Dancing A Fine Line

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Shirley Billingsley doesn't have to spend a whole lot of time mulling over an answer when she's asked what she likes most about line dancing.

"I can bring my husband, but I don't have to dance with him," this Payson woman says with a laugh that tells you she's only half-joking.

But there are other reasons Billingsley and her husband, Howard, have signed up for the line dancing classes held every Tuesday morning at the Senior Circle in Payson.

"We've learned so many dances that, when we go to social events, we can dance with the young kids," the 66-year-old said. "They're always amazed that we old people know the dances."

Does Howard enjoy line dancing as much?

"My wife says I do," he deadpans. "Actually, I find these classes to be very useful. When I get up on Tuesday morning, I know another week has gone by. I just don't get along with rhythm very well. But all of these women are patient with me. They don't laugh at me too much."

Perhaps Howard is not likely to become a nationally-known commercial pitchman for the joys of line dancing.

But nearly everyone else in this class could particularly 78-year-old Paysonite Bertha Riggs, who happily tells you she'll turn 79 in September.

"What I love about this class is all of the love and camaraderie," Riggs said. "We hug every time we say hello and we hug every time we say goodbye. Meanwhile, we're getting a lot of exercise and having a lot of fun. And we're all hoping that, by the end of it, we look like Emily."

That would be line-dance instructor Emily Taylor, who is clearly and dearly beloved by her student body of Golden Oldies even though she is a mere 20 years old.

But, like Riggs, Taylor happily tells you that she'll soon turn 21.

Although the brand of dance that Taylor has been teaching for almost a year may seem new because it is now roughly as popular as "The Twist" was in the early '60s, line dancing in one form or another has been around since the beginning of recorded time.

Line dancing as it is known today evolved from "Contra" dances (men on one side, women on the other) that were very popular in the New England states in the early 1800s. And Contra dances are believed to have evolved from ancient African and Native American dances.

The first line-dancing craze to hit the Unites States came in the 1940s, thanks to dances like "The Stroll." And the second, some contend, was launched by the 1978 John Travolta movie musical "Grease," which in one scene repackaged "The Stroll" and made it new all over again.

That revival has yet to die down, as evidenced by the gaggle of 60-ish to 80-ish students who shake their booties once a week in Taylor's class and love it, no matter if the dance music at hand is country, salsa, cha-cha or (as on one recent morning) Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."

"I like the exercise. It seems to help me keep my balance," 66-year-old Ronnie Zingales of Payson said.

"This is my first class, but I've done line dancing before and I love it," said the "60-ish" Shirley Manchester of Pine. "I like partners, but I also like to dance alone."

Emily Taylor's line-dancing class is held at the Senior Circle, 215 N. Beeline Highway, every Tuesday morning from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. There is no charge, and line dancers of all ages are invited to attend.

Those with physical limitations are asked to check with their doctors before participating.

For more information, call Cory Houghton weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 468-1012, or visit her at 215 N. Beeline Highway. Afternoons, phone the Senior Circle Member Services (800) 211-4148.

Line Dance Records

United States: A total of 2,578 people danced to the "Boot Scootin' Boogie" in Lebanon, Tenn., July 30, 1994. A line dance in Fairfield, Calif., had 5,000 people, and another in Laughlin Nev., had more than 8,000 people. An estimated 30,000 people took part in a Madison/Electric Slide line dance held during the Comin' Home African American Holiday Celebration in Columbus, Ohio, July 12, 1991.

Canada: About 512 line-dancers line-danced past the Toronto Branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society in 1991, forming history's largest Scottish Country Line Dance.

New Zealand: The longest line dance length for this country was set at 910 people in the town of Geraldine in January 1997.

Australia: Jan. 25, 1997, a grand total of 5,502 line dancers smashed all records Down Under in Tamworth, Queensland.

Great Britain: At the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham Dec. 7, 1996, 1,630 people danced continuously for five minutes to a tune titled "The Freeze." April 12, 1997, in Warrington, 4,500 Brits performed the same line-dancing feat.

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