When the honky tonk dancing film "Urban Cowboy" was released in 1980, Steve Zener was a newly single California farmer who was just looking for a good time.
After becoming a regular at a local country nightclub in his hometown of Fresno, CA, Zener quickly realized the movie starring John Travolta and Debra Winger had signaled a cultural shift in the country music scene.
“The popularity of 'Urban Cowboy' and the growth of country music is what drove dance and culture [in the early '80s]… and men realized that if they learned to dance they could mingle with the ladies," Zener said.
Though he wasn't one for dancing at first, he eventually shook off his hesitation, joined in, and hasn't left the honky tonk floor since.
Zener soon became a founding member of the United Country Western Dance Council (UCWDC) and helped produce the organization's annual World Championships, which is celebrating its 26th anniversary, Jan. 1-6 in San Francisco.
During the height of the country culture revolution, local nightclubs began organizing their own in-house dance teams. These local teams would dance one or two organized numbers on popular nights at the club.
Zener soon found himself the president of such a dance club after the former president of the team mysteriously disappeared.
“I had just started dancing with this group when the organizer split,” Zener said.
Before the former president left, he had already promised to host a country dance event at his local club and had invited country dance teams from up and down the State of California to attend. This was a big deal because the idea of bringing different dance teams together to one club located within a hotel was a new one and there was no specific model to follow.
So Zener, in over his head, began traveling to other nightclubs to gather insight that could help him prepare the event.
“There was no model on which to base anything off of,” Zener said. “We were building something from the ground up without a blueprint, but I considered that ‘first event of its kind’ to be quite a success.”
Now, 33 years later, the UCWDC is the leading authority in country dance and has sanctioned events, members, and participants from all over the world.
Zener is still very active in the UCWDC and over the years has been its President, a director of the FreZno Dance Classic now celebrating its 34thyear (the oldest continuous annual event on UCWDC’s event calendar), and honored as a member of the UCWDC Hall of Fame. He still serves as one of the emcees of the Worlds event.
This year's World Championship UCWDC competition runs from Jan. 1-6, and you can watch it all right here on FloDance.com.