Yee-hah! Line dance craze kicks out aerobics

Raekha Prasad on the fitness freaks donning jeans and stetsons
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Line dancing, the country-and-western dance craze, is rapidly replacing aerobics as Britain's favourite keep-fit workout.

More than half a million people are now line dancing for exercise, swapping their leotards and cycling shorts for jeans, cowboy boots and stetsons.

From a specialist interest only two years ago, 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.

The secret of its success is twofold. It is in tune with the Nineties, being a much friendlier activity than the me-centred aerobics culture of the Eighties. It also has broad appeal: families can do it together, single women don't need partners, nor to squeeze into body-conscious clothes, and homosexual men like its cowboy overtones, some finding it less threatening than the gay club scene.

In the same way that aerobics became very lucrative in the last decade, line dancing now has massive money-making potential. Videos, books, CDs and weekend breaks are available and several companies now make a full- time living from marketing and selling the dance.

The UK Dance Alliance, a training body, says that 1,230 line-dance teachers have registered with it in the past two years. Boot Scoot, a line-dance promotion company, says 700 trained fitness instructors have attended its workshop. The International Dance Teachers' Association has seen 150 teachers join this year, and the American Line Dancing Academy UK has registered 270 instructors since it was set up in February. Hundreds of people are hiring a hall and teaching after attending lessons themselves.

Anita Corfield, a qualified keep-fit instructor in Mottingham, south London, attended one of the many courses available to teach instructors line dance. "I have to keep up with the latest trends in order to survive," she said. "Whatever comes in I'll retrain to teach it."

Her line-dance classes have become so popular since she started them last year that they have replaced her step aerobics classes. "Women don't want to have to squeeze into leotards and many feel inhibited when they have to have body contact with other people," she said.

Line dancing is country-and-western on the dance floor, influenced by disco, ballroom, Latin and an element of the twist from the Fifties. The dancers hop, thrust and wriggle to music by Garth Brooks, Wynona Judd and other country stars, with regular cries of "Yee- hah!"

Phil Moore, director of the American Line Dancing Academy UK in Swindon, a company that runs line-dance courses for prospective teachers, said instructors can expect to make up to pounds 2,000 a month with as little as three hours' teaching a week. He claims that every instructor who has enrolled on his courses has recovered the pounds 165 one-day fee within two weeks.

Until two years ago, Mr Moore said, line dancing was "virgin territory" in business terms, but now his company has franchise agreements to sell cowboy-style clothing, instruction videos and compact discs.

Some country-and-western dance enthusiasts, however, are concerned at the way it has become part of the keep-fit market. Roy Cooper, general secretary of the Country and Western Dance Council (CWDC), said many people who have been line dancing for the past 10 years feel it is now being wrongly taught. "It has gone completely wild in the last two years," he said. "Every Tom, Dick and Harry is trying to teach it and we're trying to bring some order to a situation which has gone out of control."

There is no approved teaching qualification for line dancing, which has led the British Dance Council and the CWDC to set up a syllabus for a recognised qualification to be agreed on in July.

"You always get these problems when a dance becomes fashionable," said Freddie Boultwood, chairman of the British Dance Council. "There are a number of rogue bodies in operation. But many people have been teaching perfectly competently for the last 10 years without a recognised qualification. The problem started only when it became big business."