.Country Line Dancing Rules East Bay Nightclub

Patrons step, stomp, swivel and slide every weekend in Pleasanton

Mavericks Country Bar and Nightclub in Pleasanton, with its mechanical bull, deer-antler chandelier, and clientele in cowboy hats and leather inlay boots, has a country-western flair that’s hard to find in the Bay Area. Every Friday and Saturday night the building almost overflows with its weekly line-dancing events, where bargoers of all ages and skill levels jump on the dance floor and kick-step, stomp and scoot across the dance floor in unison.

Line dancing is a true American fusion—its exact origins are unclear, but it’s probably a blend of English and French round- and square-dances filtered through folk and country-western tradition, plus European dances brought back by World War I and II servicepeople. In the ’70s, it incorporated disco and boogie and gave us the Electric Slide; in the ’80s, it reached new popularity when the music video for Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” featured a full crowd of line-dancing ladies; in the ’90s, everyone began doing the Macarena.

These days country line dancing mainly centers around country music—naturally—but other genres are thrown in for spice.

Adam “The Line Dancing Cowboy” Herbel, who teaches line dancing at Mavericks a few nights a month, explains that line dancing tends to absorb as many types of music as possible. “‘Cotton Eye Joe’ was a crazy, crazy hit, and the version that got popular is Swedish-techno-pop-country,” he told me. “There’s always been a popular element to it. The biggest line dance of 2021 was ‘Shivers,’ by Ed Sheeran.”

Herbel likes to mix it up, but his favorites are still the classics. “Everyone has their own preferences, but I tend to try to go with a country song,” he said. 

“Line Dancing Lisa” Brown also regularly leads line dancing at Mavericks and, like Herbel, she appreciates the country music traditions at the core of line dancing. Her favorite line dance at the moment is set to “The Booze Cruise” by Blackjack Billy, but she doesn’t mind throwing in the odd Top 40 banger. “In my head it’s a country thing, but it can be anything, with any kind of music,” she told me.

Line dancers coalesce around specific choreographies in a complex way, a blend of online popularity, TikTok trends and hyper-local preferences. When a new song comes out, choreographers create line dances for it and post them online—sometimes everyone converges on one choreography, sometimes several become popular.

Then, at country bars and line-dancing nights, people pick up the dance that most of the people around them are doing, and that choreography catches on. As a result, sometimes people perform a completely different set of dances than the dancers at a bar one state over, or even one county over, as each region settles on their own favorites.

“There definitely can be a different favorite from Sacramento to San Jose,” Herbel said.

This also means the best way to join as a beginner is to show up and just jump in. “Part of the fun is showing up and not having any preparation, and going through it with everybody else that’s learning,” Brown said.

Mavericks’ line-dancing nights are designed to be beginner-friendly, equally fun for the line-dancing aficionado and the first-timer. For Brown, a good dance floor is always a welcoming one. “In my mind, country line dancing is all about hospitality and welcoming people,” he said. “And so that’s the goal of Mavericks.”

As the rare East Bay bar that’s country all the time, not just on “country nights,” Mavericks offers a lot. The bar aims to “introduce and celebrate country culture in the East Bay,” and line dancing is great for bringing in new faces. “Line dancing nights at Mavericks have become some of the most popular events we host,” Maddy Hayley, Mavericks’ events manager, told me. “Our max capacity is about 315 people, and we are close to that most nights.”

Brown said, “It’s a country bar right in Pleasanton. It’s awesome to have that. They’ve got a big dance floor. They’ve got a stage for live music, and a DJ booth, and the bull, and you can go in and eat.” There aren’t a lot of country bars in the East Bay, and Mavericks goes all out. “It’s just the right place.”

At Mavericks, line-dancing nights start with a lesson at 7pm, and then open-line dancing for the rest of the night. Saturday nights include a live band that rotates in and out with the line-dancing DJ. Mavericks tries to bring in different line-dancing leaders with different vibes, running the gamut of the many genres and styles that fall under the line-dancing umbrella. First-timers who come to the class are guaranteed to know at least a few dances—although no one will bat an eye if they jump onto the dance floor for an unfamiliar song and try to learn it on the fly.

As for advice, “Hide in the middle,” Herbel said. Most dances involve turning and facing all four walls, so if you’re in the middle of the dance floor you’ll always have people to follow, and won’t get caught in front. “Another thing is: Don’t take yourself too seriously,” Herbel added. “Just try to face the right direction and jump in the next part that looks familiar. You’re doing the same 32 counts over and over again; it’s eventually going to come back to a part you remember.” 

And finally, don’t get too drunk—it’s not great for your spatial awareness. “Having one or two drinks is cool,” Herbel said, “but don’t get wasted and then try to do it.”

For Brown, line dancing is hard to mess up—it’s all about just doing it: “not doing it right, not doing it well—just doing it.” Many dancers show up for their first or second time ever, so the teachers and DJs make an effort to include a few of the easiest dances, a few of the hard ones and a bunch in the middle. At Mavericks, dancers are surrounded by pros twirling effortlessly, newbies stumbling over their boots and everyone in between—but everyone is ultimately in sync.

“That’s my favorite thing, that it brings people together,” Brown said. “We really try to welcome everybody, because that’s what we have in common: We’re all out there doing this together.”

And those who really want to do a little prep work can’t go wrong learning some of the classics. “There’s your classic, old-school dances like ‘Good Times’ and ‘Watermelon Crawl,’” Brown said. “These dances are never going to change.” Other line-dancing standbys include “Copperhead Road,” “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Cowboy Cha Cha.”

Herbel’s favorite line dance at the moment is set to “I See Country” by Ian Munsick, whose lyrics capture line dancing’s openness to welcoming new kick-steppers, no matter where they bought their boots: 

Whoa, this thing hits wherever you call home

No, it ain’t somethin’ that you find

Only down an old dirt road

It’s in the lights of New York, the hills of L.A.

Everybody got their own honky-tonk way.

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Mavericks; Fri-Sat, 7pm to 2am, Sun-Thu, closed; 4825 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton. 925.623.5922. www.maverickspleasanton.com

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