A hoedown event for all the Wairarapa line dance clubs is set to be held in April. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
Intricate footwork, workouts for body and mind, and choreography you can set to everything from Bob Marley to Benee: there’s more to line dancing than awkward shuffling in PE classes and cheesy country music. ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL catches up with seasoned Masterton boot scooter Ngaire Rawlings.
Several active clubs, foot-perfect performances at events, an upcoming regional hoedown, and new classes starting by popular demand. It’s fair to say line dancing is making a comeback in Wairarapa – thanks, in no small part, to the internet.
Line dance, commonly associated with Country and Western culture, had a surge of popularity worldwide in the early 1990s – after the success of Billy-Ray Cyrus’ pop-country hit “Achy Breaky Heart”.
New Zealand was not immune from the country craze: while school children learned the Electric Slide [with varying levels of success] in PE, adult line dancers, clad in fringed costumes and stetson hats, competed for trophies and national titles.
Line dancing has undergone a resurgence – gaining a new audience thanks to “zhuzhed up” choreography and routines set to Uptown Funk and Despacito shared on social media and Youtube.
In Wairarapa, the art form has “taken off”, particularly in the past decade – with line dancing clubs in three of the major towns, and dancers performing, to enthusiastic applause, at the annual Wairarapa Country Music Festival.
Hoping to expand Wairarapa’s crew of boot scooters is Ngaire Rawlings, a line dancer of over 25 years and former competitive champion, who has started taking a beginners’ class in Masterton.
She puts the popularity of line dancing down to the “great social aspect”, and the range of music styles which lend themselves to the choreography – a welcome departure from the polarising Country and Western genre.
“A lot of people don’t like country music, but there’s more variety these days,” Ngaire said.
“Line dance works right across the board – blues, rock n roll, Latin, pop.
“We did a routine to a reggae song at the Country Music Festival, and we’ve used Supalonely by Benee in class.
“I think people also enjoy the social aspect –the sense of togetherness that comes from dancing as a group, all doing the same steps in time with one another.”
Ngaire was first introduced to line dancing in 1995, when she travelled to the US to visit daughter Kerri, then based in Los Angeles.
As “a fun mother-daughter activity”, she and Kerri attended a line dance class – and Ngaire was hooked.
“It was huge over there. They had bars that were completely dedicated to country music, line dance, square and circle dancing,” Ngaire says.
“You’d go to the bars, and you’d see the dancers in the spangly outfits, with the big hair, hats and cowboy boots.
“It was completely over the top.”
On returning to New Zealand, it wasn’t long before she signed up for line dance classes in Wainuiomata – eventually hitting the competition circuit as part of dance troupe The Cherokee Cougars.
Wearing costumes hand-made by Ngaire, The Cherokee Cougars scooted up and down the country, winning a bevy of awards and titles – even beating some “wonderful” visiting Australian teams.
Ngaire took a break from line dancing while living in Britain but, on settling in Masterton in 2007, she wasted no time rekindling her passion, joining the Whakaoriori Shufflers and the Greytown Line Dancers.
She eventually started teaching line dance through Age Concern – recommended by the organisation as one of the best forms of exercise for older people.
While teaching at the Wairarapa Services and Citizens Club, she says people were coming in from the street, hoping to join in.
“They’d see us dance, and their faces would light up.
“They were very keen to give it a go, but struggled to keep up with the rest of the group.
“They’d leave, and we wouldn’t see them again – so I decided I’d better get a beginners class together.”
The internet is a valuable resource for a line dance teacher, Ngaire says – with “millions” of routines, “some going back years”, available to download.
She said she teaches a lot of traditional line dance choreography, though is also inspired by the modern flourishes found online.
“The choreography coming from overseas blows your mind. There’s a lot of tricky footwork.
“The guys are very stylish and athletic, and do lots of kicking. The Asian ladies are so graceful with their arm movements –almost balletic.”
She says line dance is a great form of both physical and mental exercise: non-strenuous for the body, but with enough detailed sequences to keep the brain ticking over.
“It’s great for memory and concentration – you’re concentrating so much it almost doesn’t feel like exercising.
“As a teacher, it’s great when a student tries some new choreography – they realise they’ve got the steps, and beam from ear to ear. It’s very rewarding.”
Ngaire is organising a hoedown event for all the Wairarapa line dance clubs, to be held in April.
- Ngaire Rawlings’ line dance class is held at the Masterton Services and Citizens club on Tuesdays, starting at 5.30pm. For more information, call 021 263 9454.