“It Had my Heart from Way Back”

Matthew Kirkland is all-in when it comes to country dancing. After falling into it in college, he spearheaded the creation of Arizona’s largest country dance hall, Scootin’ Boots. Matthew uses country dance to bring together college students and community members from every background, connecting them to their inner cowboy. Despite running a dance hall and a stable full of horses, he has still found the time to two-step his way into the hearts of the community.

Write On Downtown (WOD): When did you first become interested in country dance?

Matthew Kirkland (MK): I was at church one day and I heard that the speaker was talking about facing fears in your life, and I was like ‘Yeah, I’ve done that’, and then I realized I had never really done it. I’d done things that were scary, but not necessarily something I was afraid of. I’d gone skydiving, but I wasn’t afraid to do that…Dancing was an actual fear of mine. I was petrified of it. I knew a lot of friends that had fun doing it…I started off in college ballroom dancing and doing various swing dances.

WOD: What is your inspiration for owning “the largest country dance venue in Arizona”?

MK: Dancing hadn’t been a part of my life. I was 25 when I started dancing, so this was never a dream of mine growing up or anything like that. It was just a fun hobby I got really good at. I enjoyed learning to dance, but country music had my heart from way back, so it just seemed natural to do that.

WOD: What’s your favorite thing about running a dance hall?

MK: I just like busy nights. I’ve always been an extrovert. I like big, fun nights with lots of people. I like teaching something I enjoy, and I enjoy seeing a lesson go really well. I just love it when everyone’s having a good time when they’re here.

WOD: How does your love for country music/dancing impact your work life and personal life in general?

MK: I never knew I was allowed to listen to anything else. I don’t have a day job, this is it, this is more than a full-time job. I’m always here doing something. I guess if anything, I listen to a lot less country around the house because I hear it six nights a week. I’ve listened to a lot more rock and stuff when I’m by myself.

WOD: What obstacles are there in running a dance hall?

MK: With all the COVID stuff, we had death threats and all that stuff being like, ‘how dare you’ and it’s like our whole line of business is about having people. So that was a big hurdle, but then dealing with all the building codes and all that stuff. The biggest obstacle I run into is how to keep the place busy six nights a week…staying open and having a successful night every night is kind of the biggest hurdle I’m constantly trying to jump.

WOD: How do you stay involved in the arts community?

MK: We have a relationship with ASU and GCU. There’s swing and line dance clubs at both of those colleges, and we’re a part of them…I teach it at GCU all the time…Some of my competitors that I’m good friends with…are in the dance world locally, even nationally. A lot of them don’t have as big of an operation as we have going here, so they have a little more leeway to get out there and see other places. I’ve traveled to other cities, though I’m usually tied here but we are hoping to branch out a little bit more and do more nationally.

WOD: How does being in the Phoenix area influence you and your business?

MK: There’s still a lot of agricultural, country vibes to it. There’s the college campuses, which make it really successful, those are really big nights…We’re a cowboy and kind of state, so Phoenix is a perfect spot for it for sure.

WOD: What future plans do you have?

MK: I think my biggest focus would be improving the dance hall I have here. Getting enough property that would be kind of the ideal, you know, so we can have the outside part of it as well as the inside…We’re finally almost caught up from all the COVID…and are going to pursue expanding and looking elsewhere.