This was not a typical Thursday night at work. Instead of covering a municipal meeting or keeping an ear out for a late-freaking tip on the police scanner, I was pulling up to St. Anne's Fraternity on an unassuming street in Fall River. My assignment? Go country line dancing. Yee-haw!
JoAnn and Andy Cardoza, calling themselves the GoodTyme CountryTyme Dancers after "Good Time", a song by Alan Jackson, have been teaching line dancing lessons at the building once a week since the beginning of January and promised a night of "foot stomping fun", according to their flier.
About 30 people had taken them up on that offer. As I walked into the dance hall, they were lined up in two rows, turning and stepping to a complicated-soundind song.
A good number of dancers were decked out in cowboy hars, flannel shirts and boots, while others were dressed more simply in heans and a T-shirt. I sat at one of the tables to watch. JoAnn was at the front of the room, calling out directions over a microphone as the dancers attempted to move in unison.
By the next song, I was brave enough to get up and give it a try. I snuck in on the end of the back row just as JoAnn was announcing, "this is a two wall dance". The woman beside me graciously informed me graciously informed me that we would be facing only two walls during this song, rather than all four walls. Thank God. This already looked pretty complicated. But luckily, the giggling and missteps of those around me assured me I wasn't the only beginner.
It seems appropriate that JoAnn and Andy had their first meeting on a dance floor. It was 12 years ago in Tiverton, R.I., and they were learning some of the moves they now teach. They soon started dating, and now have been married for 10 years, and live in North Dartmouth.
You wouldn't know it, but before a few weeks ago, they had never taught line dancing. JoAnn said it was a new challenge, trying to break down the dance steps into trachable parts for her pupils, most of whom are beginners.
"The majority of my class has never danced before", she said.
That was pretty evident when, back on the dance floor, JoAnn took us through the dance moves with the patience of a kindergarten teacher, Each step, hitch and turn was meticulously demonstrated, and the moves were practiced over and over again. All was well until the music started, forcing us to pick up the tempo and causing me to forget everything I had just lurned. And as if it wasn't enough, JoAnn then announced that it was time for couples dancing, where you're apparently supposed to do the moves while making your way in a circle around the room at the same time.
Due to the noticeable shortage of males, my partner for this exercise in hilarity was a women named Linda. She seemed to catch on fairly quickly, even though she said this was her first time dancing. But further ahead in our horseshoe-shaped line of couples was a pair who really knew what they were doing. Chet and Blanche Adams, dressed in pink plaid shirts (Chet insisted they did not intend to match), stepped and shuffled and twirled around the room like they have been doing it for ages. It turns out, they had.
"We've been dancing for 28 years", Chet, 69, said at the end of the night. "It's good exercise; it's a lot of fun".
The Westport couple started out with country line dancing and have since branched out into swing, polka and ballroom dancing as well. Now, they dance four nights a week at various local venues, Vlanche, 71, said it keeps them young.
"After 28 years of dancing, you can do anything."
I would have loved to have that level of confidence as we learned the next dance, complete with grapevine footwork and a mysterious move called a "shimmy".
As soon as I'd master a new move, I'd forget the one I had just learned, so I mostly stumbled through the steps and just made sure I was facing the right was facing the right wall at the right time, while joking around with Kristi O'Brien, 26, from Fall River, who was a lot better at the whole shimmy thing than I was.
But even a compliment from JoAnn wasn't enough to keep her on the fance floor for "El Paso", a dance that included a shuffle known as a "cha cha cha".
"I hate anything with cha chas", she said, taking a break from the dance floor with her boyfriend, Ken Carvalho, 29, also from Fall River. It was the first time either of them had tried country line dancing.
"We decided to come and make fools of ourselves", Kristi said.
"She made me come", Ken added. Maybe so, but they both enjoyed themselves enough to decide that they would come back the following week, after telling their friends about it.
"It's fun. It's a good workout, too", Kristi said.
As the night came to a close, I felt pretty proud of myself, until Andy informed me that this was nothing.
"The dances we did tonight are very easy", he said. Ouch. That knocked me down a few pegs.
But not to worry. Now there is a place closer to home to hone my skills. On Tuesdays, Andy and JoAnn are bringing the country to the city with lessons at the 6th Bristol Club in New Bedford. The cose is $7 for 2 1/2 hours of music, exercise and, most likely, a little humiliation. Sounds like a Good Tyme to me.