The Sugar Push, Catch and Return and Free Spin Whip

Starks Bar
Historic photo of Starks’ earlier days as a O’Brien’s Half-way House, a roadside dance hall.

I’ve never been one for resolutions. But a friend once told me that on New Year’s Day you should do a little bit of everything you want to do more of during the year. That sounded good to me.

I’ve followed her advice for years. I’d make something, be outside, go on an adventure and keep in touch with friends. I guess in a way they were resolutions, but they were also actions — rather than just items on a list — and I could buy into that.

We had great plans for the first day of 2018: honoring a Minnesota hero with a creative project, layering on clothes for a walk in our most visited state park and cooking a delicious but simple meal. The plan was all derailed at 5 a.m. when I succumbed to the flu.

This New Year’s Day I spent all 1,440 minutes flat on my back. I gazed out the window and slept in the warmth of the sun. During my infrequent lucid moments I ran through a list of places I wanted to go, things I wanted to try, items I wanted to make.

In that dreamy, hazy fog, ideas flowed past like a fast-motion movie. It was like my brain was overcompensating for an ineffectual body. The delirium pulled things from the depths of my brain I hadn’t seen in years. Did I really still want to do that?

Between the whirring blur of nausea and fleeting dreams, I kept remembering what another friend posted on Facebook: “This year’s flu shot doesn’t work.”

Thirty-six hours later I stood up, shook it off and made some plans. By Friday night I was at my first West Coast Swing dance party. Who would have known?

Starks Dancing
The dance floor turns over with every song as new dancers and partners spin each other around. Photo by Linda Koutsky

A couple years ago I was visiting my sister in California. We were at a resort in Carmel enjoying the ocean view when we heard happy party sounds coming from the lobby. We wandered over to the large space and saw about a dozen couples dancing. They were twirling, laughing, making animated gestures and having a ball.

We stood on the outskirts and watched. Eventually one of the dancers came over and told us it was a West Coast Swing dance and we were welcome to join in. No possible way were either of us going to make it on that smooth oak floor. We walked back to our room through the redwood trees and found other diversions to occupy the evening.

It must have lodged in my subconscious, because when I came through the blur of the flu I wanted to dance. It turns out West Coast Swing is done everywhere. A quick Google search turned out several dance venues in the metro area — including two just blocks from my home — but I recognized one in Eagan that I’d driven past many times on the way to Red Wing.

Starks Bar & Grill is in a long, low-slung building with a sign in western front. It looks like it’s been there since the 1940s. Historic photos line the entrance. A waitress told me the original building is the narrow bar area.


Starks Bar, Eagan
Historic photo of Starks’ earlier days as a O’Brien’s Half-way House, a roadside dance hall.

Past the bar stools are a few booths and tables overlooking a dance floor. There were about six other couples seated there. We sat at a table next to a red rope marking the dance floor entrance. It was 7 p.m. and the dance started at 8 p.m.

We had dinner and looked around. Past the dining room were half a dozen pool tables, a Gilligan’s Island pinball machine, dartboard and foosball table, a few video games and a Big Buck Open Season shooting game. At 7:50 p.m. the dancers arrived and the lights and music came on.

It reminded me of a prom. Beneath a mirrored ball a few couples made timid, lazy turns. As more people entered the dance floor the spins increased. Pretty soon it was full speed with couples arm over arm, dipping, twirling, pushing and pulling.

It was an open and welcoming crowd. There were people of all shapes and sizes, ages, orientations and cultural backgrounds. Singles and couples mixing it up, dancing with each other so they could try different techniques. They all laughed and smiled and looked like they’d been doing it for years.

I just couldn’t do it. I watched from the outskirts, staying behind the red velvet rope.

They didn’t have lessons before that evening’s dance. But I’ve got the paperwork, and I’m really going to do it. It’s still January. Think I can be dancing by May?

Starks Bar & Grill

3125 Dodd Road E., Eagan


Starks makes its own soup and chili every night. Check out their weekly meat raffles on Fridays from 4 p.m.–6 p.m.


Starks is located about seven miles past the airport into Eagan. Lessons are free and dances have various admission fees.

Here’s their typical schedule:

  • Mondays: intermediate line dance lessons, 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesdays: two step and line dance lessons, 7:30 p.m.; country and variety dance, 8 p.m.
  • Thursdays: beginner and intermediate line dance lessons, 7 p.m.
  • Saturdays: variety music dance party, 8 p.m.
  • First Fridays: West Coast swing dance, 8 p.m.
  • Second Fridays: line dance lessons, 7 p.m.; Line Dance Night, 8 p.m.­–11 p.m.
  • Third Friday: West Coast swing variety dance lesson, 7:30 p.m.; dance. 8 p.m.
  • Fourth Fridays: line dance lessons, 7 p.m.; Line Dance Night, 8 p.m.–11 p.m.
  • Fifth Fridays: Back to the Blues, 8 p.m.

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