FFebruary 2020 was probably not the best time to open a business, let alone a dance studio.
Two years later, Country Nomads at 835 E. Southern Ave., Mesa, not only lives on but continues to expand its reach as military veterans Joel Bartlett and Gabriel Dubois – along with Kacee Crandall – teach country swing through what they call “a simple and easy format.
“The core principles we teach are frame, connect, and control (FCC),” they explain on their website. “FCC will not only allow you to dance safely, efficiently and effectively, but you will look sleek and sleek.
“With our progressive learning approach, you will always learn something new and develop your skills from scratch. Each lesson builds on each other until you reach your desired goal.”
The trio teaches all over the country as well as in their studio – hence their name “Country Nomads”.
“Dancing has saved all of our lives in one way or another,” Crandall said.
They started giving 20 private lessons a week in their salons.
Eventually, tearing down the living room in Crandall’s apartment and ramming the furniture into the kitchen became too much for them — and his roommate.
In February 2020, the band went to see a studio and by the end of the day they had made a deal with the former tenant that cost $6,000 and his name on the lease, Dubois said.
Three weeks later, what they considered a dream deal turned into “heartbreaking and stressful” when they had to close due to the pandemic.
“There was no rent relief,” Crandall said. “There were bills to pay.”
Their country music and nomadic lifestyle evolved from their shared origins.
Dubois split his nine years of service in Army intelligence between active duty and reserves, taking him to Alaska, North Carolina and Arizona.
He said he got into country swing like any 21-year-old: for a woman. His interest grew rapidly as he wanted to learn more and make sense of the dance moves.
“I started learning different ways to do these dance moves in a way that made sense, felt good, and didn’t hurt,” he said.
Bartlett had some dance experience growing up, following ballet as a child and hip-hop as a teenager.
His time working on a farm in rural Illinois—as well as his four years as a Navy rifleman at Camp Pendleton, Calif.—introduced him to country music and the lifestyle that accompanies his journey.
“Dancing saved my life,” Bartlett said. “So to be able to pass that love on to other people is beyond amazing to me.”
Crandall grew up in a military family in Sierra Vista and considers himself “learned through play” by learning the small technical skills and abilities of the other two.
“My dance experience came strictly from being their following,” she said. “I think I went from a social dancer to a dancer when I met them, and then a professional dancer in the last four years for me.”
Now they’ve got the studio, the bills have been paid, and they’re still doing what they love: teaching people how to be confident on the dance floor.
According to Dubois and Bartlett, this is what gives them the greatest thrill, in addition to traveling across the country and meeting other people in the country-swing dance community.
“I’ve done so many different things in my life,” Bartlett said. “And that’s far beyond anything I could ask for or dream of, just having fun and being able to dance.”