If getting down to "Single Ladies" doesn't strike a chord, what's a girl to do?
Country-western dancing, that's what.
When my city slicker girlfriends arrive in Bend, my first stop is often Maverick's, a lively buckaroo bar and dance hall. I buy them a Jack and Coke and then make them dance with a regular named Gerry, a rancher-by-day, gentle-country-dancer by evening.
At first, they often protest: "I'm a terrible dancer!" "I've never danced country-western!" "I need seven more drinks first!" And, most annoying, "I don't even like country music!"
But Gerry, with a smile even bigger than his cowboy hat, eases them onto the dance floor, calming their nerves. Before they know what's happening, he is spinning them wildly and they're laughing and gliding like a pro. When Gerry returns them to me, they've reached their peak cardio zone, are fully convinced they should be on "Dancing With the Stars," and are considering moving to Bend. Country-western dancing is really that fun.
Dancing country-western is an all-ages, all-skill-levels romp that attracts country and city folk alike—cowboy boots and an undying love for Garth Brooks not required.
It is easy to pick up the dance basics since most country bars, like Maverick's (and unlike the stereotypical locals-only cowboy bars in Hollywood movies), are warm and welcoming to newcomers. The regulars are happy to give pointers, and usually dance instructors are on hand.
Sure, it is a little easier for women beginners since men do the leading, and most die-hard cowboy dancers are quite skilled at shepherding a lady around the dance floor. And, in spite of the mama-didn't-raise-no-cowboy adage, the men who dance country-western almost invariably are gentlemen.
There are basically two types of country-western dance: dancing with a partner, and dancing in a row without a partner.
Remember the "Electric Slide"? Yeah, that's basically line dancing; just add country music. (For the Millennial Generation, just YouTube it already.) In line dancing, everyone dances a series of steps that repeats a bunch of times. Perfect for OCDers. Each song has unique steps done in unison, but also with each dancer throwing in his/her own self-expressive touches.
Over-achievers can learn popular line dances by Googling songs like "Drink in My Hand," "Creepin'," or "Pontoon," but easiest is to take the free line-dance lessons at Maverick's (check its Facebook page for an up-to-date class schedule).
Partner dances come in two varieties: partner pattern and plain old partner. In partner pattern, all the couples dance the same steps in unison, usually moving around the floor in a big circle, with men dancing forward and women dancing backwards. A partner pattern dance—such as horseshoe, traveling cha-cha or 10-step—is taught every Thursday night at Maverick's at 8 p.m.; no partner required.
Country two-step, cowboy swing and country waltz are a few non-pattern partner dances. These dances have basic steps, but the leader has more freedom to move around the dance floor and twirl his lady whenever he wants.
On dance floors in cowboy bars, couples often do partner pattern around the outside of the floor, while the more free-form partner dancing happens in the center to form a merry-go-round of different talent circles.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Be bold. On Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, lessons start at 8 pm at Maverick's. The dance floor opens for all styles of country dancing around 9 pm. (Hint: Find the instructor and ask for help, or ask the bartender Shawn for introductions to beginner-friendly partners.)
For those itching to dance with a partner, country two-step is the perfect entry-level dance. Capable of keeping time to "quick, quick, slow, slow"? You can dance the two-step. Maverick's offers free two-step lessons on the third Friday of the month.
Group lessons are offered at a couple of dance studios in Bend, but it's prime country-western dancing season with the rodeo and all, so time is of the essence. The impatient and the gung-ho can email one of Bend's favorite dance teachers, Noelle Haggerty, for private lessons. Noelle teaches at Dance Central (and, on Friday, yes, at Maverick's). She can coax the country two-step out of even the most clumsiest Frankenstein-stepping beginner. (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
In addition to Maverick's, Dance Central (63830 Clausen Rd.) and Bend Dance (BendDance.com) offer beginner lessons. SW
Country-Western Dancing Do's and Dont's
Country-western dancing has its own set of unspoken rules. For instance: hip gyrations are discouraged (yes, partner, check your Elvis at the door). As is jump-up-and-down pogo-ing (no "House of Pain" here.). Jazz hands are never OK, it is an easy way to get-your-ass-whooped true in a cowboy bar.
DO: Shuffle your feet, and tap your heel and toe.
DON'T: Pick your feet up and prance around on the balls of your feet.
DO: Have fun. Relax and loosen up on the dance floor.
DON'T: Get wasted. It's hard to learn something new when the room is spinning.
DO: Keep a "quiet" upper body.
DON'T: Bounce up and down or rock back and forth with your shoulders.
DO: Be polite. Smile and say "thank you" to your partner after a dance.
DON'T: Criticize your partner on the dance floor. If displeased, just don't dance with him again.
DO: Keep even pressure on your partner's hand.
DON'T: Be guilty of noodle arms.
DON'T: Grip your partner's hand so tightly it cuts off their circulation.
DO: Be responsive and keep your "dance frame": Let your partner lead you with slight pressure on your lower back and your hand.
DON'T: Anticipate his next move, or try to lead.
DO: Dress as you normally do when you go out. A little Western flair is cool, but no costume required. Heels are fine, but ankle-breakers are, well, like their name suggests.
DON'T: Dress like a caricature of a cowgirl, unless it's Halloween.
(Thanks to dance instructor Noelle Haggerty for help with the Do's and Don'ts)
Catrina Gregory is an enthusiastic but terrible country-western dancer, who lives in Bend with her Argentinean rat hound, Betty, and occasionally posts stuff about Bend on her blog: http://www.beginnersguidetobend.com.