from Europe, I was new to line dancing. I went on a line dance learning spree to pick up some of that “yeeha” spirit. I put on my boots and made my way to the Ranch Concert Hall & Saloon in Fort Myers on a Wednesday and to Dixie Roadhouse in Cape Coral on a Friday, both well known for their concerts and nightlife. Their country line dance classes set the mood for a fun evening.
While many in the classes were dancing as if they’ve known the steps from birth, I was a little confused: “Wait, left and right. No. Wait. Turn. Oh, I’m facing the wrong way again.” It didn’t discourage me. I was ready to keep learning.
Carol Jensen, dance instructor at the Ranch, has a long history of teaching in Fort Myers. Her Wednesday night class is for all ages and tends to reach around 100 people, she says. She has been line dancing for more than 25 years and is known for not only teaching beginner routines but also including intermediatelevel choreography.
“I want to capture all age groups and all levels of dancing,” Jensen says, as she prepares to teach the first sequence of steps.
She loves what she’s doing, and, she says, besides the fun, it’s great exercise, too. Following Jensen’s moves, her students agree. “On the dance floor, it’s only you, dancing and the music,” says Connie Arebalo, 75, who dances six to eight times a week. She says she has been line dancing for 20 years and has been going to the Ranch every Wednesday night with her girlfriends since it opened in October 2014.
From November through April, Arebalo’s friend, Karen Powell, 73, joins in. She’s a Florida snowbird from Pittsburgh, and she has been dancing for more than 15 years. “It’s a lot of fun and great exercise as well,” Powell says. “Dancing for two hours burns a lot of calories, and you don’t even notice it because time flies by fast on the dance floor.”
Ranch owners Rusty Roepke and Jim Heckler have both
Dancing for two hours burns a lot of calories, and you don’t even notice it because time flies by fast on the dance floor.” —Karen Powell, country line dancer
owned and operated a variety of venues in Southwest Florida. Roepke says they target all ages with the different entertainment, concerts and national acts they organize. “We consider ourselves a Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall with a country twist,” he says.
Stomping my boots over the bridge to Cape Coral on Friday night, I learned two dances: one taught by Cathy Vary and one by James Fitzwater. The lines were filled shoulder to shoulder with beginners and more advanced dancers standing side by side. It was close to a 50-50 mix of men and women. With Fitzwater in the front, it seemed as if more men had the courage to join the party. Fitzwater started teaching line dances in the military in 1987. He has been at Dixie since it opened in 2011.
“One of the great things about line dancing is that age doesn’t matter,” he says. “I have 21-year-olds, and I have a gentleman who comes here at least two or three times a week—I call him ‘Grandpa.’ He is literally 82 years old.”
No matter how many wrong steps I make or how many times I end up facing the wrong direction, Vary says, it doesn’t matter. There are no mistakes, just “variations.” And if you get lost, you can always cheat a little and follow the person in front of you.
Instructor Carol Jensen leads a Wednesday night class full of wanna-be country line dancers at the Ranch Concert Hall & Saloon. Class size often reaches 100 people.
Dixie Roadhouse (left and below) draws country line dancers to its classes in Cape Coral three nights a week. James Fitzwater (right photo) has been teaching there since it opened in 2011.