Sip, Dine and Dance at Tacoma’s Steel Creek

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Photos by Elizabeth Morrow

By Sarah Berkley

If the mention of country- western-style dancing conjures up the mortification and clammy-handed do-si-do’s of your elementary school P.E. class, y’all better listen up. Time to waltz over to Steel Creek American Whiskey Co., order a stiff one and prepare to engage in some therapeutic dance-hall reconditioning. Because line dancing is a thing in Tacoma. Yes, a thing. It offers all the humble-heart and straight-shootin’ authenticity of country music, but with less honky tonk and certainly no sawdust floors in sight. (Although you will find a mechanical bull there.)

What’s more, the scene is downright friendly, and with Steel Whiskey’s $5 group line dancing lessons every Thursday, it’s sort of a snap to learn. So leave your gym shorts at home and — in the wise words of Garth Brooks — blame it on your roots: show up in boots.

Brooks is right — you can, after all, blame it on your roots. In one form or another, we humans have been dancing in unison since time immemorial. Whether you were a Balkan peasant in the 1800’s, a Native American at your family powwow or a clubbing diva gliding along the electric slide of the ’80s, you’ve likely witnessed some permutation of our collective need to engage in synchronized fancy footwork. Safety in numbers, right?IMG_0604

Merriam-Webster defines line dancing as “a type of country and western dancing in which dancers line up in a row without partners and follow a choreographed pattern of steps to music.” If the folks at Steel Creek were asked, the definition might be “a rootin-tootin’ good time.”

As far as line dancing goes, it was as recently as the ’90s when today’s contemporary version — the kind you’ll find at Steel Creek — really took off, riding a surge of inspiration from country hits like “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Achy Breaky Heart.” Thanks, Miley’s dad.

Line dancing isn’t exactly new in Tacoma, either. Locals recently grapevined and sugarfooted their way across the floorboards of Big Whisky Saloon in Tacoma for a few years. But when Big Whisky co-owners Paul Muller, Jon Tartaglia and Charlie Snyder decided to part from the enterprise and launch a new establishment in June 2013, they also took their dance instructors with them.

With plenty of elbow grease on their part, a new country bar scene was born — one that feels sleek as a steel guitar and roomy as a 10-gallon hat. There’s a loftier space more befitting of a dance scene, and the lessons can accommodate more people. It’s not unheard of for a crowd of 100 to be shuffling and coaster-stepping their way through a round or two of Reba.

Five reasons you should line dance:

1. You can pick it up lickety-split. “Even if you have two left feet,” says co-owner Paul Muller. “It’s something you can learn in a short period of time, and when you do it can be the most fun thing in the world.” The secret weapons? Steel Creek Whiskey’s beloved instructors, Alan Provencher and Char Alexander. They have been married 30 years and they’ve been dancing together even longer. “She’s the brains of the outfit, and I’m the brawn,” Provencher said. Both could charm the buttermilk off a biscuit, and they’ve got infinite patience. Give them an hour and they’ll have you triple-stepping like no one’s business.

2. Everyone does it. Old folks. Whippersnappers. Wallflowers. Social butterflies. Whether you’re fit as a fiddle — or more ample around the middle, a cursory glance at the dance floors shows that every age, make and model of person is duly represented. Do you have cowboy boots? No? Doesn’t matter. “Soldiers, construction workers … attorneys come to class,” says Provencher. “Everyone comes. We have an oral surgeon that comes.”

IMG_05513.  It’s dancing for people who don’t like to dance. Would you rather walk into a burning ring of fire than set foot on a dance floor? Afraid you’ll stick out like a sore thumb? No fear — it’s not possible when you’re lost in a large shuffling mass of learning. You’re all in this together and therefore “it’s less intimidating,” says Muller. There’s a “real camaraderie to it,” says Provencher. Afraid to dance because it doesn’t come naturally? The pressure’s off with line dancing, which removes the improvisation and replaces it with a formula of choreographed steps. Afraid to dance because your germophobia doesn’t allow you to come in contact with stranger’s sweaty palms? Don’t worry, you get to keep your personal space — there ain’t partners in line dancing.

4. It’s an all-inclusive scene. Do you classify Taylor Swift as country music? Wouldn’t know a Brad Paisley ballad if it hit you in the head? No matter. You’ll be welcomed with open arms and you’ll probably make friends. Country is an inherently friendly genre to begin with, believes Provencher. What’s more, Steel Creek’s expansive food menu and clean, modern interiors give it a much more of a contemporary, approachable feel. “We didn’t want it to be just boots and spurs,” says Muller. Plus, you only have to ride the bull if you really want to.

5. Less rough around the edges. No spittoons or flying fists round these parts, more “Pardon, me, ma’am” and hat-tipping and such. “It’s really respectful here,” says Alexander. “It’s upbeat. It’s not your typical country bar.”

Crazy Little Thing Called Two-Step
If you’re clamoring to do the Cowboy cha-cha cheek-to-cheek with your honey, Steel Creek’s Two-Step Tuesdays just might be for you. Just like Thursday’s line dancing lessons, it’s $5, runs from 8-9pm and includes one domestic draft beer or well drink. Partner-based dances include swing, waltz, traditional two-steps and more.

The Nitty Gritty
What: Line Dancing (a different dance/routine every week)
Where: Steel Creek American Whiskey Co., 1114 Broadway, Tacoma
When: Thursdays from 8–9pm. Check online for the schedule of specific dances.
Price: $5 for a group lesson, which includes a complimentary well drink or domestic draft beer.

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