Boots Not Required: How Line Dancing Became the Internet’s New Favorite Hobby

From TikTok FYPs to the dancefloor, everyone seems to love line dancing right now—but the country dance style created its niche a long time ago.

Music Features Scene Report
Boots Not Required: How Line Dancing Became the Internet’s New Favorite Hobby

“Delighted confusion,” Jordon replies when I ask him how he would describe the atmosphere on the expansive wood-paneled floor of the Brooklyn Bowl. On the stage behind him, California-based duo Stud Country—a weekly queer country and line dancing class started by friends Bailey Salisbury and Sean Monaghan—teach a new sequence of choreography to the attendees of their line dancing event. “And also an eagerness to be wrong,” he adds on. Stud Country has already hosted a few parties like these in New York and even more in California. Salisbury and Monaghan, together, aim to “honor the rich history of LGBTQ cowboy culture” and pay homage to the importance country dancing holds in LGBTQ spaces. Jordon (who wishes to only go by his first name) surveys the crowd at this particular event on the night of January 23rd, the mirth in his eyes glinting in the disco ball’s light while he watches some quickly pick up the steps while others stumble their way through. He’s soaked in sweat—despite the cold temperatures outside and the fact he’s only wearing a black tank top, his red plaid shirt tied around his waist—after just learning the dance himself and running it a few times.

His restless, excited energy is reflected in just about anyone who’s ever line-danced, by people who get bit by the bug—and it’s a bite that sparks an excitement to learn steps and, though you probably won’t hit them right away, you’ll still thoroughly enjoy yourself trying. Personally, my bug bit me via TikTok. Sandwiched in between pasta tutorials and lip-synching videos, my For You page served me an iPhone video of a plaid shirt-donned and Stetson-wearing man line dancing, with gusto, to Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” in a dimly lit bar. “Huh?” I thought, caught off-guard. I kept watching as the video looped again, mesmerized by the easy flow and flair he moved with. “It’s not what you’re typically used to seeing, so it stops you in your tracks,” says Kevin Hofmeister, better known as DJ John Stamps. Hofmeister also created and serves as the creative director of Boot Scoot USA—a touring classic country DJ party focused on “disrupting the stereotypes that alienate potential country music lovers” who host country nights at bars across the U.S.

It seemed to me line dancing, something I’d only ever interacted with at wedding receptions when moving to the “Electric Slide,” was becoming modernized with pop songs and a new fixation from Millennials and Zoomers. The “line dance” tag on TikTok hosts thousands of videos with hundreds of thousands to millions of views. A quick scroll through the results and you’ll be flooded with clips of people grooving to country songs or, even, more contemporary tunes—like Ke$ha’s “Take It Off” and Nickleback’s “Burn It To the Ground.” For people in cities without a regular honky tonk bar to spin and stomp away at, there are groups like Boot Scoot USA or Stud Country that travel around to host widely attended country-western-themed parties. And while jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers are acceptable attire at these events, people also jump at the opportunity to dress in their best cowboy or cowgirl boots, low-slung tight jeans and bows—think “Brokeback Mountain just went to the club.” To put it simply, line dancing is in its “yassification” era. Though, I’d soon discover that zeitgeist captivating a younger generation has steadily flourished in some communities, particularly the LGBTQIA+ community, for decades.

Hofmeister has played a small part in this growing popularity. He first started Boot Scoot in 2019, but the Indiana native’s love for country music traces back to his childhood. As a DJ, he routinely jumped at the chance to spin country records. When a line dancing instructor showed up to the first ever Boot Scoot event he hosted at an Indianapolis bar and started directing attendees with choreography, Hofmeister quickly noted the unbridled joy everyone seemed to experience as they moved in unison and realized that “was what the night should be about.”

“The event would have been fun without him, but [the line dancing] just brought this fun, campy energy,” he continues. Since then, Hofmeister along with his co-creator and designer Kyle Nagy (also known as KNags) has created an inclusive dance night that aims to remain approachable any experience level while making everyone feel comfortable by bringing out guests from Dolly Parton drag queens to musicians pushing the envelope on country music—like Lola Kirke.

While collectives like Boot Scoot and Stud Country help make line dancing more accessible and heighten its popularity, that doesn’t mean people were never interested in the style to begin with. All styles of country-western dancing have long been danced in (and out of) your average honky tonk American bar. When talking about this cultural resurgence, it’s important to understand line dancing isn’t the entire culture. Rather it’s a niche within a broader subculture of country-western dancing. Oftentimes, if you attend a line dancing night, you can also expect to see some partner dancing as well. Once everyone’s done their final stomp, spin or clap, and everyone applauds each other for a job well done, the floor will clear out for a few songs as everyone gets another drink. A few pairs will likely remain and they’ll suddenly start seamlessly swinging together around the room, their feet speaking a language together even if they’ve only just met. That’s country-western partner dancing. But consider country-western as the umbrella and, under that umbrella, exists line dancing, too. But then there’s also a whole other world of partner styles—including two-step and both East Coast and West Coast swing, among others.

“I don’t think people realize how many different styles of couples dancing there are in the country world,” says George Blick, owner of Standard Western and who you also might find on stage at the Nashville Palace some nights. The Palace lives up to every expectation you have for a honky tonk bar—wood paneling, disco ball, a large dance floor the bottoms of your shoes stick to and line dancing, all taught by Blick. Except, his microphone-d voice echoing out across the room doesn’t possess the Southern drawl you might expect but, rather, the dulcet tones of a Welsh accent. Blick has been a fan of line dancing since his childhood in the U.K., when his nan and auntie started taking classes. “[They] would come home from class and they’d just be so excited about learning the latest dances,” he reminisces.

Soon, Blick started taking classes himself and entered his first competition at 11 years old. While he states many saw line dancing as something for old people when he first started dancing, it still maintained enough popularity in the late ‘90s and into the 2000s for him to compete and even land him on the cover of a line dancing magazine. Country-western dancing especially maintains a foothold in the LGTBQ community, something Los Angeles-based DJ Rick Dominguez can speak volumes to attest to.

Also called by his stage name DJ Rick, Dominguez spent a lot of his career spinning records at Oil Can Harry’s—the “oldest gay bar on this side of the Mississippi,” according to Dominguez. Dominguez first discovered line dancing about 30 years ago, when one of his gigs hosted a country night. The event needed volunteers to participate in line dancing, so Dominguez took to the dancefloor. He soon realized he could pick up the choreography pretty easily and line dancing quickly became his passion. That passion wormed its way into the different facets of his life, and was something he strove to bring to Oil Can Harry’s until the bar closed in 2021.

To hear Dominguez talk about Oil Can’s—as he lovingly refers to it—is like hearing someone talk about their home. The bar existed for over 50 years and traces its history back to 1968, when it was still illegal to even be in a gay bar. Meanwhile, over in New York City, there was Big Apple Ranch, a dance group started in 1997 that currently offers country-western lessons and nights in West 37th Street’s EPA Dance Studio.

While Dominguez found his passion in line dancing, Big Apple Ranch co-producer Susanna Stein found hers in country-western partner dancing in her 20s, when she was dragged to a gay western bar in San Francisco by a friend. “I was like, ‘You’re kidding me. I don’t like to dance. I don’t like country music. Why are you taking me to this horrible place?’ And I loved it,” Stein remembers. “[Country] certainly has an image or a culture of not being very gay, or anything. And yet, country western dancing is so popular in the queer community.”

It’s tough to conceive how or why something as seemingly polarizing as country music and dancing nestled its way to becoming a subculture of the 2020s, let alone how it’s long been a niche within the LGBTQ community. But country-western dancing has a history of rejecting and transcending people’s expectations of what it can or should be. Take what’s happening right now, for instance: These days, instead of line dances getting choreographed to country music, they’re also likely set to a modern pop song—exactly the kind of recipe to pull in a younger generation of groovers from TikTok, just like it did for me watching a combination set to Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers.”

It seems like conservative rules about who gets to like country dancing and how they should do it—that you can only do routines to country music, or the idea in partner dancing that a man performs as lead while the woman follows—don’t apply to those who truly have a passion for it, even if it potentially threatened them, like it did for the attendants at Oil Can Harry’s back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In fact, Dominguez notes that the bar had a siren that would warn couples to separate from man-to-man and woman-to-woman during bar raids. “All I think about is how the gay community was oppressed. There needed to be a place for those youth that grew up loving country music,” Dominguez says. “The fact that a man could dance with another man intimately was a huge thing. Same thing with women dancing together. Because it was taboo, there needed to be a space for the LGBTQ country community to do this.”

That’s exactly what Meg Rhinehart, who also goes by their swing dancing alias “Copperhead Meg,” experienced when she attended a partner night at Big Apple Ranch and learned about two-step after years of exploring and embracing her sexuality while living in the South. Rhinehart didn’t get bit by the line dancing bug, but rather the partner dancing bug. They later focused on country swing after taking a class by Adia Nuno at a two step dance-a-thon in Texas. One of the easier types of partner styles, country swing is a bar dance, as Rhinehart describes it. There’s a dedicated lead, often the man, and follower, often the woman—but gay country spaces offer a welcoming atmosphere for people to reject that norm. “To be queer and then to finally get to dance with people in our community together, that for me has felt so euphoric,” Rhinehart adds. “Not dancing with men but just dancing with women—I feel like that’s more natural to me, to be a lead. It is this euphoric experience that I’ve always wanted.”

Now, Rhinehart brings that euphoria to others through country swing nights they host in bars throughout New York. Truthfully, that euphoria shines anywhere that country-western dancing is—like at Rhinehart’s country swing night at Three Dollar Bill, which someone came skipping into loudly proclaiming they were going to have the “time of their life.” “I would be the follower if I was to walk into any bar [in my hometown],” says Kailey Nicholson, who went to Rhinehart’s event. “I wasn’t expecting to lead today, but it felt very empowering to be like ‘trust me, I’ve got you.’”

It’s the same euphoria I saw on everyone’s faces at the Stud Country dance night., and it’s the same euphoria you could probably see on my face whenever I’m trying to learn dances by myself in my room at 2 AM. Dominguez recalls the pull people felt to LGBTQ country bars back in the day and into now, how different the country community was from any other gay community. “You went to [gay country bars] because you wanted to dance,” he says. Soon, he discovered that it was a universal experience for everyone. “Anybody that went country dancing built the same communities because of their love for this social dance.”

But what exactly about country dancing makes it so captivating to people in the first place? I asked everyone I spoke to. I don’t think I fully realized the answer until Rhinehart turned the question back to me: because it’s really fun. “It’s almost a different language,” says Blick, who even met his wife during a line dancing night. “It’s just the language that ‘Okay, we’re all going to dance and we’re all going to have a good time.’” Some might speak the language more fluently than others who find themselves stumbling through a sentence, but it’s one everyone’s speaking together. And in speaking that language together, a sense of community is built—as you trip over your feet or turn the wrong way, laughing with the people around you whom you’ve bumped into, and who’ll whoop for you when you finally hit a move with that little extra flourish or hip sway. While, as Jordon points out, there’s still work to do in widening the scope of inclusivity to the country-western community, there’s an intimacy experienced by those who do dance that can give you a high unlike any other.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin