Talk Story with Jeffrey Callejo Jr.

You won’t be swinging your partner round and round at Jeffrey Callejo Jr.’s Wednesday night country western dances.

In fact, you don’t need a partner at all to work out steps to the Cotton-Eyed Joe, or any of the other country western line dances Callejo leads.

It helps to have a cherry pair of boots, though.

Callejo has been involved in the Kauai country western line dance scene since 1995 and often travels around the islands to take part in dances statewide.

His weekly beginner classes cost $10 for an hour and a half. Wednesdays, his students can strut their stuff in a social dance that starts at 7:30 p.m. at Lihue Bowling Center.

Before a recent class, Callejo sat down with The Garden Island and shared how he was introduced to line dancing.

TGI: How did line dancing catch your attention?

Back in high school, me and a couple of friends knew a couple different versions of the Electric Slide. We’d go to Lydgate and throw on the music and dance the three versions we knew. We enjoyed doing it. We went our separate ways after we graduated.

One day I remember I went to my mom’s house and she was in the garage with my aunt, dancing. She said, “Come learn this country line dance, Jeffrey.” I thought it was square dancing and so I was like, “No thanks.”

But then I was watching them. They were doing the Watermelon Crawl and I thought it looked like the Electric Slide. So, I learned it and ever since then, I’ve been hooked.

TGI: Do you find it challenging?

It can be. The dances with the more advanced choreography are phrased — so each section is a completely different set of choreography. There is one dance, it’s called Holey Moly and it came out last year, it’s 216 counts, phrased. So it’s all sections throughout the entire song. I know the first 32 counts. It’s a start. I’m working on it.

TGI: What’s your favorite dance?

My favorite is a dance called Dizzy. The song is by an artist named Scooter Lee and the choreographer is Jo Thompson. She choreographed it back in’ 96 or ’97. That is my all-time favorite dance that is my signature dance. I like the spins.

There’s actually only one spin in the choreography, but I do a lot of variations. While everyone is moving a certain way, I can add in spins at the same time. It’s a 32-count dance, and I want to say about 20 counts of them, I am doing variations and spinning. I saw a video of Jo Thompson doing the variations and the ones I’ve been doing emulate her.

TGI: How is the line dancing scene in Kauai?

We have a nice little community. Up until now we come here every Wednesday to dance and Kauai Bowl has been gracious to give us the space for four dance nights.

Sometimes, people compare it to bon dance. Some people call bon dance the Japanese version of line dancing and it’s similar. They go in a circle but the concept is the same.

When I first got started in ‘95 my instructor was Pam Mendez, the other instructor at the time was Sunday Murch. Pam was from Kapaa, Sunday was from South Shore. Both had their groups and my group used to dance at JJ’s every Thursday night. We ended up at Gilligan’s, which was formerly The Outrigger, and is now Kauai Beach Resort. Then Sunday was doing open-air events at Kilohana with a live band called West of the Rest.

It wasn’t actually until we got Gilligan’s that I helped mesh the two groups together to make it one big group.

I took a hiatus for about eight years and the group kind of dwindled away. We have a small group right now, 30 to 40 people at most. I am looking to grow that.

TGI: As a beginner, how do would you get connected with your line dancing group?

I’d suggest starting with my beginner’s classes. We go over all the basic footwork and incorporate those into beginner line classes. It is progressive in nature; as the weeks go by it gets a little big harder and a little bit harder every week.

My criteria for my beginners class is much higher than my advancing class because I have to introduce all these new steps and some of the steps can be very difficult if you’re a beginner.

Every class you’re going to learn something new and it’s once a week for six weeks. I’ll teach 12 to 14 different dances, so that’s what they’ll learn.

Me and the instructor on the Big Island, we exchange dances, too, so when we go over there to dance we know some of their dances and vice versa. They have their dance on Thursday and we have ours on Wednesdays.

TGI: Are there line dances that originate on Kauai?

There are a few. Sunday Murch, she’s choreographed a lot of the dances we do here on Kauai. But I specialize in the worldwide dances, like if you play Watermelon Crawl, you’re going to know it.

No matter where you go, that’s the dance they’ll be doing. The Electric Slide, too, that’s a worldwide dance.

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