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Calgary Journal reporter puts his straw hat on, becoming living public art
Two women were brave enough to join this lone ranger in the middle of his brief solo line-dance routine.
Left to right, myself, Chelsea McGannon and Chantel Rhoades in my impromptu line dance on Stephen Avenue. Our dance was tiny compared to the 200-person line dance the Calgary Stampede organized the day before.
Photo: Sean sullivan/Calgary Journal
“You in a line dance?” one asked.
“Yeah,” I said back. “I was dared to do this.”
I was hoping I’d get a few partners out of sympathy. It worked briefly.
Nearly a hundred people were watching me dance as they enjoyed one of the first days of summer with a sunny evening of dinner and drinks on the patios of Calgary’s downtown restaurants and bars.
I noticed a few camera phones begin to face my direction. Hello, YouTube?
Cue the brief fiddle solo in the bridge of the country hit song, “Cotton Eye Joe.”
“I don’t know the steps,” one woman said, giggling.
“You don’t have to know,” I replied.
Line dancing with girls took me back to more innocent times of elementary school gym class. The difference this time though is that I’m now at an age where girls don’t have cooties anymore.
In a way, considering you’d never see me on “Dancing With The Stars,” that just made things more embarrassing.
Or was I just over-thinking things?
I originally had few “Yee-hah!” feelings of enthusiasm for this assignment.
Three pints were items on my shopping list to ready myself for this daunting task.
In the name of artistic expression in public spaces, I was about to entertain total strangers on Stephen Avenue Mall — during a busy supper hour, without warning.
Stephen Avenue Mall is not just any public space; recently, it ranked second place in Calgary’s Top 10 public spaces in the Toronto-based “Spacing Magazine.”
In other words, it was the right spot to get some attention.
My assignment: Dress up as a cowboy and line dance to a handful of well-known, but in my opinion, so-corny-that-they’re-fun line-dancing tunes.
And also to see if anyone was gutsy enough to join me.
I’m personally a timid suburbanite who doesn’t relate much with the cowboy culture of Calgary, and I was born and raised here.
The dance routine was intended to be an artistic display of our city’s old cowboy roots in public by a non-cowboy.
Just like any other piece of public art, people would have their own opinions of what I was doing. Either way, I feared I would become a target for laughter.
The Hours Ahead
Decked out in a black straw hat, red-and-white striped shirt and dark blue jeans, I started my workday in full Western wear.
That afternoon, a photographer, my production manager and I agreed to meet at the Unicorn Pub as I braced myself for the task ahead, looking to lower my inhibitions.
I sat at the table, on my second pint, trying my best to build up my courage.
My stomach had been bothering me for a few hours; stage fright was beginning to rear its ugly head.
I had performed in public before and always enjoyed my high school drama classes, but I couldn’t shake my nerves. I had never danced in public in front of total strangers and the anticipation was starting to get to me.
We ordered some hot wings with our drinks — it probably wasn’t the wisest food choice to make with butterflies fluttering.
I finish pint number three and we headed to the street.
“Let’s do this,” I said boldly.
Dancing To My Own Tune
Walking east on Stephen Avenue, I play the main theme to the classic spaghetti western, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” I decided not to be deterred from the odd stare from people walking by.
Oh well, I thought. Calgary, there’s a new sheriff in town.
We settled in front of the patios of James Joyce Pub and Divino Wine and Cheese Bistro.
I set the boom box on a bench and pushed play.
I warmed up with “Achy-Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus, dancing by my lonesome for the entire song.
As curious heads shifted towards me, I realized I’d forgotten the steps.
Doing research on YouTube earlier that day, I noticed these line dances don’t exactly have the strictest sets of directions. Every dance studio appeared to do it differently, so for me, there was no wrong way to dance. I just decided to wing it.
But with more active moves in “Cotton Eye Joe,” such as heel-tapping and spinning imaginary lassos, I really had the chance to let loose.
The two women that joined me for my second song only lasted a minute or two before sitting back down at their table. I was the lone ranger once again.
The number of cheers and applause wasn’t thunderous for my routine and my line dance was only three people strong for half of one song.
While it was a failure in gathering dancing bodies, people still applauded the effort.
Perhaps the audience at least had a sense of respect for me as I came out of my shell and tried to entertain.
Not everyone joined me, but the people enjoying dinner on Stephen Avenue that night still participated by watching, clapping, cheering or taking cell phone pictures and videos.
To push myself that far out my comfort level to become living public art makes me think that maybe I’m a true cowboy after all.