"Cowboy Cha Cha!" DJ Rick Siana calls over the loudspeaker, indicating the dance on deck. Gentlemen in head-to-toe western garb put down their Coors Lights and politely invite women in cowgirl getups to be their partners. The couples find spots on the dance floor beneath a bedazzled horse saddle that hangs in place of a disco ball. Soon enough, the dancers fall into perfect unison to the twangy country beats, maneuvering tricky turns without so much as disturbing the cowboy hats on their heads.
It's a scene straight out of a Texas two-step bar, but you're nowhere near the Lone Star State. You're at Montana's in San Dimas — 35 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Located in a mini-mall right above a Boot Barn, Montana's is one of the few nightclubs in the greater Los Angeles area dedicated to country and western dancing. Open since 2000, the club draws a crowd of regulars and curious newcomers from as far away as Ojai and Orange County with its authentic Wild West décor (think antler chandeliers and cowhide bar stools) and welcoming, good-hearted atmosphere. But the main draw is the dancing.
Veteran two-stepper Paul McClure (a three-time grand champion country and western dancer) teaches two-step and other country partner dances like the Cowboy Cha Cha and Desperado Wrap on Friday nights, while Siana spins country classics from the likes of Johnny Cash and Brooks & Dunn. The traditional music and moves attract a mostly mature but spry crowd, with an authentic cowboy or two among them.
Regular Arlie Morris, 63, of Chino Hills describes himself as a semi-retired cowboy. "I come here to sweat and burn calories on the dance floor," he says. "My horses, I still work them, but it's not as hard a workout as you would get on the floor."
Saturday nights bring in a younger set with classes in country line dancing — including the ever-popular Electric Slide and the upstart Country Girl Shake. Siana plays more modern, upbeat country hits on Saturdays, with a smattering of top 40 and hip-hop during "freestyle" sets for those who haven't yet mastered the country footwork.
But Jonathan Vasquez, 26, a student at Cal Poly Pomona, prefers Fridays because, as he says, the dancers are more serious. His partners range in age from 21 to 60-plus. "Ladies here like to dance," says Vasquez. "That's what's cool about it."
And though the men always lead and the ladies always follow, women here never have to be wallflowers. "It's OK for women to ask men to dance," says Frances Mendez, 59, of Rancho Cucamonga, a fixture on Friday nights who assists with the two-step lessons.
Dancers have a chance to sample multiple partners during mixer dances, when couples swap every 45 seconds or so — sort of like speed dating in dance form. "You see more smiling during mixers than you ever see the rest of your life," says McClure.
It's that kind of good, folksy fun that ropes people in and draws them back to Montana's. "It's the opposite of traditional nightclubs," says general manager Danny Bartholomew. At Hollywood hotspots, he points out, "every six months, they've got to change." But for the loyal crowd that revels in Montana's Old West flavor, "that's the last thing they want," he says. "They want everything to be exactly the same."
Where: 657 W. Arrow Highway, San Dimas
When: Friday and Saturday 6 p.m.-2 a.m.; dance lessons, 7 p.m. (Friday partner dances; Saturday line dancing)
Price: $5 before 9 p.m.; $10 after
Info: (909) 592-2211; http://www.dancingatmontanas