All I can remember as the Pilot said ”ladies and Gents please fasten your seat belts we are landing at Houston airport in 20 mins” a shadow of fear passing through my body, the blood rushing out as I went white.
Fowler what are you doing? Where are you going? Why on earth are you doing this?
I had my credit card with around £15,000 after selling all my worldly belongings to go on a pilgrimage to the southern states of America.
Not for work but to follow my passion of country dance! I started country dance 3 years before in 1990, As the title of the book says 5,6,7 Fete, this is how I ran my life and nothing has changed right up to the present day.
Anyway, there I am in Houston airport collected my suitcase and im at the exit still no idea of what or where I was going! My Ticket was an open return, back to Manchester and I really contemplated getting the next flight back.
I went outside the airport doors and was hit with the shear heat of texas sun.
I walked about 10 paces then thought I had stepped in something like chewing gum or worse, but when I checked my souls of my cheap but comfortable daps they had melted!! I quickly returned to the airconditioned airport baggage lounge and sat down.
I was tired from the long flight so had an idea, I walked over to the information desk and asked if there was any country clubs in the area with a motel close by?
The receptionist looked at me “ We are in Texas, there are country clubs on every corner” she pointed me to a taxi point and asked them to drop me off at a motel close by the airport within walking distance of a country club.
As the receptionist said, I was only in the taxi a few minutes when we pulled into a motel he pointed across the carpark to a country club and that was it, In my head, ok go to the club, stay 1 night and see what happens then if I wanted I could get a flight home.
All settled into my room, I got dressed and went over the road, as I walked into the club the 1st thing to strike me was the dance floor was shaped like a donut with the bar in the middle. I sat to one side got a Budweiser, as you do and chilled out and watched the locals 2 step around the floor, no country dance what so ever! ( I’m not calling it Linedance as at that time the word Linedance was not invented it was country dance )
I was in the bar about an 1hr when about 25 dancers came in, all sat in a group then they started to dance! My chin hit the floor as I watched, back in the Uk I was dancing 2 step with my then competition partner Carol Clearly. But this was a whole new ball game. I was thinking of getting up and asking someone to dance thinking I was quite good and with a lot of confidence.
After watching these local’s I stayed glued to my seat! A couple more hours later after a few more beers I was at the bar and one of the girls heard my accent and asked where I was from and why I was there.
I told her I had left the uk to find out about country dance, 2 step, East coast, west coast which was very new specially to me! She was amazed we had a laugh then I went back to my table,
A few minutes later she came back over and asked if I would like to join the for a drink, I did and sat down again telling my adventures and that after watching them dancing, that its just best if I went home! again they laughed and explained to me they we’re all competition dancers there for the Texas Classic to be held that weekend!!
A well mustached gentleman called me closer! My names Larry Sepulvado and my wife Laurie we are the event directors of the Houston Classic at the Marriot hotel at the airport, If you are interested and don’t mind sharing with a judge you can join the weekend event free of charge!
To say I was gob smacked was an understatement I immediately said yes and got very excited.
After a few more drinks, I bid a found fare well and double checked I was still invited.
On arriving at The Marriot, I was blown away there was a waterfall and a small river in reception, I walked up to the welcome desk gave them my name, they produced an envelope with my name and a gold band and informed me that this gold band would get me into all the workshops.
Again, blown away I sat down and went through the program of the weekend workshops. They were back to back beginner 2 step to advanced, same in other couple’s dances very little in line dance.
I did my own schedule and went off to catch some early classes.
In the U.K at that time we were and still are chasing America in 2 step. The U.K. and all I had learned previous was out of date, so I dropped all the windows and old-style prepping for the up to date whips and Laces.
The 1st evening I returned down to the main ballroom and the official opening of the event, about 2500 people sat on stadium seating 400msq dance floor.
I sat at the back in the crowd relaxed and was enjoying watching all the social and competitive dancers. Then Larry the director took the mic and started introducing all the guest instructors and staff of the event and as I didn’t know anyone really, I was a little bored! Then I heard him say “Is Rob Fowler in the room” there might have been another one as you will read later so I said nothing! Again, he repeated is rob fowler in the room! I put my hand up after jeering from the crowd I got up and walked to the stage.
Larry then told everyone in the room my story about why I was there and the crowd clapped and cheered very nicely then to add to this very warm welcome he gave me an envelope which I didn’t open there but later found to contain $300 and as I left the stage that’s to help you on your way and enjoy the weekend.
I continued to take workshops linking the routines together to make 1 continuous compilation of intricate moves in all the styles, in west coast I had no idea of the basics as such so just did my best I was a quick learner, so I could take them in.
As well as learning all new techniques moves and ways of teaching, I had lots of people strangers who I have never met, congratulate me on what I was doing several which were also event directors with events all over the U.S. They too offered me event passes and hotel stays which was incredible!!
