This ain’t Texas, it’s Thursday night at the Heretic

DanceOut Atlanta teaches free country dance lessons for every level of dancer

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DanceOut Atlanta line dancing at the Heretic
Terence Ng (wearing the denim vest), a DanceOut Atlanta instructor, leads a line dancing class at the Heretic.

Photograph by Growl

It’s Thursday night at the Heretic on Cheshire Bridge and the disco ball sparkles above the dance floor. A crowd of about forty people intently focuses on instructor Terence Ng as he teaches an advanced line dance. “It’s okay if you mess up,” Ng cheerfully reassures everyone before diving into the choreography. As the night goes on, the crowd on the dance floor continues to swell as the DJ switches it up between line dances and country two-step.

Toni Ralston formed DanceOut Atlanta, a queer-centered organization that teaches free country dance lessons at the Heretic and the Atlanta Eagle multiple times a week. Ng started teaching classes in 2018. There’s something for every level of dancer from beginner to advanced, and it’s not just line dancing, either. DanceOut also offers two-step lessons—no need to bring your own partner. Beyond lessons, the group also travels to conventions around the country like “Hoedown in the Dunes” in Saugatuck, Michigan, where they learn new dances and mingle with other country dancers.

DanceOut Atlanta line dancing at the Heretic

Photograph by Growl

The classes were popular before the pandemic, says Ng, but definitely received a post-pandemic boost. “I think Beyoncé’s Renaissance and Cowboy Carter, especially, have really boosted this sense of safety and comfort around country and queerness together,” says Ng. “I think these mainstream things have really brought people to it to at least try it out.” While DanceOut primarily serves the LGBTQ+ community, it’s open to all-walks of life and friendly allies, adds Ng.

There’s a history of country dancing in Atlanta’s queer bars. In the ‘80s, Deana Collins opened Deana’s One Mo’ Time on Cheshire Bridge, which she later renamed Hoedowns. The bar was a country dancing hub until it closed in the early 2000s and other bars, like Wild Mustang and 3 Legged Cowboy (both of which are also closed) picked it back up. The Heretic has carried on the tradition since 2011 when the bar introduced a Thursday country night. “Deana and her partner, Sheila, are still around in Atlanta. She’s still kicking it and having a good time,” says Ng. “And thank God for her that she created this whole thing.”

DanceOut Atlanta line dancing at the Heretic

Photograph by Growl

DanceOut Atlanta line dancing at the Heretic

Photograph by Growl

For DanceOut’s regulars, the biggest draw is the sense of community. Some, like retiree Marcus Fleischhauer, have been dancing in Atlanta’s queer bars since the ‘90s, while others have only recently caught on. Eileen Pagan, a trauma therapist and professional dance skater, first attended a two-step lesson on a first date in February 2023. The date was a one-time thing, but the lesson sparked a passion in Pagan. “It was the first time I had ever seen two queer people dancing to country music together in a safe place,” they said. Pagan began coming every week and making friends in the process. “Whenever I come to DanceOut, I feel like I’m included just because I’m walking on the door and I’m curious. And that’s really cool to be accepted in that way,” says Pagan.

DanceOut Atlanta line dancing at the Heretic

Photograph by Growl

When Fitz Dement’s friend first told him about line dancing in a gay bar last year, he thought it was joke. Then he attended a class, and quickly fell in love with line dancing before adding two-step and country waltzes to his lists of interests, too. For Dement, the reason is simple: “I can’t go up to my hometown and dance with a man, and I can here,” he says. “I could dance with everybody here.”

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