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GBIC >> Retirement >> CW Dancing
Country & Western Dancing
Ok, CW dancing may not be as broad a category as work, health, travel, and education, but it happens to be a passion of mine and can be a great source of exercise and relaxation for retirees. Perhaps more importantly it can be a great activity that spouses can do together or a great way for single retirees to socialize with others.

Yes, I know that there are others kinds of dancing, particularly ballroom and square dancing, that retirees are often interested in. I may add them eventually to this page, but for now, it's all about Country & Western dancing. Also, some of the information below is specific to Dallas. Check the section on Other Cities to see if I've added anything on your location. If you have information to share on a city, feel free to send it to me and I'll add it to the site!

For you folks concerned if you have what it takes to learn to dance, just remember that every dance (all of them) have exactly the same foot pattern - left, right, left, right, ... ! I once had an instructor that told us "Dancing is like standing still, just a little bit faster!". Just about everyone can learn to dance, so give it a try!

Overview Night Clubs Organizations
Lessons/Instructors Other Cities


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Overview

Country and Western (CW) dancing is all about couples dancing. The man leads and the woman follows. The dance starts with the man stepping out with his left foot, the woman with her right foot. The couples hold on to each other (right hands around each other's back and left hands held out in front) - closer for slow dances and a bit farther apart for faster dances. Through the course of a 3 minute song a couple goes through 20-40 patterns as they dance counter-clockwise around the dance floor (a pattern is simply a few familiar steps, such as spinning your partner). There are perhaps 100-200 patterns that a dancer could learn, but most dances consist of just a handful of patterns. You can do an entire dance using just a single pattern but it's more fun if you throw in at least a dozen or so.

The description I just gave may sound very clinical, but dancing is great exercise and great fun. The part about holding on to a member of the opposite sex isn't so bad either !

There are a variety of CW dances, each with their own footwork and patterns. Here is a list of the most common dances that you'll see on the Texas dance floors:

    • One-One
    • Two-step
    • Three-step
    • Double two-step
    • Progressive Double two-step   
  • Ft. Worth shuffle
  • Waltz
  • Line Dance
  • Swing
  • Push
It may look like a long list, but when you go dancing you'll find that just about everyone does the three-step. For historical reasons we call CW dancing "two-stepping", after the original CW dance steps. But the three-step is actually what most folks do in the Texas dance halls. It's easy to learn, easy to lead, easy to follow, not too fast, and can be done to just about any song.

The real two-step is an older Texas dance which most folks haven't seen but the tradition of calling just about any CW dance a "two-step" has hung on.

For those dancers who go to the effort to learn more than one of the dances, the choice of which dance to use for a particular song is mostly a personal preference, but for slow songs the Two-Step and Three-Step fit very nicely. The Double Two-Step, Swing and Ft. Worth Shuffle foot patterns tend to make it easier to dance to faster music. The Waltz is always danced to waltz songs. You can guess where the Ft. Worth shuffle is likely to be found.

The line dance continues to be somewhat popular and is the only CW dance for which you don't need a partner. Literally, you get out in the middle of a floor, form a line (or lines) and everyone does exactly the same patterns over and over until the song stops. Individuals might throw in a little flare of their own into the moves, but you can easily tell that everyone is doing the same line dance.

There are at least 50 different line dances, usually associated with a specific song, but dancers are not shy about getting up and doing a line dance to any song that has the right beat. Aside from being fun and good exercise, the line dance serves two basic purposes:

  • You can dance without needing someone to ask you
  • You can show off your good looks and dancing moves so that the audience (potential dancing partners) will want to dance with you

With these ideas in mind, you won't be surprised to learn that about 90% of all line dancers are women. Guys generally won't dance alone and good looks are rarely their specialty !

There are also a couple of specialty CW dances that you'll see. The Cotton Eye Joe and the Schottische are actually a pair of dances which are almost always performed back to back, to songs of the same name. They're not really that popular with regular dancers and are considered tourist dances, but we've all done them a hundred times. They're both kind of a moving line dance.

You may be surprised to find that many dance halls will play rock music - perhaps 2-3 songs lumped together at the end of every hour. Rock dancing serves the same purpose as line dancing - it gets all the single women out to fill up the floor.

