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Sara Evans, 'Dancing,' and the politics of divorce

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151120__sara_lThe rapidly developing story of country star Sara Evans’ divorce filing doesn’t just involve the time-honored, sordid standbys of splitsville, like (alleged) adultery, porn, and the seedier side of Craigslist. It also expands to include three possibly even more incendiary elements: politics, religion, and thwarted disco dancing.

I can’t much speak to whether it’s a tragedy that Evans’ career as a hoofer might have been cut down in its prime, but I do have a take on some of the other unusual aspects of this case. Last year, I sat down with her in a Starbucks near her Tennessee home to do an interview for my book, Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music, in which I looked at how the convictions of that genre’s stars mirror or even shape the values of middle America. Evans has one of my favorite voices in the world, and I knew she was an outspoken conservative who collaborates happily with a lot of Nashville’s most notorious liberals, so I was eager to get her take on country’s political divide, Somehow, in the midst of talking about her activism for Republican causes, we ended up on the subject of divorce. So when, in her exit interview on last night’s edition of Dancing with the Stars, she made the assertion that “I’m completely against divorce,” I knew she wasn’t just blowing smoke.

addCredit(“Dancing with the Stars: Adam Larkey”)

“One of the main reasons I come out so strongly for conservativevalues is not only because of my religious beliefs,” she told me inthat 2005 sit-down, “but because it scares me to think how much divorcethere is in America today, how many babies are aborted, how many brokenfamilies there are. I believe for America to stay strong there isnothing more important than for the family to stay together. I love thefact that some laws are coming into place now to make it harder todivorce.” (Evans was talking at that point about the “covenant marriage”legislation that’s on the books in a handful of states, intended toslow down the divorce process with counseling and other roadblocks,which theoretically might prevent couples from splitting up tooimpulsively.) As a kicker, she added: “I come from a divorced family,so I know what it can do.”

I’ve seen or heard of a few people citing that passage from my book,wondering if Evans is a hypocrite for heading for the halls of justice.I have to say that, having had that talk with Evans (and having seenher husband, Craig Schelske, practically attached to her at the hipeach time I’d run into her at an awards show or even out on tour), that first divorce headline came as a shocker. On the other hand, if you’ve ever gone to an Evans concert and seen the sheer glee with which she delivers “When You Were Cheating,”her recent wronged-woman hit, the short time span between her learningof the alleged adultery and the court filing is just a little lesssurprising. “How do you like that furnished room, the bed, the chair,the table?” she would sing, smiling. “The TV pictures goes in and out,too bad you don’t have cable /How do you like that paper plate, andthose pork-n-beans you’re eatin’/Maybe you should’ve thought aboutthat/When you were cheatin’…” That’s the Sara Evans we know, too — theone who went back to the judge after the initial filing to get anadditional injunction to stop Schelske from making transfers out oftheir joint account.

Evans is very much an evangelical Christian, and the teaching inthose circles tends to be that, under New Testament restrictions,divorce is never allowable… except if the partner has betrayed themarriage by straying sexually. I think this helps explain why the courtfilings have so many revelations about her husband’s supposedinfidelities that some have called it a “scorched earth” approach: Shemay want her fans, many of whom are conservative Christians themselves,to know in no uncertain terms that she believes she has not just amoral but biblical basis for instigating divorce proceedings. You mighthave heard of the term “getting Dixie Chick-ed,” which means gettingostracized by fans for one’s politics. Along those lines, nobody inNashville wants to be “Amy Grant-ed,” either; Grant lost a lot of herChristian fans when she filed for divorce without specifying thereasons. Evans isn’t in the CCM business, of course, but there is someoverlap in the fan base, and she hasn’t been shy about holding herselfup as a positive role model. So there won’t be any of this “amicable”talk for her, lest anyone get the idea she’s suddenly gone soft on theD-word. On the other hand, if she puts too many allegations outthere—and on some message boards, they think she has—she could be seenas embodying un-Christian qualities of revenge.

After all, it seems like Evans might be just a little less conservative than her husband, who heads up his own GOP PAC and ran unsuccessfully for congress in the state of Oregon a few years ago. The divorce papers (available here as a pdf file)reveal some tension over Evans’ stint as a TV dancer, and the friendsit brought her: “Husband referred to the costume designer for the show Dancing With the Starsas a ‘sodomite’ and told her how awful it was to have the children inthe home when the costume designer was present.” But, to paraphrase anold saying, how are you gonna keep her down on the farm when she’s gonedancing in gay Los Angel-eez?

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to Evans’ next tour, and not just because she promised last night that she’s going to get Dancingpartner Tony Dovolani to choreograph her previously dance-free show.Evans always talks between songs — a lot — and when it comes time for theinevitable preamble to “When You Were Cheating,” it may be a good ideaif we’re all wearing flame-retardant clothing.