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Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003 02:20 pm

Gotta dance

art629

I love to dance. Since my return to Springfield I've been out a few times, but only to one place -- The Station House, the gay dance bar downtown where the music is great and you can dance for a while without being crowded out by an overabundance of attractive and very unavailable (to me, anyway) men.

But I decided to explore other dance spots. Many moons ago, I used to go to Baur's in Vinegar Hill Mall. My friend Randy and I would dress up and dance like crazy. Sometimes we'd show off on the dance floor, even if nobody else was dancing. One night I was wearing a sparkly black dress and five-inch-high pink patent leather pumps (where are they now?), and we were all alone on the floor, twirling and twirling, pretty much like Fred and Ginger, and then suddenly, SPLAT! I fell to the floor. I'm not called Grace for nothing. Hopefully all the people who witnessed it have moved away long ago.

I revisited the latest incarnation of Baur's on a recent Saturday night, and boy, have things changed. But first, we tried a couple of other dance places.

My friend Erica and I started out at Rockin' Robin. I was there a long time ago, too, and it hasn't changed much. I think they're playing the same music. They still have the dance floor with lights that change colors underneath, like in Saturday Night Fever. Very cool.

Rockin' Robin is a place where a girl in a sweatshirt could fit right in. I was in a skirt and felt way overdressed. There were also many men in cowboy hats. I talked to an old guy at the bar with flowing white hair, who said he's gone to R'in' R for many years, and always sits in the same chair. He claimed to be a genuine cowboy, with a horse, then he said two horses, and I felt slightly skeptical because it seems if a person has horses, they'd definitely know how many. I asked him if he was planning on staying till the place closed at three, and he said he would if I would. I told him I had places to be.

Many of the R'in' R women had very big hair. Long, permed, poofed, big hair. Quite a few of them partook in the line dancing that started soon after we arrived. There's something appealing about line dancing, something equalizing about everybody performing in unison: you don't need a partner, you just step your heart out. Line dancing makes me think of an impromptu chorus number, and I loved that it was a hodgepodge of young and old, big-hair and sweatshirts. Maybe I'll learn how to do it when I go back. People have said R'in' R is "rowdy," not in a good way, but maybe that's late at night, when I'd be home fast asleep.

Next, Chantilly Lace. My friend Randy joined us, and he didn't care for it. A lot of people were dressed in '70s outfits, and Randy kept saying he bet they dressed like that all the time, but maybe they were having a post-Halloween costume night. There was also a giant Hershey's kiss, and a random witch or two, so I'm hoping it was, indeed, a costume party. The music was similar to that at R'in' R, some late '70s, some '80s, some early '90s, kind of fun. Not a bad place, but no lighted dance floor.

Next, the former Baur's. Now it's called Karma Nightclub, but the only kind of karma I felt was the bad kind. Outside, a couple of cops stood around. A bouncer at the door told us the cover charge was four dollars, and he assured Erica we'd get our money's worth. Since the other two places had been free, Karma was going to have to be something special to justify the price of admission.

The people inside were younger and appeared hipper than at the other two bars. No sweatshirts. A gaggle of bouncers milled about. They were playing hip-hop, not my favorite thing to dance to. Nobody was dancing, but it was only 11:30, I guess too early for the hardcore partiers. We walked to a room at the end of the dance floor, but a bouncer blocked the entrance. V.I.P. room, he said, invitation only. "Celebrities?" I asked. "Are J. Lo and Ben in there?" asked Randy. Politicians, maybe? I wondered. Blagojevich? Nope, nope, nope. Inside, a bunch of women were sitting around. "Are they V.I.P.s?" I asked. I guess they were, because they were in the V.I.P. room. A guy I talked to said on another night when he was there, anybody could get into the V.I.P. room. But if that were the case, what would be V.I.P. about it?

Is Springfield big enough for a V.I.P. room? Once when I was in a dance bar in LA, I saw Rod Stewart and his then-wife Rachel Hunter off to one side. Clearly, if anybody deserves to be in a select room by himself, it's Rod. But nope, he was mingling with us non-V.I.P.s. Actually, he was just standing there, looking quite face-lifted and rather bored.

As we left Karma, there was a long line to get in. People were being patted down, pants legs shaken out, lots of frisking happening. It made me feel like I was at the airport.

We ended up at the Station House. They play great dance music; most of it is in the top 25 on the national dance charts. Mostly it's re-mixes of songs, stuff you can't hear on the radio. The dance floor wasn't so crowded, and they have the two cutest DJs I've ever seen. Obviously, if a girl's looking for a meat market, this is not the place to be, but it can't be beat for great music. R'in' R or Station House, that's where I'll be, dancing away (in shoes with no heels).

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