European edition, Tuesday, May 15, 2007

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Cowboy boots stomp and petticoats twirl in time to country music blasting over a sound system inside a tent on a hot afternoon in May: It could be a scene from a church dance in small-town USA.

But it’s not.

It’s the Vilseck German-American Volksfest, where members of the Amberg Square Dance Club are performing for an audience of local nationals and U.S. personnel from nearby bases.

There are American-style country dance clubs all over this rural part of Southern Germany — perhaps for those seeking some kind of kinship with their cousins across the Atlantic.

But square dancing also is popular in large German towns such as Nuremberg, where there are six to eight clubs, according to Amberg dancer Jurgen Paskuy.

American soldiers brought square dancing to Germany in the post-war years, and the pastime has spread to other parts of Europe including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia, said Paskuy, who was persuaded to take up square dancing by his wife.

When dancing, Paskuy wears a blue cowboy shirt, a Western string tie and leather boots. His wife, Angela, said square dancing is the only type of dancing her husband will do with her.

“He doesn’t like to dance at all. He will only do the American square dance,” she said.

Ironically, there are no U.S. square dancers in the Amberg club. However, there are a few U.S. members, including at least one active-duty soldier, in the nearby Eschenbach Line Dance Club.

Joe Livingston, an American civilian working for the U.S. Army at Grafenwöhr, performs as a disc jockey at club dances at Eschenbach’s Scherm Karl guest house. The Georgia native said he’d been into country music all his life and did line dancing back in the States.

“I like the German line dancing better. American line dancing involves a lot of showboating. And in the States, they get a little too much drink and want to fight. We do American line dancing here, but there are no fights or arguments or trouble with us,” he said.

Most of the music Livingston plays is modern country but the group also dances to live country acts. And occasionally all the line dancing clubs in the region get together for a “country fest.” Last year a country fest in Pressath drew 300 dancers, Livingston said.

His wife, Yasmine Livingston, a local national who also works on-post at Grafenwöhr, compared line dancing to an aerobic workout where everyone is wearing cowboy boots and jeans.

Joe Livingston encouraged any Americans interested in line dancing to come to a dance at Scherm Karl each Friday from 7.30 p.m. People interested in square dancing can contact the Amberg Square dance club at: 0962133842.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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