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How the Texas Two-Step Became America’s Country Dance

Quick-quick, slow, slow, quick-quick, slow, slow, quick-quick, slow, slow. Seems simple enough, right? Well, that simple foot pattern forms the basis for an American institution: the Texas Two-Step.

On any given night, tens of thousands of couples across the country bust out the two-step. From tiny Texas honky-tonks to festivals and massive arena concerts, country fans love this dance.

So how exactly did the Texas Two-Step become the most popular country dance in the world? Like most “American as apple pie” institutions, the two-step gets its inspiration from immigrants.

Where It Came From

The footwork for the two-step is rooted in old-timey folk dances. The German polka, the Waltz and the Polish Varsovienne are just a few of the dances that inspired the original two-step. And it makes plenty of sense that German culture eventually permeated Cowboy culture, what with the massive German settlements in Texas and across the Western frontier.

The original two-step exploded in popularity after John Philip Sousa wrote the “Washington Post March” in 1891. But the Texas Two-Step would evolve from a different dance entirely: the Foxtrot.

When Harry Fox created the “Foxtrot” in 1914, it didn’t take long for country singers and Texans to move the graceful dance out of the social clubs and into the old barns. In a lot of ways, the country style dance grew with the onset of country music itself.

The Texas Two-Step flipped the “slow, slow, quick-quick” pattern of the collegiate foxtrot on its head. It also replaced the hopping motion with a smoother glide, possibly attributed to the footwear — big ol’ cowboy boots.

In a Texas Highways article, Texas State University dance instructor Peter Turner calls the Texas Two-Step “the poor man’s foxtrot.” Which makes sense, considering country music and country dancing were most popular in poorer, rural areas.

For a while, dancers performed the two-step in a line. When they ran out of space, they’d just stop and jitterbug. (Picture that for a moment). But the Texas Two-Step would eventually go even further, adopting all of the flourishes, spins, flips and moves of another dance craze — swing dancing.

From the 1930s to 1950s, all forms of swing dancing descended upon America. One of the most enduring, Western swing traced its roots to artists like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Wills used a jazzy fiddle style laid over a contemporary 4/4 time signature, the most common time signature for American music. That meant folks could start swinging about and at any given moment return to the familiar “quick-quick, slow, slow” pattern.

Since then, the Texas Two-Step made it through countless American dance fads. From rock n’ roll to 70s disco to all the YouTube dances of late. And of course, the Urban Cowboy movement of the 80s helped remind Americans just how much they love the classic cowboy dance. Minus a few John Travolta-specific flourishes, of course.

Now, if you haven’t ever tried the dance out, it can be a little intimidating (just look at the video above). But the truth is, the Texas Two-Step is super easy in its simplest form. In fact, “Ameripolitan” country legend Dale Watson made a song to help folks out.

Appropriately titled “Quick Quick Slow Slow,” Watson wrote it after watching folks struggle with the dance. He now performs the tune for any beginner dancers looking for help with the two-step.

How to Do It: Quick Quick Slow Slow

The most important part of the dance is simple: don’t be shy. It’s easy to catch people flipping about out of the corner of your eye and think, “Yeah this is not happening.” But there’s nothing wrong with staying real simple.

Follow the motion of the room (counter-clockwise). Slow dancers stay closer in on the circle, while the faster, fancier footwork goes on the outside. Feel free to ask more advanced dancers where to start when it comes to spicing it up. Simple spins are a great place to start.

Tons of dancehalls and honky-tonks in Texas offer two-step lessons. Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth and the Broken Spoke in Austin are two legendary venues that love it when their patrons dance.

It really is a blast to watch dancers with all their Texas Two-Step variations. The side-by-side, shadowing, Fort Worth shuffle, double two-step; one of the oldest dances in America continues to evolve.

But you know what’s even more fun than watching? Getting out there and doing it yourself. There’s a reason the dance has stood the test of time, after all. So put on your dancing shoes and get to scuffing up some splinters. The Texas Two-Step is here to stay.

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How the Texas Two-Step Became America’s Country Dance