But rock dancing also serves a second purpose of letting the swing and push (a variation on swing dancing) dancers (couples) strut their stuff. Swing is a favorite couples dance that is done to fast-paced music whereas the push is particularly well suited to rock music with a heavy beat and a bit slower music.

The patterns for push dancing are much different than for CW dancing. In push the couple stakes out an area on the dance floor and does all of their patterns at that spot. Generally, the women is moving up and down a slot whereas the man is moving across, and into, the slot while leading the woman. If it sounds complicated, that's because it can be. Push dancing pretty much requires lessons to be any good, whereas many folks can pick up CW patterns on their own.

Remember that each couple decides for themselves which dance to use on a song as well as which sequence of patterns they will use in the dance (actually, it's the guy that makes the decision, since he is the lead). It's usually possible to dance more than one dance type to a given song. The speed of the song (the beat) is the determining factor (assuming the man knows more than one dance!).

Everyone has their own preference about which dance they enjoy, and if you look on the dance floor you almost always see several dance types being done by the dancers on the floor - regardless of the song being played. The only thing in common is that they're dancing to the same beat of the song.

Dancing With Friends
In Texas it is common to go dancing with a group of friends. There are several good reasons for doing this:

  • If there are no new people to dance with, you can depend on several members of the group to dance with you during the night. There's nothing worse than going dancing and coming home with only a few dances under your belt.
  • There's a phrase we use "Come on, be my demo dog!". This simply means that you ask a friend to dance with you on the floor so that everyone else in the club will see that you're a good dancer. A lot of folks hesitate to ask someone to dance because they don't want to get stuck with a bad dancer. So a member of your group can let you 'demonstrate' that you're a good dancer. The person you dance with is your "demo dog".
  • When you're single you sometimes get asked to dance by someone who is either a bad dancer, smells, can't lead, has no rhythm, can't follow, clings, is drunk, or is otherwise just plain obnoxious (well, ok, this can happen even when you're married). When you're with a group you can look over at one of your friends with that "save me" look and they will butt in at the end of the dance to make sure you escape.
  • At the end of the night it's always good to have one of the men in the group escort you safely to your car (assuming that you're going home alone, of course ).
  • Warning: If you're going to date, do it outside the group. If the romance doesn't work out then the left-over emotions of the romance can cause troubles between group members.

Basic Manners
When you're on the dance floor there are several pointers which are either common etiquette or simply techniques for making the dance more enjoyable:

  • Dance counter-clockwise (everyone else will be)
  • Fast dancers should dance on the outside (near the edge of the floor). Slow dancers dance to the inside. Stationery dancers (line dances, swing, and push dancers should be right in the middle of the floor).
  • Sometimes, on a crowded floor, you'll have to learn to dance in place. Don't just stop - keep your footwork going and be ready to move out as soon as a gap opens up
  • Keep moving if at all possible. If you stop then everyone else has to dance around you and it will cause a traffic jam, including collisions. Especially don't stand still in front of the stage if there is a live band.
  • Don't bring your drinks on the floor. They will be spilled and it makes the floor very sticky.
  • Wear underwear. One time my wife and I saw a guy pass out and they had to release his pants to give him room to breathe. It wasn't a pretty sight (he didn't follow this rule!).
  • Escort the lady back to her table. Even if she couldn't dance or you never plan to speak (much less dance) with her again, it's polite to see her safely back to her table. Of course, if she turns her back to you and walks away then you're relieved of that duty .

Looking Good on the Dance Floor
While you can dance any way you want, there are things about CW dancing that will make it look better to the audience and feel better to your partner.

