After being introduced to the country bar and dancing scene in 2017, it took a little bit for me to figure out all the different things that were going on there. No one hands you a guidebook or manual about where you are, what you’re looking at, and how to navigate your new favorite pastime!
This blog documents my observations, and learnings and hopefully gives people that guide. But really one of the main observations quickly made is that there are two kinds of dancing going on: Line Dancing and Partner Dancing. Either one can consume a lifetime of activity and enjoyment. I have tried to dip my toe (haha, literally) into both realms!
If you are new to country dancing, I hope you stick with it! It really goes without saying all the benefits, both to our mind and body to have an outlet like dancing. All the friendships and connections we make with people when we have regular nights out dancing as part of our lives.
Of the two types of dancing, I think there is a particular fun in couples partner dancing. I love the line dancing on a night out, but a good night out isn’t complete without some Two-Stepping, the Cowboy Cha Cha, etc.
So, this post is to focus on partner dancing, and if all the partner dancing seems the same or to blur together some, here’s a list that breaks down all the most loved couples’ country dances. If you don’t know some of these take a look, watch some of the videos to learn them, and be able to be out on the dance floor even more!
The Top 10 Most Loved Couples Country Dances
1. The Country Two-Step
Obviously, we have to start with the most common country couples dance-The Country Two-Step! While there are lots of different partner dances out there, The Two-Step is the most common. The Two-Step is easy to learn but can take a lifetime to really perfect and explore all its possibilities.
The Two-Step dance stands apart and is different from all the other 9 dances I’ve mentioned in that it is a dance that is far more original and spontaneous than the others (the waltz being the exception). The reason is that the others (except the waltz) are exact choreographed dances. There are a set amount of steps for them and once you know them, every couple follows them exactly and looks the same (apart from an occasional spin or little embellishment).
The Two-Step provides more of a foundation of a very basic pattern which you can then build on and make your own. The Two-Step dance is known for its “Quick-Quick, Slow-Slow” description. Meaning that you take two quick steps (the 2nd one being on the 1/2 beat) and then the last two steps being on the normal full-count beats.
If you are truly new to The Country Two-Step dance and want to learn, click over to my article “Learning The Basic Country Two-Step Dance” on how to learn the Two-Step. While dance is hard to learn from a written description, I’ve done my best to take you through the fundamentals from partner roles to positioning, etc. Click here to check it out!
When out at a country bar you’ll see the night basically divided in half between line dancing and partner dancing. If I had to guess, I would say its 50-50. But when it comes to the partner dancing, I think its fair to say all the partner dance time is mostly Two-Step dancing, maybe 60-70%. A large portion of the time, you’ll see the West-Coast Swing dance called, a Cha Cha several times and then possibly some of the other dances I’ve mentioned above.
The Two-Step is possibly the most popular because of the versatility of it. It’s great for beginners, as it’s easy to pick up and just add as you learn. Check out the video below for a good basic tutorial to get started with the Country Two-Step! I like this video from “Show Her Off” a lot! The man (Hunter) makes a great point in it: As the lead, if you are teaching go ahead and go backward! If the lady (or follower) is beginning, it’s hard enough to learn the steps and all the correct positioning. Going forward at the beginning can help a little, instead of learning while also going backward! I think it’s funny that generally ladies are stuck stepping backward so much!
Another resource to learn from is some videos that The Ranch Saloon in Anaheim, California created to help people first starting out. Click here to see their 3 videos on how to do the Two-Step.
2. The Cowboy Cha Cha
|Progressive Partner Dance
Choreography: Unknown (or possibly: Dick & Geneva Owsley Matteis)
Step Sheet for the Original “Traveling Cha Cha”: Click here to download.
Step Sheet for the West Coast “Cowboy Cha Cha”: Click here to download.
For my #2 country partner dance, I have to go with the Cowboy Cha Cha (aka the Traveling Cha Cha)! On a typical night out at a country bar, there may be a few different Cha Chas called, but the Cowboy Cha Cha is most likely to certainly be called. Therefore it’s a dance that is a necessity to learn!
