Thirty years ago, when John Travolta was dazzling movie audiences as a rhinestone-clad “Urban Cowboy”, the D.C. area had plenty of dance halls promoting line dancing and two-step struts.
“This area was a hotbed for country,” said Ed Cottrell, a local disc jockey and dance instructor. But today, the venues catering to country western waltzers have been all but stomped out.
“The country dance community is sort of disenfranchised here… You used to be able to go country dancing anywhere,” Cottrell said.
A few months ago, several regulars who take dance lessons from Cottrell at the Colvin Run Community Hall requested a night of country western dancing.
“The first one was just a trial,” Cottrell said of the event held in November. “But 140 people showed up that first time and they said, ‘That was great. When’s the next one?’ [Country western dancers] are a sleeping giant out there just looking for a place to go.”
Cottrell held similar events on Sunday evenings in December and February with high attendance. He is now planning a monthly event to help accommodate the crowd. The next dance is scheduled June 9.
“There’s lots of dance venues and opportunities in Northern Virginia,” he said. “But we’ve cultivated a social, friendly environment at Colvin. People can be comfortable trying it at all levels.”
Reston resident Gloria Trumpower said she grew frustrated with finding a local dance hall.
“You can’t get across the bridge at dinner time and all the dance halls that I went to before Colvin were in Maryland,” she said. “It’s been the most wonderful experience. I started out with ballroom dancing but I wanted something new and country dance is very new.”
Cottrell, who is a member of the hall’s board of directors, and his partner Gail Crum kicked off the dance program at Colvin Run Community Hall about four years ago.
During the week, Cottrell and Crum, as well as other dance instructors, host dance lessons and other events for $12 to $15 admission.
The hall, which was originally an 1880s schoolhouse, has been renovated to include a large oak ballroom floor and stage for a band.
“The place has a great deal of character. They’ve had dances there for about 80 years,” said David Modlin, a Rockville resident who travels to Virginia to dance. “In the 1930s-40s, which was before I was born, there was dancing everywhere and there was a dance culture… Often [today] it takes a little digging or asking another dancer where to go to.”
Modlin started dancing lessons from an Arthur Murray studio about eight years ago. About three of four years ago he discovered Colvin Run while living in Herndon.
“I just fell in love with it,” he said. Modlin recruited his girlfriend, Loudoun County resident Nora Ryan, to join in lessons at Colvin Run. Ryan said the now-monthly country western dances have changed her opinion on country music.
“The focus is on country western [dance]. I don’t really listen to that on the radio, but it’s fun to dance to,” Ryan said. “Now I’ve got a country station programmed on my radio… I don’t know of any other place that does the country western [dancing]. There are a couple other places that do salsa but what’s nice about Colvin is the hall is bigger.”
Cottrell said country music has changed along with its audience, which is helping to draw more dancers back to the genre.
“Country music, if you go back a few years ago, was all about these guys who would get drunk and lose their girl[friend]. It was real whiney… Country music is hip now [think platinum recording artist Taylor Swift]. I think that’s a factor.”
Cottrell said the median age of the average Colvin Run Community Hall dancer is about 40, but the hall has hosted dancers as old as 80 and as young as high school teens.
“The one thing [Cottrell] has done is he has some good instructors come in,” Falls Church resident Laura Bromberg said. “They taught line dancing. One time we learned the dance from ‘Foot Loose… So, if you know absolutely nothing about [a dance], you’ll have some basic moves so you can dance all night…
“I really look forward to it. It’s good exercise. You can be any age and enjoy it.”