They'll dance with their boots on

Three years ago Rob Fowler sold everything he owned, put pounds 12,000 in his pocket and flew to Houston, Texas. An avid, if lonely line dancer, he'd got bored of the old style Country & Western scene in Liverpool and had gone in search of new steps.

"It was brilliant," he says. "I travelled 6,000 miles in eight weeks and blew the lot. I'd go out every night to a different club and people would teach me new steps and then say `oh there's another club you should go to, it's just another 500 miles up the road', and off I'd go." Hanging around the Nashville bar and club circuit, Fowler discovered a wildly energetic dance scene, worlds away from the Britain's provincial community halls. "Country music out there is like pop music here," he says. "It's played everywhere, on all the radio stations and it's danced to in every club."

When he returned he opened his own club, the Houston Hustlers, where he introduced the new steps he'd learnt. Soon after, when Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achey Breaky Heart" ramraided the charts, line dancing in Britain exploded. Today two million people in the UK line dance, there are over 20, 000 line dancing clubs and a British Line Dancing Championship began 12 months ago.

Seeing modern day cowboys dressed in Stetsons and jazzy cowboy boots in the clubs and bars of America's deep south may be cool, romantic and historically understandable, but what gives in Hartlepool, Liverpool or Great Yarmouth? What is the average British pub-going, chip-eating Oasis listener doing in a Stetson? Wagon trains, injuns, neckerchiefs, lassos and appaloosa ponies - hello? How does anyone in this country manage to feel nostalgic or even remotely attached to America's great Western culture?

"Ballroom is big in this country too, but you never see people out in their ballgowns in the street," says Fowler. "It's fun and it's a release," he explains. "At a country and western club, you can put on your cowboy hat and go out and have fun. No one cares what you do outside, you could be a mechanic or an accountant. Everyone is getting the steps wrong and having fun."

Despite this, line dancing has gone the same way as most dance trends - competitive. Fowler, himself the European Line Dancing Champion for the last three years, is a keen competitor as well as a judge in tomorrow's British Line Dancing Championships. He is also the leader of the British Line Dancing Team, who have been dancing together for two years.

Choreographed by Fowler, with his straight-from-Nashville moves (hip hop body rolls, body popping running man steps), they are probably the best line dancing team in the country. Mosey along to see them dance tomorrow - while parking space is limited, there will be a tethering post for your horse.

Monique Roffey

The British Line Dancing Championships kick off at Wembley Arena with British C&W band The Proud Ones at 1.00pm. Doors open 12 noon. Tickets are pounds 15.50 from Wembley box office: call 0181 900 1234.

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