Last page update: December 3, 2016
Dancing at Ginny's Little Longhorn
The dancers are a great bunch of Texans (from all over the planet) who come together to experience the great feeling that comes from moving in sync with the music and each other. They are people just like you who enjoy the company of quality folks, like exchanging views on music and places & opportunities to dance, and find satisfaction from the life affirming activity of social dancing.
Sure dancers hang out and dance at bars and clubs, since that is where the music is often found and most enjoy a cold Shiner Bock or Lone Star, but many drink Diet Coke or Dr. Pepper as our beverage of choice and no one seems to mind. (The important thing is to purchase something from the bar, even bottled water, to support the venue and keep dancers in good graces with management.)
Dancers are young and old and all ages in between - wear jeans or slacks or skirts, cotton or silk, boots or shoes, hats or not, single and married. Couples rarely pair-off for the night (except maybe new love-birds); dancers love to swap partners every song or two, because that is the fun way to dance. Dancers are waiters and college professors, construction workers and engineers, clerks and managers, Republicans and Democrats and Independents (although no one really discusses politics or religion... too busy dancing and having fun.) Although country/western music seems to attract a large number of white folks, all races, creeds and colors are welcomed warmly - all you need is a desire to dance and an understanding of the basics which will be described below.
Dancers' birthday party at the Carousel Lounge.
The dancers swirl at theHarman, Texas New Years Eve party.
I can tell you what C/W dancing is in Austin and South Central Texas, and it is lots of fun! It is a chance to get together with fun loving folks and enjoy moving to the music in a lightly-organized fashion. I've heard comments from people who moved here and at first thought there was no real difference between dancing as couple and "doing their own thing" to the music. After learning a few "steps" they were amazed at how much more fun it is to dance in a couple.
Country Western dancing in Texas is a much cherished tradition. Much as our music has evolved from the immigrants who settled these lands back in the days of yore. Dance, too, has come from the forms brought to the new country. I'm not sure where the "two-step" came from, but the origins of the waltz and polka are obvious.
Dancing in Texas is special. It remains a family activity in many rural communities; the centerpiece of a social gathering to celebrate family, community, or holiday events. Many of the larger cities in Texas have lost much of that family tradition, but we still love to dance, and dance halls can be found all across the state.
Dancing in Austin is unique (like many things in these-here parts.) Austinites have developed our own variations of form, style and technique. These are not all that different from our country cousins and are not difficult to pick up, but the main difference is we LOVE to dance in this town and not just country/western. It is unusual to go to any live music event and not find someone dancing.
Contra & Traditional Dancing
There is another kind of country dancing done in Austin and across the country. You may enjoy it, too. Check out the Traditional Austin Area Dance Association site to find out about it. They have many dance opportunities regularly scheduled in the Austin area and link to dances around Texas.
There are a few traditional line dances, but the modern versions are not covered on this site. No point in emailing for info, as we have none.
Read the article on Austin & Metroplex Boot Scootin' originally published in Delta-Sky Magazine by John Morthland. I'm sure you will enjoy this well written piece which is as timeless as our beloved traditional country-western dancing!
To find these dance halls visit the Venue Guide.
Wooden Floored Dance Halls
- Gruene Hall, New Braunfels - Great old hall, but the wooden surface is uneven and "springy." Air conditioned, but you'd be hard-pressed to feel it. Beer.
- Coupland Dance Hall, Coupland - Big floor, full bar, non-smoking, air conditioned.
- Cheatham Street Warehouse, San Marcos - it is a medium-small space elevated in front of the stage. Full bar (if I remember right)
- Kendalia Halle, Kendalia - dance floor is Douglas fir brought in from Oregon. Built in 1903 and renovated in the last few years.
- Mercer Street Dancehall, Dripping Springs TX
- Quihi Gun Club - reviewed as best dance floor in the San Antonio area.
- Twin Sisters Dance Hall, Blanco - dances 1st Saturday of every month for over 140 years.
Wood surfaced dance floors
- Carousel Lounge, Austin - medium sized floor, good dancing, but large bands reduce usable area. Beer, wine, set-ups. Don't park in adjacent business lots.
