Learning the Texas Two Step at the Broken Spoke, Austin, Texas,

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.



There are 14 comments

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  1. Jen Laceda

    Hi Lara and Terry,
    I am happy to say that I’ve actually been to this place (I played hooky while on a coffee convention). I loved this place. And you guys captured the essence of The Broken Spoke with your photos! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Greg Unrau

    Hello Lara and Terry,
    We’ll have to put on some “Asleep at the Wheel” next time you visit. Our foyer should have enough room to dance. Austin is a great place to visit, was there in 1989. Thanks for the great pics – good to see you on the dance floor.

  3. Frank McMains

    Austin is such a fun town. Such charm and such a welcoming atmosphere, very fine food too. I’ve never been to the Broken Spoke but I have had a similar sort of time at the Continental Club. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ll have to give it a spin around the dance floor the next time I am in Austin.

  4. Terence Carter

    Thanks for your comment, Frank. Austin is a most welcoming town, isn’t it? The Continental is a bit more rock oriented, we found. If they played rock at the Broken Spoke, there would be a riot! Look for our next post on the owner of the Broken Spoke – James White – a great character!
    Love your site Frank. You have a great eye and make lovely photographs.

  5. Lara Dunston

    Why hello there! We would be delighted for you to put ‘Asleep on the Wheel’ on! And will look forward to a bit of a jig. Thanks for the nice words too.

    You should try and get some of the young UAE filmmakers to SxSW! I’ll happily help chaperone – dying to get back there already and we’ve only just left!

  6. Katja

    Oh! That story made me cry just a little. What a wonderful reason to learn to dance. And in answer to your question on Twitter, yes, I was seriously considering going to Buenos Aires to learn to tango last year. Didn’t make it, but it’s still on the ‘to-do’ list, for sure …

  7. Lara Dunston

    Katja, I was practically crying as he told me the story! It taught me a lot about regret and doing the things we want with the people we love while we can.

    I’ve been to Buenos Aires a few times, but never wanted to learn the tango til now. I think I will when we’re there – well, as much as I can in just two short weeks – but I was wondering how many other people are motivated to learn to dance when they travel, and if dance actually inspires their travels.

  8. Lara Dunston

    Ha! Ha! I had a fondness for cowgirl outfits too when I was younger. Yes, I wished we would have had time to do more formal 2-step lessons. Thanks for dropping by!

  9. JR Riel

    The part about the man who learned how to dance because of his love for his deceased wife brought tears to my eyes. I can only imagine the connection they must’ve had.


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