As a self-proclaimed “artsy” type of person, I’ve worn a lot of social hats. Punk rocker, emo-tastic teen, wannabe horror movie buff, alternative-chic nobody, wanderlust-filled broke college student, car enthusiast, martial artist, literature nerd.
I love culture, niches, and scenes, and the social science of it. I love picking it apart, piece by piece, until I understand what fuels it and what attracts people to it.
Attraction to different groups is a natural part of personal development and self-actualization. Now that I’m an adult (yuck!) I don’t so much assimilate into the culture as I do analyze it… and I probably analyze cultures more often than I should. But I can’t help it – I love trying to understand how a large group of people come together over a common interest, and seem to agree on so many social cues.
But country line dancer? Yeah, I wouldn’t have pegged myself to fall for that culture, either.
But hear me out. It was kind of a slippery slope.
My sister has been doing this thing called “line dancing” for years. I always sort of equated it with square dancing. The image my mind conjured was pretty simple: my 28-year-old sister surrounded by 65-year-old men and women who wore flannel shirts and danced in an imaginary box. When she insisted there was something called couple’s line dancing, I figured it was just two people dancing on opposite sides of the box.
While my mental picture wasn’t very detailed, my concept of this line dance thing had a few rules:
- Medicare-dependent dancers only (my sister was an exception; they let her in because they felt bad for her)
- No hanky panky
- Insist what you’re doing is not square dancing (even though it is)
- Don’t talk about line dancing with non-line dancers (sort of like Fight Club. Except my sister was clearly breaking the rules, because she didn’t realize just how bad line dancing was for your social standing)
With that being said, don’t ask me why I decided on a random Tuesday in August to actually tag along with her.
To be fair, I had caved once before (it was a Monday, I had nothing better to do…) and it wasn’t that bad. Meaning it wasn’t a bunch of old people dancing in a box. But it WAS a bunch of old people dancing, and I wasn’t looking to dance with them, so I discarded the experience.
But that fateful Tuesday in August was at a different location – The Nutty Irishman, a semi-famous bar on Main Street in Farmingdale. I couldn’t rationalize how this bar was letting a bunch of old people take over on a Tuesday night. I decided they must pretend they’re closed down, and smuggle the old folk in through the back door for fear of retribution.
As you might have anticipated, that’s not what was happening.
The bar was MOBBED. Mobbed. Mobbed by old and young people. Mobbed by some of the most attractive twenty-somethings I’ve ever seen. And they were all stepping, swaying and turning with the precision of synchronized swimmers. It was mesmerizing.
The only thing I got right was the flannel.
I spectated for most of that first night, clinging to the bar as if the dance floor would suck me in like a plaid-packed black hole. The dancers seemed inexplicably perfect, the way a ballerina on stage appears. They smiled blissfully when they were dancing, clinked beers when they were resting, and gave hi-fives at the end of particularly complicated routines.
The scenario was somewhere between spectating at a dance competition and being on the set of Footloose.
Toward the end of the night a man about my age rushed toward me between songs.
“Do you know Shooter?”
“Huh?” I must have seemed like I didn’t understand English, because he frowned and spoke slowly.
“Do you want to dance?”
“I don’t know how.”
A smile, then.
“Don’t worry, I’ll do the dancing. Just try.”
For the record, Shooter is arguably one of the most intimidating, yet entertaining, couple’s line dances out there. And at The Nutty Irishman, they do this dance double-time.
This guy was tossing me to-and-fro like a ragdoll. And little old me – the girl mortified of being embarrassed in public, the girl who would never in a million years dance outside her bedroom – laughed like I was on a roller coaster.
At the end of the dance, he bowed in an uber-gentlemanly way and grinned.
“Thanks for dancing with me.”
“No,” I gasped, grabbing the bar with both hands as I panted. “Thank you.”
I was hooked.
That week I attended three line dance events. Three. And no, I didn’t get lucky – these shenanigans are going on right under our noses.
There are anywhere between five to eight line dance events every week on Long Island. The weekly events occur at The Nutty Irishman (duh) and Lily Flanagans in Babylon. Other ones happen intermittently at places like Sonoma and Grille at the Ville in Suffolk County, and Mulcahys and the Wild Rose in Nassau County.
You are almost guaranteed to see the same faces. The nice ones will greet you with a hug and kiss on the cheek. The shy ones will give you a wave. The few standoffish ones will glance at you in recognition, but will be too busy dancing. I love them all.
There are a couple dance teams dedicated to instructing at these events, including Classic Country Entertainment (I mention them because they’re who I usually dance with) – a troupe of no more than 10 which includes 20-somethings, a few 30-somethings, and an older woman whose gait and patience are unrivaled. They work the floor so naturally you sometimes forget they’re working. Sometimes, I think they forget, too.
Long Island even has its very own gamut of country bands, like UnWined, Whiskey Road, Southbound, Fivestone, and Zac Brown Tribute Band (not to slight the DJ’s, of course, like Cowboy Ben E., DJ Yankee, and DJ Neil Wrangler.)
As you could imagine, I’m still addicted to country life. I’ve gone from gritting my teeth while being subjected to my boyfriend’s incessant playing of Eric Church, Jason Aldean and Hank Williams to bopping around to Big & Rich (and The Lacs, of all god-awful country rap groups) in the car. I’ve made friends with the dancers who travel the Island with me in search of their next honky tonk fix. I even got a pair of damn dance boots for Christmas and no, I won’t wear them in the rain, and yes, they are absolutely luxurious. Take a look:
Do I plan on this infatuation ending anytime soon?
I hope not. Line dancing is one hell of a workout.