All the Cha Cha dances are danced to songs with a slower BPM (around 100), this works out since you are taking one step on a 1/2 beat (3 steps in 2 beats of music “cha-cha-cha”).
As a big fan of all the Cha Cha dances, I’ve also published a post entirely about these dances. Click here to really dive deeper into everything western cha cha!
But just a few minor things to know about the Cowboy Cha Cha is that it may take a little time to master, but will be worth it in the end. There are actually 80 steps involved. These 80 steps are comprised of steps in 5 different parts or stages. Take each part and learn it and then combine them together. It just takes practice and it will finally feel very natural. The 5 parts:
- Basic Cha Cha
- Turn and Face
- Pivot-1/2 Turns
- Lady’s Part (or Walk-Walks in the Traveling version)
- Around the World (aka Weave the Basket)
TIP: I find that even though I know the dance I can get lost in the moment and forget what part is coming next (and I’ll skip over a part!). So, one tip is to just be thinking ahead at what part you are in and what part is coming up next. In other words, you can’t space out too much during the Cowboy Cha Cha!
3. The Denver Cha Cha
For number 3 in my list of popular couples dances, I’m going with another great & very popular Cha Cha dance: The Denver Cha Cha. Again, like the California Cha Cha, I really delve deep into these Western Cha Cha dances in another post of mine called: What are the Country Cha Cha Dances? How are they Different? Check this one out for a deeper consideration.
The main point I would make here is that the Denver Cha Cha is unique in that it is a stationary partner dance. Unlike many of the country western partner dances that are “progressive” dances, meaning they move around the dance floor in a circular way, this partner dance is done in one spot.
Because of this it is very much like a line dance, but just danced together with a partner. Sometimes if someone is alone they might still get out on the dance floor and dance the Denver Cha Cha in sync with all the couples out on the dance floor.
4. The California Cha Cha
For number 4, one last cha cha dance must be mentioned: The California Cha Cha. This is a really fun cha cha to learn. One thing interesting is that, while it is a progressive cha cha dance, the beginning position has the couple facing each other, but the lady (or follower) is looking to the outside of the circle with the man or (leader) facing inward.
Again, check out my more elaborate post about all things cha cha here for a deeper dive.
5. West-Coast Swing
And finally moving on from some of the western cha chas, we come to number 5 in our list which goes to the West-Coast Swing! This is a very popular couples partner dance seen on the saloon dance floor every night. And, just so you know, I am still very much a work in progress on this dance. I’ve recently been taking a weekly lesson, but really am far from mastering this dance. I often take a break from the dance floor when a West-Coast Swing dance is called, but am trying to get out there and get better at it.
I have noticed with the West-Coat Swing it is just a more challenging dance than the others. I find myself feeling pretty good about it in class, but then at the bar lose it all pretty quickly.
But, I’ll do my best to describe it and leave you with a great instructional video from Brian Barakauskas that goes over the basic steps and even shows you 4 basic moves to get you started.
The West Coast Swing is also another partner dance that is stationary. You won’t be moving in a circular pattern around the dance floor here. Typically when this dance is called you will see one row of dancers taking a position in the middle of the dance floor. The couple moves apart from each other and come together again. To try to get two rows of dancers would probably not work out too good-not enough room!
So, basically, the couple faces each other, lightly holds hands, and begins the 6 and 8-step dance. I’ll break down the steps for the leader & the follower:
The leader steps back with their left foot and then brings the right foot back as well (1, 2), bringing the follower with them then triple steps, using the 1/2 beat, (3&4), but with the 4th step, steps forward again, pushing the follower backward. The steps are finished with a final triple step, again using the 1/2 beat, (5&6).
The follower accordingly will follow the same steps, but with the opposite feet and stepping forward initially as they’re pulled and then as they are pushed back unless the pattern ends with switching places!
This all will be much easier to follow and practice after watching Brian B’s video below!
