Hot steps in sync

Line dancers get their groove on in unison



The moves are hard to follow even when they are written down.

Heel-toe, here we go to the right, now come on back to the left, kick in to your right, kick in to your left, two hops, two hops now everybody count it down, One, two, three, four ...

These men and women, in rows of six across and 10 down, move all at once.

They rise and fall with the beat as they watch their reflection in a mirror at the far end of the dance floor at Sista's Place, a cozy enclave in Randallstown.

The women playfully pinch each others' hips to correct missteps; the gents generally feign cool with a drink (more likely water than liquor) in their hands, trying to gracefully keep up.

Here, there's no worry of waiting for a partner to ask for a dance. Everyone in soulful line dancing only needs to join the fun and move to the groove.

"Once you understand the basics of line dancing, you'll be able to pick it up and fall in," said Randy Dennis, a local disc jockey on 104.3 Smooth Jazz radio and on this night was the line dancing emcee at Sista's Place. "You gotta catch the moves when you're out there. And you can't be afraid to mess up. Most line dancers are patient, especially with the first-timers."

Line dancing is popular with women because there's no need to wait for a partner to ask them to dance. In short, line dancers don't do a lot of posturing and posing. They mainly step to it.

"I don't come to be cute," says April Lacey of Northeast Baltimore. "I dress comfortable so I can dance."

Destiny's Child's "Lose My Breath" starts to blare from the speakers and the crowd goes crazy. Rhonda Robinson, a slight woman with platinum-blond hair, has been line dancing for 10 years and she has seen line dancing adapt to different music, from Barry White to, well, Destiny's Child.

"I dance to everything. Hip-hop, R&B, old school, it doesn't matter. If you're going to line dance, I got only two things to tell you," Robinson says. "Bring some comfortable shoes and a towel because you're going to sweat."

Robinson cuts away quickly and starts her jig. She mouths the words as she steps.

"And to the left, to the right, to the front, to the back, now cha cha now y'all."

Historically, line dancing can be traced to Africa, according to the Philadelphia R&B Soul Line Dancing Web site, Line dancing was used as a form of celebration and communication and included hand clapping and foot stomping.

In time, it was embraced by various cultures and musical genres, which birthed other forms of line dancing such as the country and soulful versions.

Still, there is a misconception that line dancing started in country music, says John Tegler, a radio personality on WEAA 88.9 FM's Jazz Straight Ahead show.

"Swinging chicks through their legs and throwing them up over their heads was a part of the creativity of the time for [jazz] dancers." says Tegler, a World War II fighter pilot, who also played at early jazz clubs with Nat King Cole. "That's where [line dancing] came from [in the United States] -- from the Savoy Ballroom."

Soulful line dancing steps are choreographed to the sounds of R&B, hip-hop, contemporary jazz, gospel and disco.

The Electric Slide is the standard for line dancing, often seen at wedding receptions, barbecues, banquets, clubs and other social gatherings.

But the dances have evolved and are much more complicated now.

"There are turns and dips and people go all the way down to the floor," says Sharon Lynn Holmes, president and owner of Lyn Dancn Club Inc., based in Mitchellville. "The dances are a little more complex and a little more creative."

Dennis at Sista's Place, whose production group MiHaRaJe (pronounced My-ha-ra-gee) produces CDs and videos that teach line dancing, has seen more than 110 dances since its founding in 2000.

Holmes, who conducts line dancing classes, says there are about 400 choreographed line dances.

On this night at Sista's Place, Dennis sets the tone for the next dance.

He is in the middle of the action when he suddenly stops and asks the DJ to stop the music.

He then asks for men only to report to the dance floor.

"All right now, it's time to show the ladies how it's done," Dennis says. The men start off doing a line dance for men only called the GQ, which fuses big, burlesque steps with lots of fist pumping and muscle flexing.

"Where my 'dawgs' at?" barks Dennis to the men, who respond: "Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!"

And the women watching deliver choruses of "No, he didn't" and "Girl, no!" In the call-response format tradition of line dancing, the battle between women and men begins.

Then minutes later, Dennis asks the men to clear the floor and the women take over doing the "G" Thang, or the female equivalent to the GQ.

The DJ remixes the record and gives Dennis his cue. He waits for the bass to drop and then starts his cadence; the ladies erupt into the "G" Thang.

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