western dancing resources
Up With Debbie
the American Dream
guitars, streamers and balloons drape from the ballroom ceiling
at the annual Texas Hoe-Down in Fort Worth.
Four couples move to a favorite corner on the dance floor and stand, poised for
movement — like music-box dancers waiting for the lid to open. A twangy
note releases them.
Teased hair flies, suede-soled boots slide and prairie skirts twirl as they dance
to a country western beat. The dancers' facial expressions range from furrowed
brows of concentration to genuine grins of enjoyment. With arms clasped above
their heads — the men's arms curved a little extra to compensate for their
Stetson hats — the dancers silently mouth the familiar lyrics.
A petite, graceful woman with the number 656 pinned
to her western-yoked ensemble fidgets on the sidelines. Judi Caudle ('87, '89
M.S.) mentally braces for her turn on the dance floor. She stretches. She breathes
deeply. She doesn't watch the competition. Caudle prefers to replay her
own routine in her head or practice with her competitive-dance partner, John
Desanges, in a remote corner of the room.
The evening before was a little less nerve wracking. The non-competitive Saturday
Night Show, themed "Retro Country," was a tongue-in-cheek celebration
of the flamboyant western wear of the early 1990s.
Caudle and a cohort of women and girls wore "wild" western shirts
as they performed a couple of line dances. She couldn't keep from smiling
as her feet, shoulder-width apart, pivoted and stepped to the music and her hands
gestured to her "Achy Breaky Heart" or lassoed an imaginary "Funky
But Sunday afternoon is different. Dressed in her competition wear, Caudle knows
some of the eyes following her choreographed routines will be more discerning.
She locks eyes with her husband and No. 1 fan, Chris Caudle ('79), in the
audience. She smiles and relaxes. She knows she'll compete to the best
of her ability — and have fun doing it.
"I feel like Cinderella on the dance floor," confesses Caudle. "It's
An audiologist by day in Denton and Lewisville, she is one of thousands of dancers
active in the rhinestone-studded circuits of competitive country dance. At the
Hoe-Down in Fort Worth, an American Country Dance Association event, she is one
of almost 90 dancers. She also competes in United Country Western Dance Council
events in Amsterdam, Germany, England, Canada and the United States and has won
three world championships.
"I love to dance to country music. Like disco, it has a beat," says Caudle,
who studied ballet as a child and continues to pursue a passion for dance.
Now in her seventh year of competition, she practices six hours a week with a
professional choreographer to learn precisely timed footwork, capture the character
of the dance and sell it to the audience.
"The nuances are key to great performances," she says.
At the Hoe-Down, Caudle hopes for seamless execution in front of the judges.
She and Desanges, in coordinating costumes, strike a pose on the dance floor
and with several other matching couples wait for the first musical note.
A nightclub song begins to play — a heartfelt melody of someone pleading
to be remembered. Caudle and Desanges sway to the music, the kind of slow dance
found in honky-tonks. The two remain perfectly synchronized while expertly avoiding
other couples on the dance floor.
The music fades and the couple repositions. A new song begins. This time, the
rustling of Caudle's short skirt reflects a cha-cha with a tangier, snappier
After a short break, Caudle and her female counterparts return in skirts with
ankle-grazing hemlines. The long fabric creates romantic silhouettes as the women
waltz with their partners. One-two-three. One-two-three. Desanges twirls Caudle
like a figure skater in Western boots until the audience erupts into cheers and
The competition ends with Caudle back in her sassy, short skirt, perfect for
the granddaddy of all country music — the two-step — and swing dancing.
"You learn to wear what sparkles on the dance floor," she says. "You
can't be shy when you dance."
As the music ends, the emcee reminds the dancers to remember good Southern etiquette: "Thank
your partner for dancing with you."
Caudle thanks Desanges and heads in the direction of her husband. He kisses her.
By the end of the weekend, Caudle and Desanges have placed first in their division,
winning jackets, a bracelet for her and a belt buckle for him.
On Monday morning, Caudle returns to her hearing practice and her normal daily
activities. But evenings and weekends, she continues to practice her fancy footwork.
Another competition is always a two-step away.