Step Right Up
Members of Kauai Country Western Dance Group don’t just two-step and twirl along to song tracks. They share a moment and move as one. That’s the true beauty of the experience.
A smile bursts across Jeffrey Callejo Jr.’s face as he describes the art of country western line dancing.
“What I like about it is you have all these people lined up on the dance floor, all doing the same thing to music, and it’s an organized dance versus freestyle or disco where everyone’s out there doing their own thing; it’s more uniform,” he explains. “We all share something in common, which is the dance itself.”
The origins of country western line dancing, however, are unknown. Contrary to popular belief, line dancing did not develop from country western dancing but rather folk dancing. The style of dance, which is, as the name implies, a group of people dancing repetitive movements in a line for the entirety of a song, exploded in popularity during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
Not much has changed as far as the steps are concerned, at least not since Callejo started dancing in the mid-1990s.
At that time, he was inspired to learn how to line dance after seeing his mother, Cash-mire “Cash” Lopez, practicing in their garage.
“My perspective of country line dancing back then was square dancing. You know, grab your partner and do-sido, and I was totally turned off by that,” he says.
But as he watched his mother do the Watermelon Crawl, it reminded him of the Electric Slide, which was popular at the time. And because he and his friends would recreationally dance different versions of the Electric Slide at Lydgate Beach Park Pavilion, he was intrigued and immediately started taking classes from country western line dancing expert Pam Mendez. That’s when he also started practicing with Kaua‘i Country Western Dance Group.
“Because I was driven by the line dancing and I liked it so much, I kept doing all of the classes, and eventually it got to a point where she (Mendez) couldn’t teach me anymore,” he says.
It only took the Kapa‘a High School graduate a year to learn the steps and techniques; shortly thereafter, he was teaching classes.
Callejo now is choreographer and instructor with Kaua‘i Country Western Dance Group and teaches classes at Līhu‘e Bowling Center for dancers of all levels. And, on Wednesdays, he hosts a social evening in the lounge where music is played and dances like the Watermelon Crawl and Cowboy Boogie are part of festivities. Every second Saturday, meanwhile, Kaua‘i Country Western Dance Group members present evenings of fun, music and dance.
Moreover, Kaua‘i Country Western Dance Group performs for local events like Kaua‘i Hospice’s annual Concert in the Sky — each show is about 45 minutes long and ends with crowd participation.
During the mid-2000s, Callejo took a break from teaching and dance, but rejoined the group in 2014.
“I told myself I’m coming back as a peer,” he says with a laugh. “But that didn’t last very long.”
Only seven months later, he was instructing again. As part of his teaching duties — and his passion for the art — Callejo recently attended the Vegas Dance Explosion, where he spent nearly a week learning from well-known line dance choreographers like Jo Thompson Szymanski.
He was pleased to learn a number of new moves, and realized that there’s an even wider selection of music dancers can now scoot their boots to.
“I noticed that it wasn’t just country anymore,” says Callejo, a Mokihana Travel Service agent.
Dances have also evolved in that they are more in sync with the music. When there’s a bridge or gap in the melody, steps move along with them rather than continuously repeat. These inaugural aspects are something Callejo loved learning so much that he’s now incorporating the new methods into his choreography.
One person who’s pleased Callejo returned to lead the Kaua‘i Country Western Dance Group is Sherry Olkonen, who has danced with him since the 1990s.
“There isn’t anything to not like about Jeffrey. He’s just such a sweetheart and he’s such an accomplished dancer,” she says. “He’s also a very personable and nice and caring person.”
She also enjoys the camaraderie of the group and serves as DJ during the once-a-month Saturday night festivities, which recently included a surprise flash mob in the bowling alley. The glue that holds the group together, nonetheless, is Callejo, who plays a large role in creating that comradeship.
“He’s always thinking about other people,” Olkonen adds.
To learn more about Kaua‘i Country Western Dance Group, call or text Callejo at 635-3333 or email email@example.com.