In Georgia, a space for line dancing welcomes LGBT dancers and straight allies

There’s a safe space in Alpharetta, Georgia, for LGBTQ line dancers. Phillis Welden travels an hour and a half to be there.

Welden, a 73-year-old straight ally from Winder, Georgia, puts in 200 miles of driving on Mondays for line dancing and ends her day at Brimstone Restaurant and Tavern.

Country line dancers at the Brimstone in Alpharetta, Georgia, celebrate Pride Month in June 2024.

Luis Giraldo

“It’s fun and you don’t need a partner,” said Welden. “You just get out there with a room full of people and have a blast.”

Welden, who only started dancing in her sixties, is one of the most popular people at Brimstone’s line dancing night, one of many venues in the region where people who love to dance gather. 

Phillis Weldon

Luis Giraldo

“I’m the one that goes around and hugs everybody,” Welden said. “We dance all over the place and each location is an entity unto itself, with its own crowd, its own instructor, own atmosphere.”

About 100 people of all ages cram into Brimstone weekly. High schoolers cluster in a corner of the room — some trying out something new, perhaps enabled by country music’s renaissance on TikTok; some well-dressed and nervous, seemingly on dates. They are the most likely to step aside to chat and catch their breath in between dances. Some faces in the crowd do not look like the usual North Georgia line dancers: Hispanic, Asian, and Black dancers adding hip thrusts and sultry hand maneuvers to the stiff style of line dancing popular in the historically conservative South. 

Throughout the night, Julie Griggs belted instructions for routines set to country classics, and some newer steps paired with recent pop anthems, like Dua Lipa and Elton John’s “Cold Heart.” The nationally certified dance instructor is up to two nights of classes at the Brimstone. 

“When I dance like I leave my heart and my soul on the floor,” Griggs said. “I want a space that people can come and be themselves and heal and make connections. In our world today, people are disconnected. They’re on their phones, they’re in their houses, they’re playing games — I’ve just seen how important it is to have places where people can connect in person.” 

At Griggs’ invitation, Terence Ng and their crew flock 45 minutes north to dance in Alpharetta. They know others from the Brimstone from nights at The Heretic in Atlanta, the gay nightclub where Ng has a line-dancing oasis for the LGBTQ+ community — leaning into line dances trending online and teaching his new creations choreographed to pop music — and anyone else who wants to join. 

In Alpharetta, a town of about 65,000 people outside of Atlanta, some establishments still seem split by demographic and good manners don’t necessarily equal inclusivity. But for people like Phillis Welden, who posted on Facebook calling for pride spirit on this specific night in June, it’s important that Ng and his dancers always feel at home at the Brimstone.

“This is young, old, Black, white, gay, straight, can dance, can’t dance and we’re all out there on the floor,” Welden said about the crowd.

Some couples are in the crowd, but most are there alone, like Welden.

On the floor, Kristina Hopkins, a 30-year-old from Marietta, Georgia who identifies as asexual, rocked her pride shirt with “love is love” scribed on it, never missing a dance.

“The vibe here is super family oriented, everybody knows each other,” Hopkins said.

“Most people don’t have hobbies nowadays,” said 26-year-old Sydney Parker. “I started Salsa dancing in Atlanta and that’s how I found this.”

MacField Young said he dances at Brimstone for that feeling of safety. Young danced at Electric Cowboy in Kennesaw, Georgia, another place that embraced inclusivity back in 2015 when marriage equality became law, he recalls.

“We would be careful and we would be and in the corner,” said Young. “I remember the first time I asked: ‘Can me and my husband dance?'” 

“Can I outwardly express, can I dance with my husband?” Young said, listing out what makes a safe space for LGBTQ dancers. “Can I hold his hand or do I feel uncomfortable with that?” 

“In the places that I navigate my queerness is like kind of fourth or fifth on the list of descriptors,” Young said. “For me, it used to have to be a defining factor and it no longer has to be.” 

Paul Nichols and Dustin Tidwell, a gay couple from Peachtree Corners, Georgia, showed up but never really stuck together — noteworthy, since for some members of the LGBTQ community, venturing into a new place in the South to dance is a partnered affair for safety reasons or out of fear of perceptions of being LGBTQ stoking hostility.

Nichols, 22, wore a pride flag tucked in his back pocket at the Brimstone, and a baseball cap with the words “cowboy hat” edged on it. He danced alongside Welden and the other ladies wearing rainbows. Tidwell, 40, chose another spot deep in the crowd. 

Ng and the other dancers at Brimstone credit Julie Griggs, the night’s line dance instructor, for embracing diversity outright, without any conflict or fear. When she heard how others treasure her allyship, she fell silent.

“It makes me kind of tear up,” Grigg said. “This dance community is amazing, and I love being a part of it.”

Dancer Paul Nichols sports a “cowboy hat” to line dancing night at the Brimstone in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Luis Giraldo

Ng looked at the turnout with awe. 

“It’s just kind of cool, ” Ng said. “Outside of places like the city, queerness exists and people are touching it in different ways, either as allies or queer people themselves.”

“Like for me, I’m pretty visibly queer,” Ng said, “I don’t think I pass as a straight person at all.” 

“So when I go into these spaces, I kind of wonder, ‘Are you gonna get stares?'”

This is the gift that LGBTQ people keep going to Brimstone to receive – allyship.

“I think when we get stuck in bubbles. We sometimes think that everything else outside of that is just a nightmare, but it’s not,” Ng said. “It’s really moving.” 

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