Reality Nightlife

Get off the couch!

Thanks to the explosion of reality television, you can spend hours every day watching people dance, sing, perform and model. It's had a profound effect on motivation levels: While you survey from the sidelines, cheering them on from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy, the only finger you have to lift is the one on the channel-changer.

Since it's a new year, the best resolution you can set for yourself is to step away from the shows you've come to know and love. Giving up the tube in favor of something that requires physical effort will be as difficult as quitting smoking, though both will prove better for you in the long run. To ease the transition, we've come up with Houston's own version of reality TV. Only this time, you're the star.

So, You Think You Can Dance?

Here in Houston, a number of venues offer free or low-cost dance lessons in the early hours of the evening so that by the time the club gets bumping, novices get the chance to dance like stars. And with the workout that's incorporated -- which is sure to help you shed a few of those holiday pounds -- you'll feel much lighter on your feet.

Kick on your Justin boots and flip on a Stetson every Friday night at the Big Texas Dance Hall & Saloon in Clear Lake (803 East NASA Parkway, 281-461-4400) from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., where you can learn traditional country-western dance moves, from line dancing and square dancing to the two-step, shuffle and western swing. The free one-hour lesson will put enough kick in your step to make you feel right at home by the time the real cowboys roll into the joint. For more information, visit www.bigtexassaloon.com.

The Melody Club (3027 Crossview, 713-785-5301) is the place to go to master the moves of many different styles of dance. From Sundays to Fridays, the lessons offered include ballroom (Tuesdays, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.), salsa (Sundays, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and a free class on Thursdays), and lindy hop/swing (Sundays, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.). After the lessons, there's a free-for-all dance session in which newbies are thrown in with seasoned vets. Though some lessons are free, some come at a price. But boasting to your date that you're a master of any or all of these styles? Priceless. For more information, visit www.melodyclub.net.

Learning to salsa is a perfect option for couples wanting to add a little spice to a night on the town -- especially if the class takes place in a space with a skyline view of downtown. Thursday nights at 8:30 p.m., Scott Gertner's Skybar (3400 Montrose, 713-520-9688) offers a free lesson on the Cuban-based dance to the ladies (sorry, guys, you'll have to fork over $10). No skipping CDs or repeating songs here -- a live salsa band contributes the tunes. For more information, visit www.scottgertner.com.

America's Next Top Model/Project Runway

Though we're far from New York, Houston has become the Southern hub for top designers and models (Top Model and Project Runway have each featured a representative/contestant from H-town). Every spring and fall, fashion shows crop up here, and the city's hippest designers showcase their lines. Typically held in swanky downtown clubs such as M Bar (402 Main, 713-222-1022), Opus (412 Main, 713-222-6787) and Dean's Credit Clothing (316 Main, 713-227-3326), the events often are promoted by local boutiques that stock the designers' merchandise: Lot 8, M2M Fashion and Lab 5, and by glossy magazines that promote modeling, fashion and haute couture. Plus, the chance to sit beside the catwalk and watch beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes will only make you feel more beautiful. And you don't need a special invitation to attend, unlike fashion shows in those other big cities.

American Idol

Many local bands -- from Humble to League City and Katy to Channelview -- are trying to become the next big thing. The multitude of musicians and singers has increased with the digital age, slimming the chances of stardom but providing us with live music every night of the week. There are so many choices, in fact, that we miss out on a lot of talent. That's where the no-holds-barred Battle of the Bands competitions come in.

Typically beginning in spring and running through fall, the Engine Room (1515 Pease, 713-654-7846) hosts monthly Battle of the Band competitions, where performing bands showcase 20 minutes of material and the audience votes for their favorite (sound familiar, Idol fans?). Bands move up the totem pole, where a coveted prize (and ego boost) await the winner.

Likewise, Sherlock's Pub (multiple locations: 2416 Bay Area Boulevard, suite D, 281-461-4702; 228 West First Street in Humble, 281-446-0407; 1997A West Gray, 713-521-1881; and 10001 Westheimer, 713-977-1857) occasionally hosts band competitions, moving the musicians among the clubs as they go up in the ranks. What's best about the contests is that your participation and attendance might turn you on to a new band. But if you don't think a band is worthy, you can play Simon Cowell and hurl insults instead.

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