Learning the Texas Two Step at an Austin Honky Tonk
We didn’t need much encouragement to get us to The Broken Spoke, Austin’s famous honky tonk country dance hall. Getting me on the dance floor, however, was another thing, and involved a bit of trickery on the part of Rusty Irons, who had brought us here.
It’s not that I didn’t want to learn how to dance the Texas Two Step, the local dance of choice. I did. And I was thrilled to bits to find out they offered nightly lessons, taught by Terri, the petite daughter of The Broken Spoke’s owner, James White.
We’d arrived too late for lessons, so my intention was to return another night. You see I’m the kind of person who likes to have a lesson before I actually get out there and make a fool of myself on a dance floor. I like to know what it is that I’m doing wrong that’s making me look like an idiot so I can try and get it right and save myself by the end.
It had been a long time since I’d even waltzed (at a wedding perhaps?), let alone danced the slightly more complex Texas Two Step, which isn’t really two steps at all, but four, as I was about to find out: first two fast steps backwards (for the woman of course; the man goes forward) then two more slow steps, and the steps are really like slides. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Rusty was the belle of the ball (seems a fitting description, being in Texas and all), being twirled around the dance floor by a number of dapper gentlemen in their pressed Levis, crisp shirts, and cowboy hats, while Terence and I happily sat sipping beers and snapping photos.
I saw Rusty whisper into one of her gentlemen’s ears as he escorted her back to our table. It was this gentleman who very politely asked me to dance. As I didn’t want to insult the guy or offend Rusty, moments later I found myself being twirled around the dance floor.
Well, this isn’t so hard, I thought. But this was a waltz, not the Texas Two Step. And I was in the arms of a skilled dancer who practically carried me around the room. This was actually fun.
So, my confidence boosted, when an elderly gentleman asked me to dance as I was on the way to the bar, sure, I replied, why not. “Are you here with anyone?” he asked, and when he realised I was married, he insisted on asking Terence for permission to dance with me. (My earlier partner, only discovering I was married at the end of our dance, went and apologised to Terence for dancing with me without asking. Seriously.)
The old guy insisted we dance the Texas Two Step. No the easy waltz for me, unfortunately. He could dance splendidly but more importantly he was patient, took things slowly, and smiled graciously as he repeated: quick, quick, slow, slow, quick, quick, slow, slow…
After a bit, when I seemed to have gotten the knack of it (momentarily anyway), I thanked him and asked him how long he’d been dancing.
“Only a few years,” he said. I expected him to say forever. “My wife used to love to dance. She was a beautiful dancer. But I didn’t know how to dance and never wanted to learn. But every week for our whole married life I’d take her out dancing. I didn’t mind her dancing with other men as I used to love watching her move.”
“When she died a few years ago, I was heartbroken. I didn’t know how I’d go on. I missed her terribly. So I decided to do the thing she loved most, so I learned to dance. I just love it now. But my biggest regret in life is never having danced with her… Now I go every week without fail, and, well, I feel like she’s still with me now, out here on the dance floor…”
Not surprisingly, I lost my beat, and once again found myself stepping on the poor old bloke’s shoes. He smiled patiently, but I could tell he was wishing he had his graceful wife in his arms instead.
I watched the other couples dancing in quite a different light after his story. I might not have learned the Texas Two Step so well, but I learned another little lesson that night.
We did return for dance lessons another evening, watching Terri take a group of keen locals of all ages, through the steps, slowly, then at mid-tempo, and then at a faster pace, adding more complicated moves each time. Some got it, some didn’t, but everyone had fun.
Despite it being our last night in Austin, with an early flight the next morning, we chatted to James, we stayed on for the band (who had a brilliant steel guitar player!), and we stayed nearly till The Broken Spoke closed.
It was one of our most memorable nights of the trip so far, and we didn’t want it to end. We might have been tired and nursing slight hangovers the next day, but it was worth it! If you’re visiting Austin, you have to go – even if you can’t dance…
The Broken Spoke
3201 South Lamar Blvd, Austin
Texas Two-Step Lessons 7-8pm nightly
$8, or $12 if you stay for the band
Read our interview with James White, the owner of The Broken Spoke here.