A few appeared at ease as they stood on the dance floor. But most seemed a little anxious about what was ahead. Then Simone Tolley patiently led them through the steps — one by one. Stomp left. Step left. Right. Left. Go back. 1, 2, 3, 4. Hop.
Tolley stopped and then showed them more steps. All eyes followed the petite brunet sporting a stylish sundress and black cowboy boots embellished with white flowers. Soon, the crowd of about 30 relaxed and started smiling.
Tolley teaches country line dancing once a week at Uncle Mike's Smokehouse Grill, the restaurant she co-owns with her husband, Mike Tolley. The lessons are free 7 to 9 p.m. Thursdays at Uncle Mike's on Adamo Drive just west of Brandon at 9847 E Adamo Drive (State Road 60) in Tampa, behind the Brandon Harley-Davidson dealership.
On Fridays, 8 p.m. to midnight, Uncle Mike's hosts line dancing featuring a country disc jockey.
On lesson night, Tolley walks everyone through the dance. Then, she plays the music and takes them through the dance again.
"I think she's good," said Donna Maggiacome, 49, of Riverview. "I haven't had any problems picking up any of these dances."
The lessons help some overcome their fear of dancing in public. It gives others a chance to perfect their steps. "After the lesson they are in shock that they get it," said Tolley, 37.
Tolley, a native of California, loves dancing. She started cheerleading at age 6. At 18, her family moved to Tampa. At 19, she earned a spot as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader. She loved the job but knew that career would not last.
So Tolley, who worked with the Bucs in 1995 and 1996, studied at the University of South Florida, graduating in 2001 with a degree in business. After college, she worked in marketing and promotions.
Mike Tolley focused on consulting work for liquor companies and restaurants. The couple moved into restaurant ownership about four years ago. A little over a year ago, they opened Uncle Mike's Smokehouse Grill, a barbecue restaurant. The dance floor sits on the restaurant's outdoor patio and overlooks a pond.
Adding line dancing to the restaurant's entertainment made sense, Tolley said. She has been line dancing about five years and knows about 70 line dances. She has even created line dances for several songs. She is sure she can help anyone line dance.
"I love country music. I love dancing," said Tolley, who lives in Plant City.
Ronda Porter started the lessons about a month ago with her three daughters. Porter, 44, of Riverview, is thankful for Tolley's knowledge and grateful for her patience.
"Most people need the lesson," she said. "She's really good at breaking it down. My 10-year-old can do it."
In line dancing, everyone does the same step at the same time. The dance floor can look like a bad basketball game if dancers don't know what they are doing. But people do not get angry if you accidentally bump them or step on their toes, Porter said.
"Everybody is friendly," Porter said with a laugh. "Nobody cares if we run into each other."
On a recent Friday night, children, teens and adults stormed the dance floor to strut their stuff. Trying to stay true to country music, some wore jeans, cowboy hats and boots. While music blared, oversized fans and the night breeze cooled those on the crowded dance floor.
Shirley Lane, 63, had no problem keeping up with the steps. She is happy to line dance after a 25-year absence. Lane used to line dance but then couldn't find a venue. The grandmother of five said she has missed it.
"I like it because you can do it by yourself," said Lane, a resident of Hudson in Pasco County, "My husband hates dancing."
Tolley said there are hundreds of line dances. A crowd favorite and one of the oldest is the Electric Slide, which debuted in 1976.
"It's great for the beginners. They'll say, 'I know this one,' " Tolley said.
Ian Habeck watched Tolley's lesson and then walked onto the patio to try the Electric Slide. He grinned as he got some steps and giggled as he messed up others. The 7-year-old Brandon boy was one of the youngest at the lesson. He said he had fun.
"I kind of like it," he said. "But I like hockey better."
Mike Tolley, 45, had to say yes to line dancing at the restaurant. He said his wife of six years supports everything he does — from business ventures to scuba diving. It was easy to support her vision. Mike Tolley said he knows how much she loves to dance and wants to share her knowledge with others. Plus, barbecue, country music and line dancing are a good fit.
"One-hundred percent behind her," he said. "That's her passion."
Country music is more popular than ever, Simone Tolley said, in part due to the new wave of country music artists, such as Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum. And line dancing is an extension of the music. It made perfect sense to offer the line dancing lessons on Thursdays and continue with the country line dancing night on Fridays.
"It's the thing to do now," Simone Tolley said. "Country has a new life. Part of it is the line dancing."