  • Slide across the floor. Dancing is not stepping. When you move your feet they should never lose contact with the floor. Sliding your feet makes for a smoother dance. Your partner will appreciate it. Also, since you'll be sliding you need to wear shoes with leather soles. Even then a dry floor will still cause your feet to stick, so most clubs sprinkle wax pellets over the floor. A waxed floor is so much more comfortable, particularly for the women who do all the spinning. Remember not to practice CW dancing on carpet at home because the difficulty in sliding/spinning on carpet can hurt your knees!
  • Stay on your toes. Sliding is best done on your toes. Spinning is best done on your toes. It's not uncommon to spend 80% of a dance on our toes. It works better, feels better, and looks better.
  • It's up to you and your partner if you want to make out on the dance floor. But dancing requires a little gap between the two dancers. Almost all of the patterns in a dance are easier to perform if you give your partner a little room.
  • Don't put your arm around a woman's neck, like you're trying to wrestle her to the ground. It looks hick and it hurts the woman.
  • Don't pump your arm up and down, like you're drilling for oil. Some women try to take the movement of your hand as a dance lead and there's no telling what they will do or how they will interpret the motion. Smooth dancing motions are the way to go if you want your partner to enjoy the dance.

The Man's Job
The man's job is not very simple. There's a lot of things to remember at one time and it's very common for beginners to lose track of their footwork for having to worry about all the other responsibilities they have on the dance floor. Here are the things the man is responsible for during a dance:

  • Lead. This means giving the woman a clear, unmistakable physical sign of what pattern she is to dance. Women hate dancing with a man who gives a tentative lead. Of course, they also don't want to jerked around the floor, so it's up to the man to figure out what's best for a particular dance partner. Remember too that it's the right hand on the small of your partner's back that does the leading. The left hand is only there for emergencies - such as when the woman your dancing with is what we call a "tank", someone who can't follow worth a hoot. By the way, being a tank has nothing to do with weight. Some of the best followers I've danced with were also some of the less petite dancers.
  • Figure out which patterns to dance. If his partner is not a good dancer, is drunk, or the music is too fast then he will have to adjust the patterns to match the circumstances. It's very common for patterns to be performed more than once during a song.
  • Keep from running into other couples, and in particular, not to allow anyone to run into him or his partner. This means that you have to spend time looking around - not only where you're headed so that you know you'll have room to dance, but in other directions to see if someone else is out of control and about to smack into your and your partner. It's a good idea if your right hand (the one on the small of the woman's back) is turned fingers out to act as a shock absorber for wayward dancers.
  • Don't force the woman to dance backwards all the time. Beginners, particularly women, are sometimes surprised to find that one of the dancers in a couple has to dance backwards. It's up to the man to lead so that the couples are changing positions regularly throughout the dance (one dancing forward for a time, then dancing backwards).
  • Don't overdo the spinning. Some ladies simply cannot spin well so leading a spin pattern won't be much fun for the lady, won't look good to the audience, and definitely won't get your another dance.
  • Control the sweating. What can I say? Guys sweat. If you start sweating too much then sit down and dry off. The last thing a woman wants to do is put her arms around a wet cowboy. It's the woman's call, of course. If she knows you're sweating and tells you to get on the dance floor, then by all means accommodate the lady. But if you about to get your first dance with the special filly that you've had your eye on all night, then take the time to cool off before asking her to dance. Asking the waitress for a face towel is totally acceptable. I have even seen a dancer who brought a battery powered fan with him - not one of those small hand held things, but a full sized fan with an enormous battery that was good for the whole evening! Finally, you should know that wearing a t-shirt under your dancing shirt will help wick sweat away from your back. Of course, it wicks all the way down to your underware but in most cases the woman's hands won't be going nowhere near there - on the dance floor, that is.
  • Smile and talk to your dance partner. You'll be surprised to see how many men are so focussed on doing everything mechanically correct that they forget to talk with their partner, look at their partner, laugh, or enjoy themselves. New dancers especially have this problem but once they get comfortable with their responsibilities they soon discover their partner - the reason they dance in the first place.
  • Don't hurt your partner. A smooth dancer with a good lead is the first thing a lady looks for in a dance partner (ignoring the gender attraction thing, of course). Don't grab your lady around the neck like it's a wrestling match (yes, some cowboys do this). Don't pump your free hand like you are drilling for oil (it looks like a lead but really isn't and can confuse your dancing partner). And of course, don't step on her feet. Remember that you weigh about twice what she does and stepping on her foot will put a big damper on the romance of the moment.
  • Dance to the beat of the music. It is so painful to a good dancer to watch a cowboy dancing off beat. It's painful for the audience to watch and terribly painful for the woman that's dancing with you. Her ears tell her one thing and her dance partner tells her something entirely different.