The Event finished on the Sunday with a night in the original bar I started in and the without sleep a breakfast in Denny’s
I can never thank Larry n Laurie for the amazing gift they gave me from that weekend and it truly did give me a taste for travel, Spreading the word of Country and enabling me to learn so much
So That was it I went back to the motel got a map of the whole of America and the invites to each of the events most 2 weeks apart from each other.
I pin pointed were they were and joined them up like a giant dot to dot all the places I wanted to visit plus the events I had been invited to.
1st point on my map
BILLY BOBS Fort Worth
The 1st place on my new carefully constructed plan was Billy Bobs in Fort Worth Texas, Everyone told me it’s a must see on my trip of enlightenment, So A Greyhound bus it was. After a good sleep on the bus and a few hours chatting to travelers, I arrived, checked into a hotel. got ready and off I went, the door charge was about $25 dollars or more which I thought high but with the prestige of the place and a once in a lifetime visit, I paid. I walked in and it was not a very big room, to say I wasn’t impressed was an understatement! But it was full, had a few beers at the bar and had a few 2 steps with the local ladies and watching the local red necks doing the 1 step, I thought I was in good nick after my stint in Houston.
Anyway the evening went on and I was having a great time, but I kept noticing people going through a double door in the back corner of the room, I eventually made my way there I had been in Billy Bobs about 2 hrs, and as I went through the door I was just in time to hear the mc call out back on stage a for an encore the legend “PAM TILLIS” I had missed her whole show and the reason for the high price on the door! Gutted!! But all in all, I had a really had a good night.
The next day I decided to treat myself and went western shopping Bought a pair of wrangler jeans nice shirt and a black velvet top quality hat in the 100s of dollars.
Behind Billy bobs was a rodeo, I had never been to one before, I was fully kitted out so I went off with a John Travolta strut to the ticket office bought a ticket and went to get my seat, I must have been very assured and cocky about my look as I failed to see until the very last minute that my $400 dollar black velvet hat was the only one of 2000 white straw restol hats in the whole stadium. I was sweating cobs in about 10 minutes and had to take it off.
I Loved the Rodeo and visiting ‘Dallas’ with ‘JRS’ Ranch!! ……………. Which was a very popular TV series on British TV.
I had never really travelled alone for along time, there was no internet or mobile phone, so I called my mum from time to time to say ‘Hi, I’m alive and enjoying my time.
My mum and dad had never travelled more than 2 hrs outside of wigan, as for 17 years my whole family our holiday home was my Aunties caravan in North Wales, Silver Birch which is still there today.
Anyway after Reassuring mum n dad of my Health I was off on my adventures, Vegas was next on my to do list which I had already been with my Karate friends a few years earlier, but this time I was going to the country dance bars, It is the town that never sleeps and I danced and had an absolute ball but it was costing a fortune!
As most of you know the Motto for Vegas is “What Goes on in Vegas Stays in Vegas” I was a British young Cocky Lad that could dance 2 step, Linedance and was fit as a fiddle
So let’s just say I left my mark and had life time Memories that will stay with me.
After Visiting the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam I decided that my next trip was Memphis and Graceland, I Boarded a Grey hound Bus and off I went again!
A Lifetime memory Never Forgotten
On the way I had to cross into different states and a few days into the drive I Stopped off in a small town no idea where or what its name was but it was a quiet farming town or so I thought. I booked a room at a hotel and got ready to rest for the night, on the wall near reception there was a flyer for a barn dance in the town, I asked receptionist and they called the organizer who invited me to join.
I went along kitted out and was welcomed in, I sat at the bar watched them 2 step and line dance (Country Dance) very easy dances I could pick up off the floor. The Tush push came on which was fun and one I knew.
After a hour and a few drinks I relaxed and was chatting with locals. A cool lad called Brad asked me to join his family and friends which I did, we had a great time towards the end of the night His mum and dad asked me where I was staying and how long, I told them I was on my own time table and was in the motel and going to leave in the morning.
They offered me a room on their ranch and I could stay a few days if I liked, Now my mum and dad had always told me to take care with strangers not to get in cars or anything, lol that went totally out of the window as I immediately accepted their offer. We went over to my hotel and loaded my suitcase on the pack of there pick up truck and off we went into the dark night, about 40 minutes later, I think as I fell asleep after my beers we arrived at their farm. It was Pitch black I could tell the house was massive and got showed to the guest room.
In the morning I remember waking up thinking where the hell was I!! and realized what an idiot I had been to accept the invitation, I got up showered and dressed went out of my room…..
Mooooorning Rob hope you had a great sleep. The dads name was Joe with a long southern Drawl in his voice, ‘morning’ I replied, in my Wigan accent.
