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by Mark Cosenza

During the weekend of October 4-7, the Shoreline Dancers hosted a Brew City Hoedown in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as part of the event convention series for the IAGLCWDC (as if that acronym isn't long enough, it stands for International Association of Gay & Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs). As one who has only been a part of dance associations that don't have the gay & lesbian name in their acronyms, I wasn't sure what to expect - especially when it came to the line dancing. After all, my exposure to gay line dancing has mostly been related to the moldy oldie Saturday night Charlie's dances, which I believe were originally taught by Judy Garland back when she was taking a break from The Wizard of Oz.

And the fact that I could not find a real detailed schedule prior to attending this event wasn't much help either, so we all kinda went to this thing with mixed feelings. Actually, I really went to support Eve Yeaton, the Wednesday night Charlie's instructor who was sent an invite. There were numerous differences in an event such as this and the ones I was used to seeing (such as the recent Chicagoland event). First of all, the average median age of the attendees was definitely much younger, and I can't say that was a bad thing, because in order for dancing to continue to grow, you really need the new young blood to keep the spark moving forward.

Eve was one of only four instructors that taught various event workshops, and Eve was the only one to have a line dance workshop. This was another reason why I was a bit leery about this weekend in terms of "line dance related activities." Eve was scheduled against a "Beginner 2-Step Class" as well as a "Miller Brewery Tour" (another first as far as convention activities go) I was happy to say that Eve had more people at her class than on the beer tour, thus showing there was sufficient interest in the dance activities going on. Personally, I wasn't sure how well the dance she had picked - a phrased A, B tag dance done to Billy Ray Cyrus' Crazy 'Bout You Baby - would go over, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see everyone pick it up even faster than I have seen it picked up at other conventions. We can chalk it up to a combination of Eve's teaching skills, the younger age of the dancers and other things, but I really think it was because I was in the back and everyone was able to watch me do it (ha, ha, ha). They did Crazy 'Bout You Baby twice that night during open dance, and again, being in the back row, it looked pretty good to me.

Actually, based on the response, I got the impression that the Shoreline folks themselves were pretty surprised at the number of line dancers who were out there participating, with many visiting from other affiliated clubs from Southeastern Virginia, Atlanta, Columbus and even Austin, Texas. And while the city of Milwaukee's gay community does offer line dancing, they currently don't have anyone offering any formal weekly lessons, (at least that I could find out about), thus leading me to believe that they are probably not fully aware of how if it's done right, new dances can be very popular. Hopefully, if a future convention is held there, they might consider an additional class or two. I know I certainly was happy to see the presence from these other cities and wished I could be there more often just to partake in what I'm sure must be a fun times at these area gay clubs. I also was impressed by the Dance Coordinator, Lee Fox, who really seems to have his act together with his ability to switch gears and do both couples and line. He also was a genuinely nice guy as well.

Peeking my head into a few of the couples workshop rooms where there were classes offered on various dance levels of two-stepping, swing dance and waltz, among others, I can't say that the ones I checked out were packed, but there certainly was a lot of participation on the various fronts. Saturday night featured an open dance party that had plenty of two stepping, and all of the music was definitely great for the style of dance whether it be two-step, waltz, swing and shadow dancing. There were, of course, line dance breaks, and as the night got later, I did notice a few more noncountry dances being snuck in. Again, this is more of decision that is made region by region as to the music and dances that these clubs will allow. And while most of the dances done were still a few years old and a little behind the times from what I've been used to seeing at other conventions, it was nice to see some of these dances being done. And with this mix, it didn't even bother me to go out and do the Baby Bop dance (which has been about three years-plus for me since I did that one.) I can only be thankful I didn't hear Boot Scootin' Boogie once! (Of course, my stealing the Brooks & Dunn CD from the DJ while he wasn't looking also helped.)

The Saturday night show featured some nice dance acts from the host Shoreline Dancers Dance Team, Columbia (Columbus, Ohio) Kickers and The Othersiders from Virginia. I was impressed by the precision routines that they had come up with and found all of them to be way above your average dance routines and better than anything I ever saw come out of our Chicago area. Way to go guys and gals - you definitely impressed the heck out of us! Many of the dancers made their way to an after-hours party, and I hear some of them didn't get back 'til the wee hours of the morning. (Hope you all had fun!)

Sunday featured a line dance swap where anyone, whether they are an instructor or a dancer, could teach a dance that is popular in their area. I couldn't stay for the entire time for this, but there definitely was a lot of participation - until following the Power Surge lesson (an intermediate/advanced dance choreographed by a great UK choreographer named Stephen Sunter), which took up over an hour of time and seemed to fry out most of the brains. Featured prior to this was She Bangs, a dance whose popularity has always amazed me except for the reason that the music is so good and the steps are fairly easy - I guess it doesn't matter if the dance doesn't fit the music well. (For a dance that actually fits the song, check out Peter Metelnick's Paso Por Paso, located on my Web site at countryedge.com.) The second dance taught was Corkscrew, a fun country dance choreographed by D. Scott Shrank of the Southern Line Atlanta dance team done to a great Wynonna tune called A Little Bit of Love Goes a Long, Long Way. (I highly recommend this one for those looking for a good country dance to do.) This was followed by Eve Yeaton's teaching of my latest dance, Handsome, and then the dreaded Power Surge brain fry. Power Surge is actually a few years old, so I was surprised to see it still making the rounds. But then again, I was glad to see a dance of this caliber getting introduced. Later on, I introduced a slower dance (I changed my selection at the last minute due to the burned-out brain state of the dancers) called C'mon C'mon, by John Robinson, who will be visiting another IAGLCWDC convention called the Saltwater International Dance Competition in Norfolk, Virginia at the end of the month. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have been able to handle anything much more than that at that point. John, by the way, a former World Champion UCWDC line dancer, is most likely one of the main reasons that Power Surge became so popular in the states. It was choreographed in the U.K., and John brought it over here and taught it all over the US. So those of you attending the upcoming convention might want to give John a big thanks.

It was a bit different experience for me to go to a convention where none of the faces were familiar and I wasn't a familiar sight to most of the folks that were there; however, I must admit that I certainly was happy to participate, and I hope I can share my experiences and dances from other conventions that I have attended in the past for future events as I become more involved and meet more folks in the organization. The next one I plan to check out will be The 6th Annual Saltwater Hoedown, July 3-7, 2002, Norfolk, Virginia. (To find out more about this one, go to its Web site at othersiders.com/index.html.) I've been told that this one is one of the biggest and has a lot more participants than the one I attended. But thanks has to go out to all who participated in this event and to those who opened my eyes to show me that there is still a lot of great dancing (both line and couples) happening in the gay community! I hope that all of the club organizations involved realize the extent of their contributions for keeping country and line dancing going!

For more information on IAGLCWDC organization, visit its Web site at iaglcwdc.org.

Mark Cosenza is a freelance writer, former DJ and country music enthusiast. If you are planning a country party or every or just have a suggestion or comment, you can write him here at Gay Chicago or e-mail him at Mark@countryedge.com. Be sure to check out his Web site at countryedge.com.

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