If you live in Bend, there’s a good chance you are an American — but when asked about your heritage you probably name the nationalities of your ancestors (me: German, Spanish, French, Scottish, English). Only weirdos say they’re American.
My people have been here for almost 400 years. My forbears arrived here sometime in the 1600s, fought in the Revolutionary war, made their way to Texas and Idaho and then eventually to Oregon.
So, at the risk of sounding like a weirdo, I am totally an American. I have traveled enough to be slightly sheepish about this fact, and simultaneously, deeply grateful.
While sheeplishly/proudly traveling, I’ve noticed that so many cultures abroad have unique ways to celebrate that reflect their nationality or region…my favorite expression of cultural celebration is dance. Argentina has tango, Brazil has samba, the Irish have that whole River Dance thing. Cuba has the rumba. Indonesians have Balinese temple dances. I’m pretty sure the British don’t dance, unless you count a brief drug-fueled period in the 70s that birthed punk rock. The Spanish have flamenco. Scotland has that highland kilt dance business
If you meet someone who is Argentine & Scottish — unless they’re first generation or recent immigrants — I’ll bet you brunch at CHOW they don’t know how to tango or do the Scottish highland dance. It’s also doubtful that they know how to make empanadas or haggis, or speak Spanish or Gaelic.
We’re a nation composed of borrowed fake identities, culturally speaking.
I found a bit of my identity earlier this year in Austin, Texas. Texans at least have the advantage of believing “Texan” is a nationality, and that comes with some serious cultural mandates. One of them is dancing, country dancing: two-step, swing, line dancing… all of it.
As an outsider with Texas roots, I danced (clumsily) with cowboys at The Continental in Austin and thought, “Holy moly, this feels so American!” I was instantly hooked. I returned to LA and sought out far-flung honkey tonk bars in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains and the strip malls of Long Beach and danced all night long with fake LA cowboys, all while smiling ear to ear.
There’s something about the two-step and west-coast swing that feel like they’re “mine,” like part of my cultural heritage. Country dancing feels authentic and real and let’s face it: FUN.
Stop in any honkey tonk bar, anywhere in the country and you’ll see all ages. As long as you can walk, you can two-step. I’ve danced with grandfathers who totally wore me out. I’ve danced with gangly boys with no need for a razor who led me around the dance floor like old pros. And everyone was having a good time.
I know country dancing seems so, well, Hee Haw (if you’re old enough to remember that show). I thought that too. I used to hate country music and anything country (see: my obsession with being a proper city girl) but resisting my birthright because I was just way too sophisticated is silly. Country dancing is just about the best thing ever in my book.
If you’re still not sold, stop resisting. Seriously. No one cares that you look goofy while you learn, and you’ll find partners who will laugh with you and gently show you a few tips. You can do the west coast swing to just about any song (A senior citizen swing-pro named Gerry rocked my world to a Joan Jett song last weekend) and it’s way more fun than standing in place, arms flailing while perfecting the white-man overbite.
Now, I know how some men feel about dancing. I’ve heard dozens of guys say vehemently “I don’t dance.” Well that’s just stupid. If the only options are doing the pogo, the dougie, or some weird retro pop-lock breakdance business, sure, I wouldn’t dance either. But anyone can learn to two step and swing. And here’s the best part: If you’ve ever seen a real cowboy country dance, you know you can still look totally manly while country dancing. Seriously. I’ve developed 3-minute crushes on cowboys on the dance floor because a good leader is one of the hottest things on the planet.
Every third Friday of the month, Mavericks Country Bar & Grill has free two-step lessons. Get your hiney on over there. Tonight happens to be that night. Go. Embrace your heritage and stomp your boots. (Boots are totally optional, btw) Other Maverick’s highlights include the most random mix of people you’re likely to see in Bend, cheap drinks, pool tables, live music, a mechanical bull and an awesome bartender named Shawn.
Dance Central also offers two-step and swing lessons. Check out their schedule and sign up. The Dance Central studio is buried in the back of a strip mall near Target, and feels like a church rec room, but the instructors are great and the people are friendly. Once you get over yourself, you’ll notice you’re smiling and laughing and learning something new. Who knew?
Once you have the basics under your belt, you can swing dance just about anywhere there’s music, but if you want to stay country, Tumalo Feed Company has a small dance floor. The bar is dark and old-school and there’s usually an old guy with a portable keyboard is singing country songs. Amazing. Plus the steaks rock and come with like 15 sides. Sit at the bar and feast — you’ll need to dance afterwards to work off the 12 pounds of food you just ate.
SEVEN has West Coast Swing Thursdays, which makes it sound way more official than it is. A few die-hard locals gather at 7:00 p.m. and bring their own music. They’re friendly and welcoming (and all pushing 60), but you kinda need to know what you’re doing to join.
Northside Bar and Grill has Sunday Afternoon Jazz — live music and swing dancing. I’ve never been, so I have no idea what the scene is like. You probably need to take a few lessons at Dance Central first, but I love that this town has a few options for country dancing.
You know you want to scoot yer boots — even if your boots are Converse. Be an American. Embrace it. Love it. Country dancing is OUR thing. Don’t fight it.
Footnote: I’m still on the fence about line dancing. Real cowboys never line dance, but I know a fire fighter who cuts it up and looks good doing it. I guess I prefer dancing with a partner, and still think line dancing is a little dorky. Check back in on me in a few months, I might give in after all.