Takes Two to Two-Step

Takes Two to Two-Step


Before I give any information, please remember the amount of sources, depth of history (nearly 200 years), regional names, etc. that speak into our culture. We are discussing hearsay of agrarian culture that wasn't always written down, but our goal is to always find the truth. With that in mind, let's go over what the two-step to what made it what it is today...


    Let's start at the beginning: square dancing. We are still heavily influenced by the migration of immigrants from England, France, Denmark, Spain, Poland, Ireland, and countless other countries escaping religious persecution, seeking employment in the massive development of the US, and, in the end, chasing the legend of the American Dream. Farmers in the European peninsula had gathering since the 17th century. These festivals included feasts, entertainment, but, more than anything, regional dancing. This would be one of the rare chances you had to dance with someone outside of your family. Obviously, partner dancing in a closed position wasn't a norm since physical contact was shunned. Not only that, but only the wealthy had the time and money to stay out long after dark. This is about classism. That is why you see the styles of partner dancing allowed in these times portrayed in almost every Jane Austen piece. We see this ideology carried over the pond when immigrants found farming and railroad work out west. We see our first square dances around 1815. This carries over to current-times in small towns in every corner of the US. Line dancing, popularized in the 80s, can tie its roots to square dancing and disco music.

   Our next pit-stop: the foxtrot.  The foxtrot is an early 20th Century American dance that has its origins in the one-step and syncopated ragtime dances. It was popularized in the USA by dancers Vernon and Irene Castle in 1914, and it is believed to be named after Harry Fox, who was an entertainer. This hit the nation while electricity finally allowed cowboys and farmers to find time to dance after the sun went down! A group of Texan square dancers took the beauty and popularity of the foxtrot and made their own style. It was rightfully given the name: Texas two-step. Today we see it commonly see it in the ballroom as the "International Foxtrot".


   The Texas two-step's appearance has many legends to its style. Some say a drunk, Dutch farmer was too lazy to do a proper two-step (quick, quick, slow, slow one step) and simply started rocking on the first two steps. Others believe it came from the bow-legged cowboys stance that didn't allow them to walk cleanly, so they scooted their boots to the early country music. Some even say it's from dodging cow patties in the fields where some dances were held. In all of it, it's tied to agrarian culture. That's why we can clearly say, it is country dancing. From the early 20th century, it caught on all over the country and each region had their own style. That's why arguing over the semantics is pure vanity. We know three things: it's an 8-count dance done by one stepping in a pattern, involves sliding feet and swaying (due to heavy boots), and done from the closed position. We can let it rest there. 

   Taking into account the impact Germans and Poles had on the expansion west, it also makes sense that our culture took on a slide/skip type step when polka was massive in those regions of Europe. Polka is a simple triple step on your left and then on your right. Combine that with a walking two-step, and the Texas two-step is clearly rooted in western culture. 

  Today, we see a bit more polka rocking in our two step from the "hustle" era of the 80s. This was made famous by John Travolta in "Urban Cowboy" and the disco wave. Fun fact: this is also where some dance historians say country swing found its roots.


   Regional dancing was unified under one roof--honk tonks, which began taking root around the 1870s. (That's no discredit to dancehalls, but the title "dancehalls" also has ties to Jamaican culture. Honky tonks are strictly agrarian.) Inside of these smokey little bars, the hardwood was the place where cultures mixed. Just like Dallas-Fort Worth traffic, there must be common respect/etiquette or the flow becomes chaotic. The honky tonk followed just like many other progressive (non-stationary) floors with lanes wrapping around the floor in a counter-clockwise manner. The inside lane being the slowest and getting progressively faster as you go further out. With the traffic consistently moving forward, couples staying in their lane, and a section in the middle for line dancing and stationary dancing, these floors were able to hold a large number of honk tonkers. Other common rules included: no standing on the floor, solo dancing in the partner lanes, or drinks on the floor. As common sense as these rules seem, rarely do we see them upheld in honky tonks, dancehalls, saloons, or western-aesthetic bars today. I've even been told be legends in our community that there's nothing we can do...even after I suggested putting a slide in their slideshow (free), mentioning it during their DJing set (free), floormen doing their job (free), and/or reminding folks during lessons (free).


How Does This Affect Us Today?

   Not only has etiquette fallen through drastically, cowboy culture as a whole has become distant in major influential areas. This all comes from the culture of 2000-2020 that was just trying to save the honky tonk by accommodating to whatever new clientele wanted. Which is understandable since country music from 2004-2018 took an insane downfall. We quickly became toxic-ly inclusive and focus solely on "having fun"...as if cowboys, ranchers, and rednecks hadn't been honky tonking for over 100 years. We begun welcoming in styles that don't require a step pattern, closed position, and are extremely difficult to do in cowboy hats. If we aren't wearing boots or hats because it's too difficult to do our combos/tricks, how are we supposed to teach cowboys to do the same things?  

   The country music renaissance has been building for years and is finally taken off this summer. Country artists held the top 2 spots for 5+ months, 3 for 3+ months, and 4 for 2+ months on Billboard Top 100 over this summer. People want country culture. Why are we still playing pop county from 2015, or even SoMo, during country and western bar comps? No cowboy hats, no country music, no closed position...what part of country dancing, and our culture as a whole, are we serving the outside world? Even here in Fort Worth (Honky Tonk Central) we are losing historical honky tonks to hip-hop and EDM music. 

This is not meant to be gatekeeping. Everyone is welcome. But when wolves who have no intention of respecting the culture are slipping through fence, it's our responsibility to fix the fence and kill any wolves hiding among the livestock. If we don't then what will we become? Just like every other nightclub, therefore killing the honky tonk.

I've also been told, country dancing is evolving--which naturally happens. I'll leave you with the questions I have for those folks:   

  1. What traditions inspired the change presented?
  2. What are the group of people bringing to the culture? (Music, attitude, clothing, etc.)
  3. Where are we headed/what message is representing us?
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