Arts & Culture

‘Line Dance Is for Everybody’

BY Rosemarie Fruehauf TIMEDecember 16, 2009 PRINT

Thirty-nine year-old Enrico Adler looks as if he were born in his Western suit. Though he won the championship in line dance four times, he’s an Eastern Berlin-born family man who never dreamed of doing what he is famous for today.

He gave workshops at the Line Dance Festival in Berlin, which took place in conjunction with the horse and riding trade fair Hippologica on Dec. 12. The two fit well if you consider that line dance has its roots in the country and Wild West culture. The purpose of the event was to popularize the dance.

Adler, nicknamed “Rick Eagle” (for his first name Enrico) by his American colleagues, is a key figure of line dance in Germany. He shared the story of how he unintentionally slipped onto the scene.

An Advantageous Dance

Line dance is for everybody—that’s Adler’s motto, and he especially likes to encourage people who never before dared to step on a dance floor. “In the last workshop I did right now, at least five of these absolute beginners survived,” he said. “That’s great.”

Line dance does not require a dancing partner, so you can participate even if your spouse or partner doesn’t like to dance or can’t join you.

Line dance is also suitable for all physical conditions and ages. You can learn it whether you’re 80 or five years old because it has different levels of skill. “Everybody can learn it in his or her own speed—granny and grandson, a man without a woman, a woman without a man.”

“The biggest advantage is,” Adler explains, “that you can learn in a pretty short time like half an hour a whole routine you’re able to dance on the spot. You don’t need dancing experience or to spend weeks on courses and dance lessons. The time factor is often one of the main reasons that keep people from dancing. And female singles often hesitate to attend dance lessons, because they worry what kind of dancing partner they might get.” These problems don’t apply to line dance.

Not Just for Country Fans

Young people taking up the traditional country-style line dance have opened the form up to more modern styles of music.

“The basic idea of dancing a choreography of 24, 32, or 48 counts while a song is playing and then start it again works almost with every music style,” says Adler, who wasn’t fond of country music when he started.

It all began with a visit from his American cousins. They went together to the German-American Volksfest in Berlin, where after some tequila his cousin suddenly walked up to the dance floor and joined the group performing. “She made exactly the same steps as all the others without mistakes and without knowing anybody else on stage.” Adler was completely puzzled. Then she explained line dance to him.

They made a dare that night—he would dance 15 line dances when visiting the United States the following year, and she would learn enough German for a 15-minute conversation.

As one can guess, Adler won the dare, but first he had to undergo beginner-level lessons accompanied by country music. He took classes at the American-Western Saloon, a club in Berlin known for its American food, country music and Country Western dancing. One night, he lingered after class and bumped into advanced-level dancers.

They were dancing to chart breakers like Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lopez—something that pleased Adler and inspired him to dance beyond the requirement of the dare.

He was obviously a talent and his line dance friends and trainers encouraged him to join competitions—he was surprisingly successful. Two years after he started, he won his first world title 2002 in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

The Line Dance World Championships

“I have to explain, that the Line dance World Championships take place in different categories of difficulty and if you win it in your class, you have to progress to the next level,” says Adler. Twice he won the championships in Nashville, Tenn., a fact that surprised not only him but also the American scene. After earning the highest title 2007 in Ireland, he would have been forced to become a professional—something that he abandoned due to his dedication to his day job and family.

Since then, he has given countless workshops and private lessons in his free time and became, without intention, an icon of the dance scene.

“If you go for something like that intentionally, it won’t work in most cases. You simply have to slip into it deeper and deeper,” says Adler. He liked dancing alone and never thought about attending classes.

“I just wanted to move to the music freely and in the way I liked,” he says, and that’s why he rejected line dance at first. But eventually he discovered the freedom within it.

“The choreography says I have to step to the right—but if I make three steps to the right or several turns to the right within the same timing it’s in the end the same,” he explained.

These variations are exactly the creative and exciting nuances required in the championships. The basic choreography is just the frame.

Six different motions are given, and the contestant is dancing with several competitors of the same level on stage. He knows the choreography, but not the music. After four repeats, he’s allowed to show variations. The freestyle round is the opposite—the music is the same for everybody and he has to present an individual choreography for it. Judges also evaluate how the contestant illustrates the lyrics of the song theatrically.

Last but not least, one can join a choreography competition and compete with other individual choreographies and songs.

Three big line dance associations have emerged—the oldest is United Country Western Dance Council (UCWDC). Adler was a founding member of the European club, the WCDF. The Masters in Line is a newer association. These three are now jointly conducting the World Championships.

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In recent years, smaller organizations have joined the fray—the Internet has also done its part. The line dance scene in Europe formed just 15 years ago, inspired by the music video “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus. The choreography of the video is a classic of modern line dance, which sparked the hype in the U.K. and the Netherlands.

Today, YouTube has become the platform to share new choreographies with the rest of the globe via video. “If a dance goes online in the U.S. one day, it can be popular in Japan the next day,” says Adler, who is especially amazed about line dance in Asia.

“In Singapore, they have workshops with 3,000 dancers in one gym, and they even set a Guinness world record in line dance with 10,000 people.”

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