Check it out and you’ll see him go through 4 great beginner patterns:
1. The Sugar Push (or Push Break)
2. Left Side Pass
3. Right Side, Underarm Pass
4. The Whip (which is an 8 count pattern)
All of these patterns use the steps mentioned and are basically ways that the leader pulls the follower toward him (through the “slot,” as it is referred to) and then pushes them back or allows the leader and follower to switch places. And of course, once you have these basic four patterns down, you’ve just begun! There are many more patterns and ways to embellish and add styling to your dancing of the West Coast Swing!
Also if you are super interested in the West Coast Swing and really want to up your game here, I highly recommend Brian B’s online courses Check out his website for more information.
In the Beginner class that I have taken with Michele Adams in Orange County California, I learned the basic 6 beginner patterns: The Starter Step, Left Side Pass (or Send Out), The Sugar Push, The Under Arm (or Right Side Pass), The Whip, and The Tuck.
It seemed to help me to take some notes after the classes and here’s something I put together as sort of a cheat sheet to help solidify it a bit. Click the image to download a pdf of this if you’d like!
6. The Waltz
Yes! The Waltz is found being danced at country dance bars. While not as popular as Two-Step or the Cha Cha’s you will see a Waltz called from time to time.
It wasn’t too long after I had become familiar with the two-step and was progressing that I showed up on a night when the Waltz was the partner lesson for the night.
At first, I was worried, but quickly found the steps to actually be pretty easy to understand and pick up.
The Waltz is known to be a dance, danced to 3/4 time, which means that there are 6 counts. And, unlike the Two-Step the steps are each danced on whole beats (there is no syncopation to worry about) It is simply 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6!
But it is really all about what you do with those steps. The Waltz is also know for the characteristic dip on steps 1 & 4 and then the rise through the other steps.
Honestly I really haven’t focused too much on the Waltz. I basically do what I do when I two-step, but just change up the footwork. But after a little research and study, I found out that is really not what the Waltz is about! There is a constant rotation and changing of direction while you are rising and falling with your partner. That is at its core what the Waltz should be.
Check out the videos below, both by great pros and while there’s a lot of overlap each teaches some keys to the waltz in a unique way.
First, Anthony of Country Dance X starts with dispelling the myth that there’s such a thing as “Country Waltz!” That was interesting. Basically, at country bars, it’s just the Waltz being danced to country music. But the problem is people don’t know how to Waltz so they just do their normal Two-Step, but with the Waltz footwork. This is exactly what I was doing. Anthony and Rose do a great job demonstrating what the Waltz is really meant to be and look like. There are to be these constant rotations, not just a “dip, step, step” as Anthony calls it.
He goes on to do a great job breaking down how to do those rotations technically correct, explaining some “secret sauce” to help you master a correct Waltz dance with your partner. Check it out and let’s dance our next Waltz this way as the county bars start opening again!
And for Waltz also check out a lengthier and really comprehensive video from Brian B and Ms. Megan of Country Dance Online. They begin by teaching how to dance the box step and then go on to explain in great detail how to do a beginner progressive Waltz. I thought it interesting that it wasn’t all just constant rotations with Brian B! But it is definitely a correct way to dance the Waltz in a progressive way around the dance floor. Check it out!
7. Queen’s Waltz
|Stationary Partner Dance
Partner Dance: Queen’s Waltz
Step Sheet: Click here to download.
I felt I need to include the Queen’s Waltz because it is a couples partner dance I see called from time to time and I would say there is more energy around it than say a Barn, Horseshoe, or other partner dance that isn’t making my top 10 list! I haven’t learned the Queen’s Waltz yet, but hope to update this post soon to remove this! Haha! But what I can say about it, is that it is a Waltz, and therefore follows the basic footwork that the regular Waltz does. There are 3 (or 6) basic steps that repeat.
Like the regular Waltz it is that first step that you dip down with and then come up with the next two.
The Queen’s Waltz is a very simple and easy patterned couples dance that resembles a line dance, in that it is stationary. Instead of progressing around the dance floor which you can do with the regular Waltz, the Queen’s Waltz has couples staying in position on the dance floor following simple choreography consisting of steps forward, backward 1/4 turns to the left and right (and this is where you can really give the dance that Waltz look of rotation!) and also some 1/2 swivels involving underarm turns.
