Laura Yuen
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If you weren't line dancing at honkytonks in the 1990s to "Achy Breaky Heart," the name Diane Horner probably means nothing to you.

But her face might ring a bell.

She was the Midwestern fitness instructor in the red cowgirl boots and the Dorothy Hamill haircut who patiently explained how to string together the grapevine, rock and kick to master the Electric Slide's country cousin, all while flaunting her sassy bandanna in the back pocket of her denim cutoffs.

Her first instructional country line dancing video in 1992 became an on-the-spot smash, selling more than 1 million copies. She appeared on a TV informercial that aired thousands of times.

Horner went on to star in more than a dozen other dance videos, teaching newbies in their living rooms the moves she learned from the boot-scuffing college kids who flocked the now-defunct Cowboy dance club in downtown Minneapolis. What made her videos unique at the time was her insistence that the camera shoot her from the back so people could more easily follow her feet.

With her sculpted thighs and precisely applied cherry-red lipstick, Horner, then in her mid-40s, couldn't board a plane or walk down the street without someone shouting, "You're the dance lady on TV!"

"It was kind of like disco," Horner recalls of the peak of '90s line dancing. "We thought it was never going to end."

It did end, of course. After a few years, the trend flamed out after an inescapable bang. ("The Macarena," she reminds me.)

Most of the world soon forgot about Horner, and she went back to her quiet life and family.

Now, though, country is red-hot again, thanks to TikTok virality, a bevy of new artists and the Beyoncé effect. Line dancing can be found almost every night of the week in the Twin Cities metro. And a younger generation is getting introduced to Horner, of Eden Prairie, who's now a 78-year-old great-grandma and is still stomping.

An unlikely protégé is one reason Horner is finding a new audience.

A circa 1992 near life-size cardboard figure of Diane Horner accessorized the bar at the Hamel VFW on “Hold Your Lady Tight Night."
A circa 1992 near life-size cardboard figure of Diane Horner accessorized the bar at the Hamel VFW on “Hold Your Lady Tight Night."

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

A skater turned stomper

Around 2017, a 30-something skateboarding instructor and ramp builder named James Kaul was gravitating toward the Minneapolis country dancing scene, mostly on Sunday nights at the Eagles 34 club with a mostly older LGBTQ+ crowd. For a kid who grew up on hobby farms in Jordan and New Prague with a skateboard and a horse, his desire to two-step was a calling back to his roots.

To build his competence, he studied and danced along to Horner's old tapes at home. Kaul ordered every installment of Horner's video series he could snatch up on eBay. He dreamed of teaching country dancing to a younger crowd.

One day he noticed on the fine print of the VHS case that the videos were filmed in Minneapolis.

"The one thing that keeps coming up in my mind is: Where is this bowl-cutted, red-boot-wearing woman named Diane Horner nowadays?"

Kaul, a veteran employee of the 3rd Lair Skate Park who goes by the nickname "Swamp Trog," would spend the next several years searching for Horner. Clips of her old videos would surface every now and then on social media — eliciting sneers or unlocking decades-old memories among commenters. For a how-to video on "Country Hip-Hop," there was Horner, in her spandex layered under jean shorts, mixing a little Running Man into her line dance, exclaiming, "This is jammin'!"

While many declared the vintage videos cringey, Kaul found them enjoyable. ("It's just straight country gold," he says.) As he started to host country dance lessons and gatherings known as Hold Your Lady Tight Night, he put callouts on Facebook, asking what happened to Horner.

Nothing really materialized until 2022. (At this part of the interview, Kaul asks if I have time to hear the whole story. "This is so rad," he begins...)

One night, Kaul was feeling especially blue after a romantic breakup and headed back to the Eagles bar. He started to two-step with an older woman and mentioned he was trying to find Horner. Less than two hours later, the woman informed Kaul that Horner was there — and pointed to a woman in her 70s sitting in a corner.

"No way," Kaul thought. "No way." He bolted across the room, did a double-boot slide onto the smooth dance floor and landed on a knee right at her table.

"I look at her right in the eye — she's a bit startled — and I said, 'You're Diane Horner,' " Kaul said.

"Yes, I am," Horner replied.

"My name is James," Kaul said. "I've been searching for you."

This intergenerational, platonic meet-cute proceeded with Kaul buying her a Budweiser. He explained she was an idol to him. He asked if she could be one of his guest instructors at Hold Your Lady Tight Night.

Horner wasn't sure. She revealed that her husband, Al, had recently passed away. Dancing was something they both enjoyed, with Al often changing his shirt as many as six times because he'd sweat so much on the floor. She was devastated by his absence, but moving her body helped her feel joy again. Kaul was in a similar place.

