Stud Country, a Queer Line Dancing and Two-Step Class, Makes a Return to New York

On the night of April 17, a crowd of 20- and 30-somethings, many of them queer, packed into Georgia Room, a Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired nightclub at the Freehand Hotel in Manhattan. They were there to drink and dance, but they hadn’t paid $25 each to grind or freestyle. They came to line dance.

More than 300 people — some in cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats and biceps-exposing denim vests — turned out for the sold-out event. And this was on a Monday.

The evening’s draw was Stud Country, a queer line-dancing and two-step class and party that usually takes place in Los Angeles. There, the event draws regulars and curious newcomers every Monday and Thursday to Club Bahia, a Latin joint in Echo Park.

Sean Monaghan, 35, and Bailey Salisbury, 38, friends of nearly two decades, founded Stud Country in 2021, after the pandemic forced the closure of Oil Can Harry’s, a gay honky-tonk bar where they had been line dancing since 2017.

To keep that community alive during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Mr. Monaghan, a former competitive Irish dancer from the Bay Area, and Ms. Salisbury, a competitive jazz lyrical dancer in high school, began hosting line dancing events over Zoom. The events later migrated to improvised spaces like parking lots and, eventually, bars; they landed at Club Bahia in October 2022.

At around 8:30 p.m., Mr. Monaghan, in a camo vest and a baseball cap emblazoned with the words “No Fear,” and Ms. Salisbury, in a rhinestone-studded red bra top and matching red pants, stepped onto a rug-covered stage to lay out the ground rules. “No drinks on the dance floor,” Mr. Monaghan said into his mic. “And the dance floor is for dancing.”

For the next hour, complying proved complicated, in part because of the size of the crowd. Leaving the dance floor practically meant standing on a couch that had been pushed against a wall.

Ms. Salisbury, irrepressibly upbeat and genial off the stage, moves like a tumbler on it, bounding and bouncing, tossing her pin-straight hair and grinning as she calls out her steps. Mr. Monaghan, the straight gay man to her sprite, takes a more understated — if equally impressive — approach, flowing from move to move with grace and ease.

After the D.J. spun the first song, “Texas Time” by Keith Urban, it was teaching time. The students, massed shoulder to shoulder, followed Mr. Monaghan and Ms. Salisbury’s directions, edging side to side and pivoting from stage to windows to bar. Attendees then split into two groups, one watching while the other performed to music.

Next came two-step partner dancing, which doubled as a reminder that 300 moving bodies generate serious heat. Sweat arced through the air. Hands fanned at slick, focused faces. At around 10 p.m., someone cracked the windows and a breeze cooled the room.

The music throughout the night was eclectic. At Stud Country, Britney Spears lives one turn off Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” and Deana Carter sips “Strawberry Wine” with Ed Sheeran and Juice Newton.

Not everyone donned their country-western best. Many wore one or two on-theme pieces, some none. Unlike the bluejeans and belt buckles, though, the boots matter. “The leather soles help you twist and slide,” Ms. Salisbury said.

Even so, Ming Lin, 34, an archivist from Lower Manhattan, wasn’t ready to make the investment. “I don’t feel that I’ve earned them,” she said.

Joel Dean, 36, an artist in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens, said he first attended Stud Country in late 2021, when the event came to Georgia Room for four dates. He fell head over boot heels in love with line dancing and, with his friends Bronwen Lam, a writer, and Tenaya Kelleher, a choreographer, founded a semiregular class inspired by Stud Country at Ukrainian East Village Restaurant.

“I did get the boots,” said Mr. Dean, who was seated next to Ms. Lin. “I earned them.”

Asked why so many queer people seem drawn to Stud Country, Ray Lipstein, a 31-year-old Brooklyn resident, observed that compared with other styles of dance, this take on line dancing “wears its euphoria closer to the surface.”

Line dancing has inspired queer dancers for decades. The International Association of Gay/Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs was founded in 1993. In Manhattan, Big Apple Ranch, a country-western dance class taught on the second Saturday of every month, has been going since 1997.

As the night progressed and the crowd thinned, experienced dancers remained on the floor for more advanced routines. It was easy to understand why Stud Country, which will return to Georgia Room during June’s Pride celebrations and Lincoln Center on June 23, calls itself the “Queer Church of Line Dance.” Arrayed in a loose, squirming circle around the adepts, onlookers wore expressions of good-natured awe. They hooted. They hollered. They did not gawk ironically.

“It’s shared consciousness, abandonment, surrender into synchronicity,” Ms. Salisbury said earlier in the day.

Or, as Mr. Monaghan said from the stage: “It’s a holy thing you do with people.”

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