The Queen’s Waltz reminds me a lot of the Denver Cha Cha, in that you are stationary, and, like a line dance facing the four walls as you progressing through the dance.
Unfortunately, I honestly couldn’t find much in the way of video tutorials, so below you’ll find two versions! The first one demonstrated is danced alone. The second one shows the Queen’s Waltz danced about a year ago at InCahoots in Fullerton California for a competition. Both these are comprised of 36 steps–so pretty easy to learn!
8. Sweetheart Schottische
|Progressive Partner Dance
Partner Dance: Sweetheart Schottische
Music: All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down by The Mavericks or He Thinks He’ll Keep Her by Mary Chapin Carpenter
Step Sheet: Click here to download.
Of all the popular couples partner dances being danced all the time I would say there are 5 groups: 1) The Two-Step, 2) The Cha Cha’s, 3) The West Coast Swing, 4) The Waltz dances & 5) All the rest of the unique pattern dances out there! And this last group is where the last 3 dances follow: The Sweetheart Schottische, the Desperado Wrap, and Texas Time. Of course, there are endless couples pattern dances, but I think these 3 are among the hot ones at the moment.
All these dances are well-beloved and seem to be evergreen timeless dances everyone should learn. So, to start with, there is the Sweetheart Schottische!
And, when you first hear the name you may say “the Sweetheart What?” Yes, you heard that right–Schottische! And what’s funny about it, is that the hardest thing about this dance might be how to spell it! I certainly struggled with it as I wrote this blog post!
The Sweetheart Schottische is pretty easy to learn at only 26 steps! There is some grapevining, and scuffing, and great turning to face each other (without breaking contact) and then the walking backward! The follower admittedly has the harder part in this dance.
When dancing the Schottische, it seems the DJ always plays All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down by the Mavericks (which has a bpm of 145), but I’ve also danced it to Down In Mississippi (Up to No Good) by Sugarland. Both these songs make the dance pretty fun and fast!
9. Desperado Wrap
|Progressive Partner Dance
Partner Dance: Desperado Wrap
Choreographer: Harry Raymos & Norie Raymos
Music: In a Different Light by Doug Stone
Step Sheet: Click here to download.
The Desparado Wrap is a favorite partner dance dance in many country dance saloons. The beginning position is for the ladies (or followers) to be in front of the man (or leader) and face out from the dance floor center with the followers arms over the followers shoulders.
There is the “wrapping” part of course, some spinning of the lady and a great turning backward and grapevine part for the man that I think makes the dance really fun.
One thing to note is that the “wrapping” part is done with modesty and decorum. If the two people are just acquaintances and not a couple, the man shouldn’t “wrap” too tight around the lady. But just for fun, I’ve included the 2nd video below that illustrates how, if you are a couple, I guess have fun and wrap each other uptight. Notice also how they change places toward the end of the dance just for fun!
10. Texas Time
|Progressive Partner Dance
Partner Dance: Texas Time
Choreographer: Stephen Pistoia
Music: Texas Time by Keith Urban
Step Sheet: Click here to download.
Finally, number 10! I had to include Texas Time! And, while I don’t really know how popular this dance is regionally throughout the United States or world, in Southern California it has been a favorite. This dance has been around for a few years now.
I learned this one night without a lesson, a nice lady just took me through it and with the benefit of having seen it a lot it really wasn’t too difficult to pick up.
I’m so glad I have learned this dance and have been able to get better at it by keeping at it. I think one thing that makes this dance really fun is the Keith Urban song Texas Time. And just for fun, I’ve included a special video where he is interviewed about the making of it.
I think there is something super cool and special (as Keith Urban says, “infectious”) about the song that just drives the dance. Learn this dance if you haven’t! Besides the tutorial video below, also go over to my about page to see me dancing Texas time with a friend of mine in a competition.
I know there are countless great couples partner dances out there, so please feel free to comment below and let me know what your favorite couples dances are. I would love to know! But for now, I hope this quick list of 10 favorites helps you fill in some blanks and helps you up your partner dance game at the country dance floor near you!