It was about 9am all the family was already out on the farm which was 100s of acres, after breakfast I sat on balcony and felt like a real ‘cowboy! I helped with a few jobs and was loving It, especially when the afternoon the guitars came out and the home brew! I lasted a very short time and woke up the day after lunch time, not having a clue. Even to this day I have no idea where or who the family are, I didn’t get there surnames, well I did on a piece of paper, remember no phone with camera or memories ect.
With a sad face but warm heart I said my goodbyes and again I was away on my travels.
After travelling through states I landed in Memphis which I loved and Graceland I did the whole sightseeing tourist thing and lived Elvis for the day, I then set off for Nashville.
Nashville Tennessee was and still is the Mecca for Country Music, on my arrival to say I was disappointed was an understatement, I think I was expecting a wooden built town with saloons straight out of a john Wayne movie, I arrived mid-morning to a quiet normal big City, few sky scrapers normal houses shopping mals Ect, there were country bars in the center but was not impressed!
I went on a Nashville tour to the studio’s but they looked like normal buildings, when I was inside it was great as there was history of Nashville and all the old school artists which I enjoyed.
Early evening I went to eat and was sat in a bar serving food and then they announced the singer Bob Woodruff, I couldn’t believe it! as I had his CD at home, which I loved! he was about 4ft away playing for tips in a Jar. Afterwards I bought the same CD I already had at home, just so he could sign it.
My mood started changing again dressed up in my new country Flame shirts I went to the white horse Saloon the main dance bar in Nashville and a must see.
It was a fantastic night I joined in and learned the new dances and accepted a few 2 steps, then about 2 hours in this fit sexy girl came over and started chatting to me asked me for a 2 step and to show her a few dances From the UK which obviously my cocky self were my dances, Beethoven’s boogie ect
Anyway we had a great chat, I asked her her name” Jo Thompson” no idea who she was LOL,
‘Hi I’m Rob nice to meet you’, short but sweet and she was fit!! LOL, Then I found out she was Miss Texas also!
Anyway, Nashville after dark was much better, I loved it, small bars live music and Friendly People. Again, life memories Visiting the OPRY was spine chilling.
(Most important time in my dance Career which hadn’t started yet)
Knoxville was a few Hundred Miles South of Nashville I was told that I had to Visit Cotton Eyed Joes, dance club.
A massive warehouse venue with a sort of gazebo dance floor in the middle, it had a full truck Cab as a DJ stand and bars and restaurant around. This place for me was the change in my dance style that made my future and choreography all the better.
Its very hard to believe that in the UK and especially on the competition circuit, The only Variations that where done was touching your hat or girls swishing their skirt around.
I was dancing on the floor when out of the corner of my eye I watched some redneck cowboys dancing near the bar. But instead of doing the dance normally they where spinning dropping to the floor, Kicking there foot above there heads, body rolling while staying in time with the music, I Immediately went over to them and started chatting, they where a bit shocked at 1st but then showed me,
Which now seems very simple but again wasn’t heard of back then.
A vine to the right change with rolling vine or double turn. Walk backs change to a drop! Light bulbs started flashing in my head and the implications, straight away I knew I could add these into my choreography and my competition routines.
By this time also I was putting all the routines together from my 2 step lessons and west and east coast.
I travelled and attended Several Dance Events, one of which was an Event in the Twin Cities along way up North so I decided to Rent a car and drive staging in some stunning places and the some very Scary Hotels out of a horror movie. When I arrived at the event it was the same as Houston, I was given a room and passes to all the workshops which I attended and adapted all the new routines into my 2 step. The highlight was a waltz lesson with Sarah and Bob Barrs, Probably at that time the best Country waltz dancers in the world, they taught a routine which I was asked to dance with Sarah, this was a life memory for me and I felt like a million dollars, (apart from dancing with Deanne at the age of 3 years old) remains imbedded in my thoughts.
Very Sadly after many months travelling the money was running out so I was arranging my travel back to UK. My car rental firm demanded I dropped the car off were I picked it up and gave me 3 days to get it back, meaning I had 3 very long days. I remember parking up on the side of the road checking my map lol… Atlas, remember no GPS or SAT NAV, as I was checking the map in my rental car I heard load music coming from the car next to me, as I looked over, my body and legs went to jelly, (remember I was 2nd degree black belt), so looking across at 4 heavily tattooed dudes in an open top battered Cadillac, They made a gesture with their hands like the band Kiss!?, I had no idea if that was good or a bad thing, so under the map put car into drive, handbrake off, then slammed foot down and kept going for at least 300km lol!!
I also remember mother nature scaring me on the same trip as driving through a lightening storm no time to stop over, so I Remember Screaming for about 2 hrs as lighting was striking the ground either side of the very very long straight highway. Anyway, I eventually got to the airport and made my long trip home making many friends and an amazing life experience learning so much that I would keep and build my career on!
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