They ended the night with Kaul asking the DJ to play an upbeat Shania Twain song. In a full-circle moment, Kaul taught his idol how to line dance the Canadian Stomp to "Any Man of Mine."

"The rest is history," Kaul beams.

Diane Horner and James Kaul led a line dance lesson together on “Hold Your Lady Tight Night” at the Hamel VFW in Plymouth.
Diane Horner and James Kaul led a line dance lesson together on “Hold Your Lady Tight Night” at the Hamel VFW in Plymouth.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

'All hail the Queen'

For Horner, it was never about the fame, as short-lived as it was. It was about teaching others simply and slowly so they might discover the joy of dance.

Now, on Thursdays, you can find her guest teaching with the 40-year-old Kaul either at the Hamel VFW or at Big Guys BBQ Roadhouse in Hudson, Wis.

"Let's all make some noise for the Queen!" Kaul announces, introducing her to the front of the floor. Beside her feet, he descends onto one knee and bows his white cowboy hat, making sure the crowd gives Horner her due credit.

Horner at times is embarrassed by all the attention. "He's been very good to me," she says of Kaul.

Lithe and smiling on the dance floor, she swoops in to help struggling beginners — including me — find the beat. The bowl cut is gone, replaced by a long, white-blond ponytail. She's traded in those red cowboy boots for comfier black dance sneakers.

During a partner two-step, as couples glide together in a circle, her hand wraps around my waist gently as she guides me: "Slow, slow, quick-quick, slow, slow ..."

She also teaches a regular class in Edina and volunteers at Friendship Village, a senior living center in Bloomington. Sometimes she and Kaul teach original dances she choreographed decades ago. Horner refuses to be paid.

For Kaul, it's not about charity. It's about lifting up someone who's changed his life and helped him see his path. "I owe so much to you, Diane," he says.

The dancers here, from teen girls in Converse sneakers to middle-aged couples in western boots, may not know the whole story. That Kaul and Horner are now dear friends. That he thinks of her like a second mom. That though they are a couple of generations apart, they are trying to grow Minnesota's line-dancing culture together.

In a boot-burning number called "Honky Tonk Way," which is about stomping at your local country music bar, Horner kicks and twirls with a ferocity belying her 78 years. She looks happy.

Kaul is right behind her, floating on air, as he follows in her footsteps.

As Diane Horner prepared to teach a line dance, James Kaul bowed down to her at “Hold Your Lady Tight Night” at the Hamel VFW in Plymouth. Diane Horner achieved a degree of fame in 1992 when she launched an instructional video on how...
As Diane Horner prepared to teach a line dance, James Kaul bowed down to her at “Hold Your Lady Tight Night” at the Hamel VFW in Plymouth. Diane Horner achieved a degree of fame in 1992 when she launched an instructional video on how...

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Where to line dance

If you want to kick up your boots, there are plenty of dance floors across the Twin Cities where you can give it a try.

Hold Your Lady Tight Night, led by James Kaul and assisted by instructors like Diane Horner, alternate on Thursday nights (7-10 p.m.) between the Hamel VFW and the Big Guys BBQ Roadhouse in Hudson, Wis. The next one, a family-friendly affair from 6:30 to 11 p.m. on July 13 at the Hamel VFW, coincides with the Hamel rodeo. Follow Hold Your Lady Tight Night on Instagram or Facebook.

The Eagles 34 Club in Minneapolis has been hosting Twin Cities Country Dancers for years. Check it out Sunday nights at 6:30-10 p.m. Learn more at twincitiescountrydancers.org.

The West Medicine Lake Community Club in Plymouth holds line dancing lessons for beginner and intermediate levels 6:30-9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Visit www.wmlcc.org/line_dancing for more information.

Billie Timmerman teaches line dancing on the first Friday (7-10 p.m.) of every month at the Minnesota Horse and Hunt Club in Prior Lake and the last Monday (6:30-8:30 p.m.) of the month at Buffalo American Legion. backroadkickers.com.

Hoggsbreath bar in Little Canada hosts Country Night on Fridays, with line dancing lessons typically beginning at 8:30 p.m. Follow the bar's Facebook page for the latest details.

To stay current on other events and happenings near you, make sure to follow the Facebook group Line Dance Minnesota.

Joe Lewis sits out a dance to catch his breath on “Hold Your Lady Tight Night” at the Hamel VFW in Plymouth.
Joe Lewis sits out a dance to catch his breath on “Hold Your Lady Tight Night” at the Hamel VFW in Plymouth.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune