Get in line for a great hobby

The dancers on the move
The dancers on the move

If you thought line dancing was a craze that rode off into the sunset in the 1990s, then you should think again.

The activity is currently enjoying a renaisance in the Falkirk district with new classes opening and no shortage of people willing to take part.

Helen Bang, an instructor from Bonnybridge, runs classes in her home town, Denny, and recently started a new group in Tamfourhill.

The 48-year-old mother of two says that line dancing has remained popular as “you don’t need a partner, there are always new dances to learn and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

It’s certainly proved by the numbers of enthusiastic particpants that come along to Bonnybridge St Helen’s church hall on a Tuesday lunch time.

Although most commonly associated with country and western music, line dancing shares many similarities to centuries-old European folk dancing.

And the modern variety enjoyed across the UK is just as likely to feature disco music as it is cowboy tunes.

The American variation, which owes its roots to immigrants who settled there, gained mainstream attention and widespared popularity thanks to films such as 1980’s ‘Urban Cowboy’.

This was a time when country and western culture was enjoying a new-found popularity.

It took another decade for line dancing to gain widespread attention in the UK, but Helen can still remember when was she bitten by the bug.

“I was learning ballroom dancing back in 1992 because the theatre company I did stage lighting for in London was celebrating its 60th birthday and had booked the Waldorf Hotel for a dinner dance,” she said.

“At the ballroom classes I met another dancer who went to a gay club at The Bell in Kings Cross, sadly now defunct, where line dancing was the latest thing.

“I began teaching there after a few months when the regular teacher was on holiday and started my own ‘regular’ classes at a place called Danceworks the following year.

“We were featured in the Evening Standard and Time Out and appeared on The Big Breakfast and GMTV.”

This was the mid-1990s, the height of line dancing’s popularity, which prompted one broadsheet national newspaper to proclaim that it was “rapidly replacing aerobics as Britain’s favourite keep-fit workout. It has become so popular that aerobics instructors are retraining in their thousands to teach the pigeon toes, paddle turns, shimmies and sailor shuffles that line dancers try to perform in perfect unison.”

It even entered the pop charts when The Woolpackers – the cast of ITV soap Emmerdale – released their tribute to the craze, ‘Hillbilly Rock’.

It was a golden time for line dancing, although modern innovations have helped.

“We didn’t have the internet then and relied on some friends who worked for British Airways to pick up new dances when they were in the USA,” added Helen.

“Lots of dances got passed on Chinese whisper-style so there were lots of variations.”

These days, Helen can access dozens of dance styles at the click of a button before trying them out with her class members.

When not teaching line dancing in the district, she also organises sessions for corporate clients and weddings. Although one wedding in Brighton almost ended in disaster.

“I realised I’d left my CDs in London as I walked on Brighton prom,” she said.

“I can still remember the feeling of complete panic. The shops were about to close. The taxi driver was worried he wouldn’t be able to get me back to Hove to pick up my money and to HMV in time so he gave me a £20 note and let me disappear into the shopping centre to find some line dancing music – what a star!

“He then drove me back to Hove where I was able to reimburse him, pay the taxi fare and of course a big tip!”

But then line dancing does seem to inspire a feel-good factor amongst people.

Helen added: “Line dancing probably peaked in the 1990s but it is still very popular all over the UK.

“It’s just good fun –the silliest dance I’ve ever taught is ‘Iced Tea, Baby’ to the song ‘Rasputin’ by Boney M.”

For more details of Helen’s classes, call (01324) 810328.