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Friday, March 26, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Aspiring Dancers Line Up To Buy This Video

For Greg James, line dancing is the latest Pet Rock.

But for country dancing fans, it's just a new twist on a traditional step. Last summer, James was scoping around for a new niche market for his Bellevue company, CounterTop Video Corp., which produces and distributes home videos. The company, which James co-founded in 1989, already was doing a good business selling rodeo and cowboy documentaries through Western stores, but he began to hear a common refrain from retail customers.

"We started hearing about this thing called line dancing," said James, 34. "I didn't know what a line dance was - I saw people in a barn doing square dancing. They kept asking, `Do you have anything on line dancing and the Achy Breaky?' "

Now he does - the four-volume series "Learn Country Line Dancin' " which has sold more than 100,000 copies since it hit the market in late December. Simitar Entertainment, Inc. in Minnesota distributes the tapes to major national retail chains.

In addition, CounterTop itself distributes them to about 2,000 Western specialty stores across the country, which typically sell them for $10 to $15 apiece.

Altogether, sales are topping 15,000 copies per week.

"It's still growing, that's what's scary," James said.

Not bad for a guy whose own music tastes run more along the lines of Pearl Jam, Metallica and reggae.

"I'm a realist," James said. "Line dancing is the type of thing that comes around once every 10 years. It's unbelievable, it's like the guy who had the Pet Rock, or the Cabbage Patch Doll in its heyday. It's so rare you get to get into something like that. A lot of it's luck."'

The tapes were filmed at Gerry Andal's Ranch Restaurant in Everett, using local talent under the direction of veteran dance teacher Judi McDonald of Seattle.

Beginning April 3, some Viacom Cable subscribers will be able to pick up the latest steps from McDonald in a country-dance show - The Gerry Andal Show - to be broadcast at 4:30 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 1. On Wednesday night, a television crew taped the first batch of shows for that series, which feature lessons by McDonald interspersed with country dance-party action.

Until now, the Andal show has been broadcast live on a different channel at midnight Fridays. McDonald also teaches free dance classes at Andal's at 7 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Now everyone can learn the "Tush Push," "Boot Scootin' Boogie" and "Slappin' Leather," which are among the 20 dances included on the four video tapes. James paid attention to his Western-store customers - the "Achy Breaky," a line dance created for Billy Ray Cyrus' hit "Achy Breaky Heart," appears on Volume 1.

Although line dancing isn't new, its popularity is on an upswing, said both McDonald and Andal. But unlike the short-lived fad inspired by the 1980 movie "Urban Cowboy," this wave of popularity looks enduring, they said.

"This time it's not John Travolta, it's real," Andal said. "Dance has become such a big part of the country scene, but in the last couple years there's been a resurgence in it. The multiplicity of line dances that have been dreamed up, there just seems like there's a line dance for every upbeat country song."

At Wednesday night's taping, dancers ranged from young children to fans in their 50s. But the vast majority seemed to be in their 20s and 30s.

"The younger people have accounted for the big splurge," said Andal, who fronts his house band, Gerry Andal and the Roughriders, on the Viacom show but does not appear in the videos.

McDonald, who estimates she's taught dancing to more than 100,000 people over the last 16 years, said the music has changed dramatically in recent years.

"There's less of a twang," McDonald said, during a break in Wednesday's taping. "Country is more positive now, it's a more upbeat way of talking about life. Before it was twangy, mourning their woes, making it a little more on the depressing side."

James says he recognized the popular potential of line dancing the first time he saw it.

"When they do the `Boot Scootin' Boogie' or the `Tush Push,' the floor is packed with wall-to-wall people, and in the case of Gerry Andal's, the dance floor's so packed they're dancing on the balcony up above," he said.

"It's less of a boozy, rowdy crowd and more people having fun. We need more things like that."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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