STOMP ’EM BOOTS

Where to learn coun­try line danc­ing in South­west Florida

RSWLiving - - De­part­ments - BY KLAU­DIA BALOGH Klau­dia Balogh is an Edi­to­rial As­sis­tant for TOTI Me­dia.

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.

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