The Woman's Job
On the other hand the list of things a woman has to do is a shorter list, but she has the most difficult job of all - making the couple look good. If you've ever watched CW dancing then you'll also notice that the woman is the one doing all the spins - she has to work harder during the dance. The man's job is more mental, the woman's job is more physical. Here's the whole list of a woman's responsibilities on the dance floor:

  • Follow. Whatever the man leads, the woman has to follow. If he speeds up, slows down, changes patterns, doesn't do patterns, gives a weak lead, gives a power lead, is on beat or off-beat, the woman has to follow the leader. There's a lot more to following that might meet the eye. For example, once a man leads a lady into a spin, she is supposed to keep spinning until he stops her. Leads can be like that - they get the woman started but she has to know what to do, and keep doing it, until the next lead gives her new directions.
  • Make the couple look good. Hardly anyone looks at the man during the dance. The woman is (usually) the prettiest of the two, does all the spins, and dresses better. Almost no matter what the man does, if the woman does her part right the audience will give the couple good marks for their dancing skills. It may not be fair guys, but that's basically how it works.
  • Wear the right clothes. The man's right hand will be on your back during the dance and it is actually his hand on your back that is used to give you leads. If you wear some silky blouse that allows his hand to slide around he won't be able to give you a good lead. The same thing is true about wearing two layers of clothing on the back. If the top layer slides around each time the man starts to give you a lead, then you won't feel the lead correctly and first thing you know you two will be bumping into each other.
  • Don't cling. A common mistake beginning women dancers make is to get a death grip on the man's free (left) hand. The problem is that when the man starts into a pattern the woman doesn't let go and the pattern falls apart. Generally, the man offers the lady his hand so that she can rest her hand on his - not for her to grab hold as if her life depends on it.

Miscellaneous Amusements
If you've ever watched CW dancing on some of the national TV shows you may have noticed songs where every couple does exactly the same pattern as every other couple, all synchronized together. That's not a Texas tradition. For us Texans there's just something not right about having to do what everyone else does. It's ok for those Yankees but we don't expect it ever to catch on here in the Lone Star state.

One of the great things about dance halls in Texas is that you can usually dance within 2-3 feet of the band. One time my wife and I were dancing and Garth Brooks was playing. This was before he became famous. It was hot in the place and as we were passing by, Garth flicked the sweat off his brow and it actually hit my wife! It don't get no closer than that!

A humorous part of being a CW dancer has to do with wearing traditional cowboy gear - a hat, jeans, and boots. You wear a felt hat (beaver skin, of course) during the winter to keep your head warm, and a straw hat in the summer to stay cool. But for most dancers the only place you ever dress like that is on the dance floor. Folks with whom you dance, that see you in your business outfit, will do a double-take and laugh at how different you look. Likewise, your co-workers who have only seen you in business attire may not even recognize you in your cowboy getup.

There are also opportunities for humor on the dance floor. One time at Billy Bob's we saw an elderly woman who had brought a manikin to the dance floor. She strapped herself to it (or it to herself) and that was her dance partner for the entire night. Even stranger was that the manikin only consisted of only the top half - the torso. I guess she was worried about the manikin getting too fresh?

Dancing Secrets
One of the "secrets" of dancing has to do with drinking. As a dancer who doesn't drink I can assure you that drinking does not make your a better dancer. It may make the person drinking feel more relaxed but it can also destroy their ability to lead or follow a lead. This creates a problem for many clubs. They want dancers on the floor as entertainment for their drinking customers. But the better dancers tend to drink very little because they know that the drinks will mess with their dancing. It's very typical of a veteran dancer to drink water, but tip the waitress handsomely to make sure the water will keep coming. The club owners tolerate the non-drinking dancers, but in a few cases have had to begin charging for water because too many of their clients were not ordering drinks. After all, for the club owner the dance floor (and band) is simply there as a means of attracting customers who will order drinks!

