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Herb and Mary Ellen Saffield used to do the jitterbug, but now they do the tush push and the slap leather.

The Pasadena couple have given up their '50s dance style to don cowboy hats and boots and hit the floor to participate in America's latest craze -- country line dance.

And they're pretty good at it, too. After only one year of dancing, the Saffields are scheduled to compete in September in the Capital Classic Line Dance Competition, believed to be the first line dance competition in the mid-Atlantic region.

"We're not nervous," said Mr. Saffield, 55, a retired Fort Meade fire chief. "We're just going to have fun. That's the name of the game."

The husband-wife team from Pasadena will compete in the Golden Age category, for ages 50 and up, dancing the cowboy cha-cha, the walkin' wazzy and the slap leather. Scores will be awarded by a panel of judges based on the accuracy of the steps and the style in which they are performed.

"You need your wits about you when you do these dances," said Mrs. Saffield, 51. "It's important to have a lot of concentration. The whole key is repetition."

The Saffields, who dance four nights a week, are practicing at the County Line Dance Club in Linthicum. Although it has been only a year, they say line dancing has become an addiction.

"We used to go out to the '50s clubs, but we quickly got disgusted," Mr. Saffield said. "It's so cliquish, and the music never stays '50s. It goes from '50s to '60s to '90s. And that rock stuff's just not us."

But at a country-oriented club, Mrs. Saffield said, "it's like one big happy family. Everybody helps everybody else with the steps, and there's uniformity to the line dance."

"A lot of people our age are going over to country music," she said, "because it's kind of like a throwback to the past."

The Saffields helped make a line dance instruction video for Jim and Mandy Ratliff, Capital Classic event directors and dance instructors.

"The country dance has really caught on in the older age groups," said Mr. Ratliff. "It's really a good way to get out and meet people and have a lot of fun."

Mrs. Saffield said she particularly enjoys the aerobic aspect of the dance. "It's a great workout," she said. "I never thought I'd live to see the day when I'd love to sweat from head to toe."

After dancing for three hours straight one night, Mr. Saffield said, "I lost four pounds. That is a fact."

The Saffields have learned more than 50 line dances at the clubs they have visited from New Jersey to Virginia. "No matter what county club you go to, everyone's your friend," said Mr. Saffield. "No one cares about what you do or what job you have. You could be a garbage man or a brain surgeon; it doesn't matter to anybody. We're just there to talk dancing, line steps, and that's it."

If selected to the top five of their Golden Age division at the September competition, the Saffields will qualify for the International Championships in Santa Clara, Calif.

"We're not the Fred and Ginger of Maryland," Mr. Saffield said. "All I can say is, if we can do it and love it, anybody can."

For more information on the Capital Classic competition or on instructors in your area, call (410) 893-6817.

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