- The Cotton Club, Granger - good sized floor, restaurant opens at 5pm.
Hard surfaced dance floors
- The Broken Spoke, Austin - famous hall with large, smooth concrete floor. Full bar.
- The Continental Club, Austin - medium floor which can get crowded out by standees if it is a popular show. Full bar.
- Little Longhorn, Austin - smallest floor in town, yet often the most fun! Beer, terrible wine, cheap set-ups, friendly crowd. (Formerly, Ginny's - I haven't checked it out since Dale remodelled.)
- Floore's Country Store, Helotes - inside floor is vinyl-tile over concrete (remember to dodge those metal poles,) concrete slab outside.
- Hill's Cafe, Austin - rough concrete slab, outside venue. Dining.
- Poodies Hilltop Bar & Grill, W.71 near Pace Bend - medium sized floor. Eats.
- Nutty Brown Cafe, Dripping Springs - concrete slab, outside venue. Dining.
- Saxon Pub, Austin - a bit of space in front of the stage... sometimes.
- The Stardust Club, Manchaca - medium sized, dedicated space. Full bar.
Because it is fun! It is a great way to further enjoy the music. You can meet and enjoy the company of a wonderful bunch of quality people. Simple.
I hesitate to mention this, because it makes dancing sound less fun, but it can be good exercise. Just remember to check with your doctor before dancing more than 2 polkas per night.
At the Continental Club (I see 4 musicians, a record-store owner, a college professor, a carpenter, a contractor, a music-distributor,
a software engineer, and a wildcatter.)
This section is not intended to actually teach you the steps, but to provide some hints and general guidelines. If you can tap your foot to the beat of the music, then you can dance. What we do is called "progressive dancing." That is where couple progress around the dance floor. If you think Line Dancing is really dancing, then you are barking up the wrong tree, pardner!
You may wish to check out the two-step, and other, dances on this link, suggested by Donald Daniel: Social Ballroom Dancing
These are the most common country/western dances you will do in Central Texas:
Texas Two-step - An asymmetrical 6-count step done to a 4-count rhythm; not that dissimilar from the swing "jump-step." The formalized Texas Two-step is generally practiced in the larger, traditional dance halls where there is plenty of room to circulate. In this style the lady is generally moving backwards; guys, keep your steps small - don't run her down.
Bar-room Two-step - On smaller floors there is frequently not enough room to circulate freely. Moving sideways is allowed and sometimes is the only way to go. Recognition to Ben S. from whom I first heard the term and who used to teach dancing.
Austin Two-step - A combination barroom two-step that breaks into a few swing-style spin and twirl moves during the instrumental bridge of the song... big fun!
Swing Dance - In country dance halls and bars this is most frequently a jitterbug variation. Done to a rock-beat or rockabilly tempo... or especially, western swing!
Waltz - If you can count to 3, then you can waltz - just alternate feet.
Polka - Like a very fast waltz, but actually in 6/8 time. If it is too fast for you, a cheat is to just alternate feet in a 2-count.*
* 8-20-2009: Kevin with the Longhorn Western Swing Band wrote: "Hi, I love your website regarding two-step and swing dancing, I love to do both, and also play fiddle in a Western Swing band here in Portland, Oregon, and also play for square dances, contra dances, etc. I noticed in your section describing dance steps, the Polka is described as a "fast Waltz" in 6/8 time. Jigs are in 6/8 time, but I believe the Polka is actually in 2/4 time, and the step is quick-quick-slow,quick-quick-slow...with a very fast travel around the floor."
Helpful hints for the novice
These are not rules, per se', but if you want willing partners next time you go to the dance hall, you will do well to heed this advice (with a grain of salt, if need be.)
- Guys, it is your responsibility to lead the lady. Communicate your intentions with your movements or talk to her. When you lead, be confident and firm, if need be, but never jerk the lady around or use undue force. My buddy Chris says, "If you're using more finger pressure than it takes to pick up a Shiner, it's wrasslin', not dancin'."
- Gals, it is your responsibility to follow the gent. In order to sense his intentions, you need to keep some muscle tension in your arms to feel the gent's movements. Wet spaghetti arms will not do the job. You shouldn't need to hang on like a sack of potatoes, either, balance and move of your own accord, but following his lead for direction and speed. If you want to lead, you are in the wrong bar.
- Guy or gal, if you are the one moving forward, keep your eyes out for potential collisions. Gals, if you are headed for trouble, this is the one time to take control briefly and to steer you both out of trouble - firmly pull or push your partner out of harm's way, a verbal explaination won't hurt either.
- Keep a good attitude when you're on a crowded floor; so when you do run into another couple, give them a quick friendly grin, and might give a quick verbal 'sorry' (optional).
- Gals, if you want to dance, stand near the dance floor. If you see a gent who looks like he is dancing with multiple partners, then it is perfectly acceptable (and encouraged by many) to ask him to dance, this is the 21st century. If a fella asks you to dance, say "yes" even if he is not your first choice of partner. When other guys see you dancing, then they are more likely to ask you to dance.
- On wooden dance floors you really want to have leather soled boots or shoes. If for some reason you are wearing lace-up shoes, double-knot the laces to prevent tripping over them. Wear boots or sensible shoes - avoid wearing flip-flops or clogs or any style that is not secure on your foot.
- They call it "boot scooting" for a reason. If you are picking your feet off the floor more than you need for clearance, you might be doing something wrong. Once you are no longer a novice, then you may try some fancier steps or jumps.
- If space is tight, dance tight. A sure sign of an amateur is somebody who dances big when the floor isn't. Pull in your elbows and don't do swing moves.
- If someone asks you for a dance, afterwards, regardless of your partner's ability, always give a sincere "thank you for asking me" upon conclusion. It is only good manners.
Etiquette (Rules of the Road)
- No drinks, no smokes, no purses on the dance floor. This is a safety issue and will get you thrown out of some halls. Ladies, find a friend or another gal to watch your purse; the experienced gal will only bring the essentials - you can put your money and ID in a pocket or your boot and leave the purse on the table if you are unsure of your surroundings.
- Couples circulate in a counter-clockwise direction around the floor where there is room. Yield the outside of the circle to the faster dancers. If you want to stop and do some swing steps, move close to the center of the circle so you won't block others.
- Do not socialize on the dance floor, it is for dancing, please move off the floor if you want to stand and visit.
- Gals, don't ask to try on a cowboy's hat.
- Gents, pull out that chair for the lady.
Learning to dance - Advice for women
- If you know how to ballroom or swing dance, and are a quick study, then you shouldn't have too much trouble picking up the country-western steps as danced in Central Texas even on the dance floor. Ask your potential partner if he feels comfortable showing you the steps.
- If that is unsatisfactory, then you should be able to learn the basics with the help of a friend, either off to the side of the dance floor or, better yet, in your living room.
Learning to dance - Advice for men
- Guys, you need to be able to lead from the first moment you step on the floor. The public dance floor is NOT the place to learn, sorry. Trust me on this one, fellas, I speak from personal experience. If you try to learn from your partner on the floor, all you will learn is how to follow; you will not learn how to lead.
- If you are a quick learner and generally both physically coordinated and have a good sense of rhythm, then you may be able to learn the basics with the help of a friend, either off to the side of the dance floor or, better yet, in your living room.
- Your best bet is to take a few country-western dance classes, see below.
This section is difficult to keep up to date, as venues often add, then remove regularly scheduled lessons. We will try to keep it up to date.
NOTE: Though we love to hear from our readers, it is pointless to ask us about dance lessons or instructors. All info we have is here:
- Beginning dance lessons at The Broken Spoke typically on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights from 8 to 9pm.
- Currently The White Horse in East Austin has dance lessons Friday and Saturdays, check their website before you go.
- Austin Uptown Dance - studio that teaches many forms of dance including CW (click on Class Schedule.)
- Go Dance Studios - All types of dance lessons and social dancing.
- DANCE U2 dance company is offering different styles of Country western dances such as; Two step, country western Walts, polka, Triple two step, as well as many other styles of dancing.
- Peter Turner is available for private and group lessons, parties, weddings and corporate events. (512) 417-7383
- Dance Georgetown is a chapter of USA Dance Inc. which is a nonprofit organization of the National Governing Body for DanceSport in the United States.