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THE DANCE : A Five, Six, Shake Your Hips to the Latest Boot Scootin' Boogies at Country Clubs

June 24, 1993|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin covers the arts for The Times Orange County Edition.

She slipped into the denim skirt that flares when she twirls, wiggled into a glittery T-shirt and pulled on a well-worn pair of cowboy boots. Sunday had finally come, and, like every Sunday, Marissa Kirk was going dancing.

Slappin' Leather, Electric Slide, Boot Scootin' Boogie, the Romeo--Kirk knows them all. She does the rollicking line dances over and again with newfound friends who likewise crave the chance to kick and pivot.

In fact a few weeks ago, Kirk burst into tears after learning she had to skip her weekly country fix. Sound extreme? Well, she may look as sassy as anybody on the dance floor, but this little cowgirl is only 6 years old.

"I got mad," explained the Westminster youngster whose aunt, Linda Clift, takes her dancing.

Many a cowboy-hatted adult in Kirk's predicament might throw a temper tantrum, too. Her allegiance, however, helps explain the explosive popularity of country dancing, which has been holding steady at an all-time high for the past couple of years, nationwide and here in Orange County.

Dancers barely old enough to ride a pony as well as senior citizens and all sorts in between--are flocking to clubs where boots and bolos are de rigueur, the decor is Neo-Cowhide with Cattle Skull overtones and modern-day cowboys ride bucking broncos on ubiquitous video screens.

"It's just going nuts out there, it's unbelievable," said Jack H. Schroeder, president of the Orange County-Long Beach chapter of the California Country Music Assn.

Indeed, the number of country radio stations nationwide rose to a record high of 2,402 this year, according to the Country Music Assn., a worldwide trade association that promotes country music.

And riding double with the boom is a surge in the number of Orange County venues large and small offering country dancing. Fewer than a dozen existed five years ago, but at least 40 are operating now, estimates Tom Potts, CCMA statewide president and a local country dance instructor.

"There isn't a single (country venue) without a dance instructor, and most usually have two," Potts said.

On any night of the week, fanatics young and old crowd local dance floors from San Juan Capistrano to Anaheim, adding fancy spins to a Cowboy Cha Cha, forming rows to execute one of myriad, partner-less line dances, or performing a two-step, the fox-trot like staple of country dance.

As the deejay played Charlie Daniels' upbeat "Drinking My Baby Goodbye," 68-year-old Suzanne Dimuccio handily kept up with dancers one-fourth her age at last week's opening of In Cahoots in Fullerton (see Wanna Dance? column, page 14). That club is the latest addition to the local, burgeoning country scene, which is expected to expand even further when the Country Rock Cafe opens in Lake Forest sometime in the next two months.

Dimuccio, a.k.a. the Dancin' Mama, swung her hips and slapped her bright red boots, which matched her bright red cowboy hat, which matched her bejeweled, bright red bolo, which matched her bright red shirt, knotted at hip-level over sexy white leggings.

"I've been dancing (elsewhere) once a week no matter what," she said during a break, "but I might increase that because this club is closer" to home in Anaheim. "I love it."

*

Many of today's country dances, like early American square dances, have roots in such centuries-old, transplanted European folk, square or social dances as the French quadrille, the German schottische and the Viennese Waltz, country dance experts say.

Country music, first recorded in the 1920s then popularized through radio and film in the 1930s, flourished on the West Coast during World War II, thanks to fans who moved to California to work in defense plants, said Cliffie Stone, a Country Music Assn. Hall of Fame inductee who produced an influential country music TV show during the 1950s.

"They came from Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, and brought with them their guitars and fiddles and some of their fun dancing," Stone said.

The 1960s folk music revival brought about another surge in country music and dance popularity, as did the 1980 movie "Urban Cowboy," starring a two-stepping John Travolta.

By the early '90s, the honky-tonk twang of traditional country music had largely given way, at least in Top 40 radio programming, to a new sound energized with strains of rock and pop. The crossover success of such singers as Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt and Mary-Chapin Carpenter helped boost country music popularity to its highest level yet, and impel more dancers to their feet.

But it was a savvy Nashville record company and a charismatic singer from Kentucky whom industry experts credit with ushering in the current widespread, unprecedented dance craze early last year.

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