Longtime local teaches popular swing lessons at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

08 Jun 2023

For the love of dance with B.J. Reed

Summer 2023

Written By: Lexey Wauters | Images: David Bowers

B.J. Reed loves to dance and, even more so, she loves to teach dance.

If you wander into the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar at about 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, you’ll see her doing just that. The dance floor is full of dancers of all ages and sizes, including locals and visitors. Often, they are dancing with someone they just met — and B.J. is smiling in the midst of it.

Though square dancing was the style then, the scene on the Cowboy’s dance floor could be one from Jackson in the late 1800s. A way to meet other settlers and break up the long winter season, early residents met to dance and socialize, often at local dude ranches where dance halls served as meeting places. Jackson Hole’s own dance tradition includes a yearly mid-winter dance that started in 1896; this tradition continues today as the 49’er Ball.

In 1976, Nancy Lee of Dancers’ Workshop, a local dance company, developed a program to provide easy access to country-western dancing. Also called the “four-count swing” or “barroom swing,” the footwork is basic and easy. “It’s barroom swing because you only get a large hula-hoop of space on the dance floor,” B.J. explains.

A petite woman with an outsized personality, B.J. grew up with dancing in her genes. Her father started a dance club in the 1940s that is still going today. Her parents raised six kids and still dressed up to go dancing once a week.

B.J. started teaching dance through Dancers’ Workshop in 1978. Today, together with a long list of country-western instructors, she still teaches in the style Nancy Lee pioneered. With her partners, she has taught at dude ranches, weddings, local bars and schools. Community dancers volunteer their time at the classes due to their love of dance.

Thursday’s class at the Cowboy Bar starts at 7 p.m. B.J. introduces the Western swing first. A mere hour later, the dancers are connecting their girl turns, guy turns, back pass and cuddle changes.

“The guy’s job is to make the girl look good and the girl’s job is to follow,” B.J. points out. Then she moves on to the Texas two-step, which she characterizes as “not as aerobic as the Western swing.” She usually includes a line dance at the end of the hour and a half lesson. “An easy line dance will fill the floor,” she notes.

B.J. believes strongly that dancing — the 4-count swing, barroom swing and line dancing — remains popular because it brings so much joy to participants. During COVID, with bars and restaurants shut down, she recounts dancing out on the sidewalk when the Wort Hotel would put a big speaker in the window. “It’s a great way to socialize and have fun,” she says.

During the isolating times of the pandemic, similar to the isolation of a hard winter season, dancing was a thread of connection that so many were craving. And, she adds, “these days you don’t have to hitch up the horses to go to a dance!”

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