Line Dancing in Australia

By Vivienne Scott

January 2008

"No room at the Inn”, or so it seemed!  In fact, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t even space for a cat to lie down in Tamworth during the world famous Tamworth Country Music Festival in Australia.  After weeks of staying up after midnight (morning in OZ) calling every hotel, motel and B&B in Tamworth that I could find, I had almost given up.  But there was a glimmer of hope!  At the beginning of my search I had dialed the wrong number and ended up having a chat with a friendly lady called Linda.  She told me to call back if I got desperate.  Well, I finally called Linda back, ‘No worries”, she said “You’ll come stay with us”.  When we arrived Linda and husband Gary made us feel part of the family; my visit to Tamworth was obviously meant to be!  

 But let me take you back a little.   Some of you might remember that I have a soft spot for Australia, the land of beautiful beaches, wonderful climate, terrific country music and talented line dancers.   So, with our son Owen spending a year studying down-under, it was no hardship to decide we should head down to visit him.  And, of course, it was also a terrific opportunity to check out the Australian Line Dance Championships which take place at the same time as the Country Music Festival.   

 If you visited Tamworth any other time of the year, you would find a peaceful little town with one main high street.  Hills to the north, wine area to the south and the ocean a couple of hours east, whereas to the west, you would be heading into the outback.  There are no traffic jams, no line-ups in the supermarket, everyone knows everybody else and doors are never locked.  But, once a year the population of the town reaches levels unheard of;  the inhabitants open their doors to strangers from all over the continent, the roads are jammed, the local parks are covered with tents and caravans and there are cowboy hats and boots everywhere!  Regardless, the town still retains its stress-free atmosphere; these visitors are here to relax and enjoy a range of country music that encompasses the whole spectrum. Anything from bluegrass to rock ‘n roll, from bush poets to ‘wanna be’ Keith Urbans, from Aussie hillbilly toe tapping fiddle music to ‘New’ Country and the top Australian Country Artists, it’s all here.  You just have wander down the main street, take a fold-up chair with you, and plonk yourself down in front of any of the buskers and enjoy!!  Sometimes the entertainers are so close to each other that you can listen to two at the same time!   There are free concerts with major names in the park and other venues, but even the paid concerts are very reasonable and you can travel from venue to venue in just a few minutes.

So, as you can imagine, for many Australian line dancers the combination of dancin’ and live country music makes for an irresistible mix.  The line dance scene in Tamworth has its own Aussie flavour!  First of all, the competitions take a full week and take place in a Boarding School.  The competitions, organized by capable Event Director Roxanne Kumre and her volunteers, are held in the main hall and many of the line dancers stay in the school dormitories.  There are numerous categories that dancers can enter at all age levels, for example there were heats in one category that ranged from  “70+” to “under 8”.  The styles ranged from cabaret to more structured traditional line dancing.  There were solo categories, duos, small teams, large teams and so on.  There were also choreography competitions which included an international dance section. The extremely talented competitors traveled from far and wide and their enthusiasm was contagious.   Many of them competed in a number of different categories and they stayed put at the School.  I should add that for the first time this year there was an Aboriginal line dance team from Sydney led by well known instructor Julie Talbot and they won first place in their category.  

There were other venues that offered classes and socials but they were organized completely separately from the Championships.  Peter Heath from Adelaide runs one venue and had invited me to teach there.  It takes Peter and his wife Liz, both full-time instructors, two days to travel to Tamworth from Adelaide with a truck load of stage lighting and sound equipment.  This friendly, very professional couple (who also write dances) rent a large, air-conditioned hall in town for the week and each day offer classes for all different levels and fun socials in the evening.  Their beginners’ classes attract absolute novices who see line dancing on the street and want to learn.  The more advanced classes are offered for the visiting line dancers.  

 A little further away, well known choreographer/instructor Gordon Elliot from Sydney has his own venue and classes in one of the High Schools.  As well as teaching extensively and writing dances, Gordon has designed a beginner line dance curriculum that is used by over 100 Australian instructors.  At the same time Gordon leads international trips and over 40 dancers will be happily heading with him to Vancouver, Canada and an Alaskan cruise this coming September.  

On the other side of the river dancers fill the floor for lively socials each night at the Tennis club with fun loving DJ Kelvin Dale and local Tamworth instructor/ choreographer Chris Watson.  A young man with inexhaustible energy, natural charm and totally commitment to line dancing, Chris was also a judge at the competition, ran ‘the World’s Longest Line Dance’ on the Main Street, hosted the Awards Evening at the Tennis Club and organized the wonderful Ball at the Tamworth Town Hall on the last night.

 In terms of differences from events I've attended in North America and the UK, first of all I would say that the majority of the dances on the floor at the socials I attended were to country music; by far the greater number of them written by very talented Australian choreographers.  The young dancers seemed to enjoy them as much as the older, displaying their energy and athleticism with higher jumps, lots of spins and so on but to the same music as everyone else.  Also, be it a beginner dance or more advanced, they are out on the dance floor.  It seems to me that every young line dancer here was born with the ability to spin their cowboy hat on one finger!  It’s amazing to watch them do this while dancing at full speed!   

Of course there was non-country music with dances such as ‘Don’t Feel Like Dancing’, ‘A Gigolo’, ‘Zjozzy’s Funk’, 'East To West, and 'It's Up To You' filling the floor plus others by local choreographers but there were fewer of them.  I was impressed by the DJs as well, in that there were very few instances at the socials I attended that I noticed only a handful of people on the dance floor.  The dancers also seemed to really enjoy walking down memory lane with their older dances.  I should add how much I enjoyed the sound of cowboy boots on the wooden floors!  The majority of dancers still wear boots and when there are hundreds of stomps all at the same time (hopefully!), it sounds very impressive.

Instructors and dancers here are now preparing for the ‘Heart & Sole’ fund raising ball to be held in Sydney in April.  This is going to be a massive event as the 900 tickets available were sold out within 3 days. Again, a different approach with the list of dances that are going to be played, together with split floor options, being distributed to instructors well ahead of the date and shown on the website so that everyone can prepare.  There will be two stages at the event; the intermediate dance area will be at the front separated from the beginners by a second stage.  Instructors will be on both stages and all around the room leading every dance.  Dancers can move around, so if you’re an intermediate dancer but enjoy a beginner dance you just move to that area.  It sounds like it is going to be a fantastic event that will ensure that all levels will be on the floor all night if they wish!   A line dancers’ dream!

If this all sounds good to you, and there are many more events you can attend around this vast and impressive country, perhaps it’s time to plan a trip down-under!  You just need a pair of boots, some comfortable light dancin’ outfits and you’re away!  Don’t forget to also pack a swimsuit and some sun tan lotion and be prepared for a relaxing vacation amongst some ‘fair dinkum’, ‘no worries’, friendly Aussie line dancers.   

LD Championships International Winners:
Dance of the Year:  ‘Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ by Pat Stott
Choreographer of the Year:  Robbie McGowan Hickie

Australian Choreography Winners:
This Life aka This Love - Chris Watson
Don't get hooked on me - Lu Olsen
With This Ring - Carol McKee
Oh Suzanna - Chris Watson & Bill Larson

Information on Line Dancing in Australia:
The Line Dance Mag, publisher by Jan Wyllie
The Grape Vine, publisher Chris Watson
Line Dance Association of Australia
Australian Line Dance Sites/Step sheets
Tamworth Country Music Festival
Heart & Sole Ball