The quest started innocently enough. And it ended that way, too – if you don’t count Buck’s hand on my back pocket.
The goal, you see, was to have a genuine country-western dancing experience.
With the rodeo recently in town, I was in the mood. Besides, I had just read a story about Urban Cowboy and the rage it had sparked nationwide. The account made me wistful, not for John Travolta, but for the dancing.
Not the kind of college dancing where you thrash to your own inner musical demon. I wanted real dancing, with another human. Texas Style.
Two-steppin’. Polka. Swingin’. Anything with that cool Texas vibe, where scuffing boots and level hats frame an intimate pairing of barely contained whirling motion.
I was from Texas, darn it. It was time to act like it.
The only problem? Two-stepping is no longer the rage, at least not in inner-loop Houston. I heard about suburban clubs like Tumbleweed Texas , Big Texas, and Mo’s Place, but I never managed to drive so far.
The Brazos River Bottom was in midtown. But it was a gay kicker bar. In Austin, I’d gone once to a women-only country-western bar and had gotten confused over who was supposed to lead.
There was the Firehouse Saloon on Fountain View. I’d been there before to watch swing dancers spin while Two Tons of Steel played. It’s a Texas party bar, with random building materials and enough funkiness for a cool vibe. Live music is king there, and sometimes the dance floor gets over-run with concert-goers.
I ended up heading to The Wild West on Richmond, where hotel concierges send guests who want a Texas experience. As assistant manager Tony Echelle says, “On a Friday night, you’ll see passports from all over the world.”
But The Wild West has a reputation with local dancers, too, especially on Wednesdays and the weekends. I chose the Sunday-afternoon free dance classes with the free fajita buffet, “free” being essential for bribing my non-Texan, non-dancing friends.
We arrived early in a purple Scion, whipping into the front row between two hulking pickups. Inside, I was pleased to see that the big, polished racetrack-of-a-dance-floor was full.
Here, the disc jockey runs the show. DJ Brad Turney told me he plays 30 minutes of country, then 10 minutes of Top 40. As much as I liked Brad and his Boot Scootin’ Boogie, I wasn’t so sure about Play That Funky Music White Boy.
But Brad treated me right. He saw that my desire to dance greatly exceeded my friends’ wish to dance with me, and so he sent over Bob.
As a long-time regular, Bob knew what to do. First, a simple two-step. Then, he started spinning me around. The room blurred. Ah. This was what I had been craving. After, he thanked me politely and moved on to his next partner, and so did I.
That night at The Wild West lead to another outing, this time at Blanco’s with my live-music-loving husband. Blanco’s is no Western disco. It’s a ramshackle house with a gravel parking lot located near, strangely enough, River Oaks.
Here, everybody knows everybody. The dance floor is small but well-used, and the music is live and personal every Thursday and Friday night. There are red-and-white-checkered picnic tables and a yellowed sign over the bar that states, “I love animals. They taste so good.”
I chatted with doorman Robin Hagan, who, when asked, described the nearby, upscale Goode’s Armadillo Palace on Kirby as “a preppy country bar with all those Rice kids.” True maybe, but it is gorgeously decorated and has a killer 20-foot armadillo.
Blanco’s is not preppy or upscale. It is friendly. “If you don’t know how to dance, there’s always someone here who will teach you,” said Robin. He pointed out one older gentleman. “That’s Buck.” Buck, I learned, had recently taught a self-proclaimed unteachable woman how to dance.
We watched as Buck let his hand drop comfortably to his partner’s rear pocket. Nothing inappropriate. Just daring. My husband raised his eyebrow, and I smiled and headed over. I needed to dance with Buck. (For the sake of research and all.)
Sure enough, Buck slipped his hand down to its accustomed spot, and we trotted around. That’s about as close to bad behavior as Blanco’s got that night.
Later, I was talking with a single mom who described country-western clubs as fun-loving and non-status-conscious, chivalrous instead of prowling.
She regrets that many folks, Texans even, have forgotten about them, or are too trendy to try.
“Usually,” she said, “I get to go when I bribe my friends somehow.”
She should try the free fajitas. I plan to use that one again.