HOT COUNTRY NIGHTS
• WHEN: Saturday evening. Line dancing lessons begin at 7 p.m. Live music begins at 9 p.m.
• WHERE: Rookies
• WHO: Line dancing lessons by Pat Mitchell. Live music by Bobby McDowell of Grass Valley.
She was born and raised in a city of stars, called Disneyland her backyard and was related to a Hollywood extra.
“Everyone thought I’d be the next Shirley Temple,” Pat Mitchell said.
Just two problems: As a child, Mitchell couldn’t sing or dance. She stumbled through ballet, tripped over the two-step and bounced awkwardly out of rhythm anytime a song came on.
“I was a klutz. They put me in ballet and I was horrible at it. I was awful. I mean, really, really horrible,” she said. “Here I come from a musical background and I’m like ‘Where’s the beat? What am I supposed to do?’ ”
Look at her now.
Every Saturday night, Mitchell leads a capacity crowd at Rookies through a series of dances, teaching all comers – the young and the old – the intricacies and attitude of country western’s signature steps.
She is loud, sassy and smooth in her nearly knee-high boots, button-down shirt and hands-free microphone.
She’s not only mastered the art of dance, but Mitchell’s also learned to handle a microphone.
“Anyone in this area that has done country dancing knows her or knows of her,” Rookies entertainment director Chris Creek said.
“She’s been around the country dancing her whole life. She brings that experience.”
Creek is correct.
Mitchell, 62, is a renowned country line-dancing instructor with playing gigs all across the Central Valley. She holds court at Joe’s Bar and Grill in Lockeford on Thursdays, the Whiskey Barrel Saloon in Lodi on Fridays and Rookies every Saturday.
The former owner and dance instructor at the Silverado Dance Hall and Saloon, Mitchell has become a pillar in Rookies’ rebirth as an entertainment and live music venue.
Mitchell was lured out of retirement by Francis Raymus to kick start “Hot Country Nights” in April. Since then, she’s had just one Saturday off – to attend a family member’s birthday party.
Her draw is remarkable.
With one of the largest dance floors in the Central Valley and a beefed-up sound system, Mitchell has watched her classes grow from 7-8 people at the start on Thursdays to 150 on Saturday nights.
“It overwhelms me. I can’t thank those people enough,” Mitchell said. “When I teach and my back is to the crowd, I don’t get to see their faces. When I turn around and see them smiling, it gives me goose bumps.
“Most people don’t get their 15 minutes of fame and I got it twice. It’s a blessing.”
Mitchell makes it look easy, which is no easy feat on a dance floor full of Two Left Feets.
“She’s a good leader. Whenever she’s doing the instruction, she keeps everyone involved,” Creek said. “She might have a big crowd, but she talks to everybody.
“She is a very good communicator. She makes it easy for her class to learn.”
Few realize that Mitchell stumbled into her “15 minutes of fame.”
She didn’t become an adept dancer until someone took the time to teach her and Eric how to square dance while the two lived in the Los Angeles area.
“In LA, square dancing was for the energetic,” she said, “for the young people.”
And then they moved north in the 1970s and realized there was a different form of dancing shaking the bars and saloons.
Surprisingly, the area’s foremost country line-dancing instructor was not a fan of the genre.
“I went out and I was a lousy student again,” she said of her first attempts at line dancing. “With a lot of help I learned what I was supposed to.”
And she and Eric – a husband-and-wife entertainment team – haven’t looked back.
They’ve owned a bar and dominated dance floors for more than 20 years, promising nothing more than personal instruction and a good time.
“I know what it’s like to not get it. I like to get those people out of their chairs, get them smiling and having a good time,” Mitchell said. “I guess you could say my own disastrous start turned me into a pretty good dance instructor.”