Another "secret" to dancing is counting. Most CW dance patterns use the same number of steps. A spin, a walk-by, or other patterns might all have the same number of steps. Four steps and eight steps per pattern are common. Beginning dancers should feel free to count the steps out loud. For example, the three-step is counted as "one, and-two, three", which describes four steps (the 'and' is a quick step, whereas the other three steps are slower). It may not sound that hard, but when you're first learning to dance it helps tremendously to count the steps out loud. Veteran dancers will encourage the counting, or even help the newbie by counting for them - particularly to let the newbie feel how the count and the beat of the music must be synchronized.

A discussion of dancing wouldn't be complete unless we address the sex thing head on. Some folks go to dance simply for the fun of dancing (that would be me). But some folks go dancing simply because it's a good way to meet members of the opposite sex - either for a short romance or to begin a long term relationship.

It's very common for dancers who begin to date to start spending their time going to other activities. While dancing is a lot of fun, the music can be very loud and it's pretty difficult to have a conversation in most dance halls. You'll know when the romance is off because one or both will suddenly appear on the dance floor again.

Dancing as a Couple
If you're a couple going dancing there are a couple of hints that will make it more enjoyable.

  • On the assumption that you're there to dance, then go very early. My wife and I have often been the first person on the dance floor - we call that Starlight Dancing. Many veteran dancers will also come early so that they will have a clear floor on which to dance. The later you are on the dance floor the more likely your are to have to steer clear of less skilled, or simply drunk, dancers.
  • Leave early, or start tapering off from dancing as the evening wears on and spend your later hours enjoying watching everyone else dance on the crowded dance floor. It is true that some of the better looking men and women don't come out till later at night (except for you, of course ) so if you want eye candy then you may have to stay a bit later.

For the successful romances, and after the wedding (although sometimes not until after the kids have left home), you'll often see the couple back on the dance floor. Of course, they will come early and not stay as late at the single crowd, but they will be back to enjoy the dancing that brought them together.


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Night Clubs - Dallas

The rating next to the club name is simply a qualitative assessment on my part. It reflects the likelihood that my wife and I will return to the club, based on how much fun we had (or didn't have) when we last went there.

  • Southern Junction
    Huge dance floor, live music, cook your own steak, kids allowed. Great place!
  • Red River Saloon
    Large oval dance flow, popular with the younger crowd, occasional live band
  • Top Rail Ballroom
    Medium size floor, live band, older crowd
  • Crystal Chandelier
    Huge dance floor, south of downtown Dallas about 20 miles, definitely country customers
  • WW Fairfields
    Small floor, live band, smack in the middle of a small shopping center
  • Gilley's
    Large floor, has the feel of a tourist attraction (like Billy Bob's in Ft. Worth)

These are the places my wife and I enjoy. If you'd like a longer list of dance halls available in the area, check out Honky Tonkin' USA. It lists dance halls all over the US.


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Organizations - Dallas

While I whole-heartedly support the idea of clubs and groups as a way to bring together dancers, I have to admit that my wife and I simply go dancing by ourselves whenever we go out. Sometimes we'll invite another couple or two, but that's the limit of our group activities.

But if you want to run with the pack, then check out this list of dancing organizations in the Dallas area.


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Lessons/Instructors - Dallas

Now is a good time to make the most important suggestion of this page - take lessons. The better a dancer you become, the more you (and your partner) will enjoy it.

There are two basic sources of lessons. The local night clubs hire instructors to give free lessons to their customers, and there are local companies who hold lessons in their studios.

In general I recommend that you take the free lessons at the club where you plan to dance. The reason is that when you go dancing on your own and ask someone to dance, or get asked to dance, you'll want to know that the dances you know are the same ones as your potential dance partners.

Even within the same town there can be differences in the types of dances that the customers are used to doing, so it can make it much more fun to you if you start off by learning those dances.

Of course, if you're already part of a couple that is learning to dance, then you won't have to worry about that as long as both of you are taking the same lessons. If you are part of a couple, don't make the mistake of dancing only with your partner. Every veteran dancer will tell you that you improve your dancing skills by dancing with as many different partners as possible. After you've developed your dancing skills then focusing on a single partner is fine, but during the learning process you're better off getting exposed to every dancing experience possible.

If learning at a club intimidates you (as it does some folks), check out this list of instructors. Smaller group or private lessons are usually available.