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WHAT TO DO AFTER DARK : ANAHEIM : Country Dancing Gains in Popularity

Dance instructor Dan Fitzgerald stood on the Neon Cactus’ stage one recent night, leading about 20 novice urban cowboys and cowgirls through country steps such as the West Coast Shuffle, the Slappin’ Leather and the Electric Slide.

Shouting for toe steps, kick steps, heel slaps and turns, Fitzgerald was soon able to transform even tenderfoot dancers into some semblance of a boot scooter.

As part of the country music craze that has swept the country the last few years, the Disneyland Hotel 18 months ago converted a Yukon-themed saloon --Sgt. Preston’s--into the Neon Cactus. The new venue is drawing large crowds of tourists and locals.

“We wanted something that would appeal both to our guests and to the people who live in the area,” spokeswoman Pam Espinosa said.

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The bar’s decor is country. Fake cow skulls hang from the walls along with cowboy hats and portraits of country music stars. Even the chairs are clad in jeans--as their seats are upholstered in blue denim.

But there are still some vestiges of its previous life as a Yukon saloon. A moose head still hangs from the wall and many of the pillars are faux totem poles.

Part of the Neon Cactus’s attraction, its regulars say, is that while hard-core country devotees can enjoy themselves, beginners don’t have to worry about being lassoed off the dance floor. Wednesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., the bar offers free country dance lessons. The four-piece house band plays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily.

“Unless you can dance like John Travolta (in ‘Urban Cowboy’), some bars around here don’t want you,” said Sally Traficanto, a Riverside real estate agent. A Neon Cactus regular for two months, she wore a black cowboy hat and vest. “But here they make you feel comfortable. The dance instructors are very relaxed. There’s no pretension here.”

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Robin Bowerman, a Norwalk customer service representative, said that because the bar also offers pool tables, video games and darts, her husband can have a good time even when he doesn’t want to dance. Country line dances don’t require a person have a partner.

“That’s what’s nice about country dancing in general--you don’t have to drag your husband onto the dance floor,” she said. “The men can do what they want while the women dance.”


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