How to line dance

If you thought country music was all about hard times in the wild west and the death of four-legged friends, think again. Country music is now officially cool.

Forsaking rave and the relentless pounding of high energy dance music, men and women from teens and twenties through to fortysomethings, truck drivers to accountants, are pulling on cowboy boots and western shirts to join the line dancers on the floors of new country clubs.

Side by side they stand in lines across the dance-floor in boots, jeans and the occasional Stetson hat, kicking, twisting, turning, clapping and stomping in unison to the music. As cohesive as a platoon of crack troops on parade, they move effortlessly to a potent blend of country twang and rock 'n' roll, performed by the likes of Brooks and Dunn, Alan Jackson and Marty Stewart, as well as more familiar names such as Garth Brooks.

It's fascinating and intriguing, stylish and raunchy, and, watching from the sidelines, newcomers seem to be eager to join in. Happy to encourage them, many clubs employ instructors to demonstrate line dance routines at intervals throughout the evening.

Every so often at Cricklewood's Ashton's nightclub on a Thursday night the music stops and Texas-born dance instructor, Harley Marshall, takes to the stage; the floor is suddenly crammed with people keen to learn how to do the Thunderbolt, the Watermelon Crawl, the Electric Slide, and the Boot Scootin' Boogie.

Harley calls out the moves as she dances in slow motion and the trainees on the floor attempt to follow suit. Terms like Grapevine, Hook, and Sailor Step can be baffling to first-timers struggling to watch Harley's perfect stops and co-ordinate their own.

"If you can tell your right from your left and count to eight you can line dance," she explains. Regular country-goers reckon that most people can pick up some of the more simple dances like the Electric Slide in a couple of weeks. Once you've got the basics, other dances can be learned in about 10 minutes.

Which is just as well, since there are so many line dances to learn it can feel as though there's a different routine for every record. My attempt to learn a dance called the Jazzy Joe left me wondering if my feet were making a bid for independence. I didn't know what a "point touch" was and I'd never heard of a "cowboy strut". Fortunately, the atmosphere is so relaxed that nobody really minds if you screw up. And believe me, you will.


Ashton's, Cricklewood Broadway, London NW2 (0181-452 0176)

Other London country clubs: Big Country, 17-19 Gt Windmill St, London W1 (0171-439 3559); The Bottom Line, 58 Shepherds Bush Green, London W12 (0181-740 1304)

London country pubs with dance floors: Amersham Arms, New Cross; Lord Nelson, Holloway Road; Swan, Stockwell. Gay venues: Dukes at the Duke of Cambridge pub, Waterloo; Bromptons, Earls Court

Also tune to Country 1035 AM 24 hours a day in the London area

Countrywide: Montana Western Dance Club, Luton; Flying Eights, Brislington, Bristol; Nevada Western Dance Club, Exeter; Circle 20 Club, Great Barr, Birmingham; Buffalo Western Dance Club, Horndean, Hampshire; Coco's, Norwich; Tumbleweed Club at Spartans, Gloucester

Otherwise, contact the British Country Music Club on 01243 5885545 for your nearest venue