Learning the Basic Country Two-Step Dance

I started country dancing about 3 years ago and was able to learn how to do the basic Two-Step country dance after a few private lessons. Looking back I realized it wasn’t as hard as I thought and since then have shown many people the basics to get them going and remove some of the mystery about it.

If you are going out for the evening to a country bar to do some dancing, there will most likely be lots of line dancing interspersed with couples partner dancing. Far and away the most popular partner dancing in the United States is the two-step. Drawing from what I’ve learned, this post will give you the basics to prepare you to be ready when you venture out to your local country bar or dance club.

Basic Positions for the Two-Step

In country two-step there is a leader and follower.
Leader:
facing your partner, place your right hand under your follower’s left arm and on their shoulder blade.
Follower: facing your partner, place your left hand on your leader’s shoulder seam.
Both: Join your free hands on the other side and hold up and out at about shoulder height.

This is the basic country two-step “closed” position

Notes:
1. After creating this closed position, the leader should position their feet to the left slightly so your toes aren’t pointing directly at each other, but offset slightly. This way you’re less likely to bang your feet together while dancing.

2. It’s important for the follower to lean back slightly into their leader’s right hand and also to put a little pressure with both their left hand (on the leader’s shoulder seam) and with their right clasped hand.
The idea is to keep a fixed amount of space between each other and with this pressure, the lead can push and pull their partner easily. This is known as a good “dance-frame.”

Understanding the Basic Steps for the Two-Step

Two-step dancing consists of two “quick” steps and then two “slow” steps. Knowing when to do these steps is about finding the bass beat of the music being danced to. To get comfortable finding this beat listen to your favorite country songs with this intent. You’ll notice a main beat that you naturally can tap your hand or foot to. In music there is also the “&” beat in-between each basic beat. 1-&-2-&-3-&-4. The Quicksteps are quick because the second one happens on one of these “&” beats. Then you pause or stop for the next “&” and step on the 2nd main beat. This stepping on the “&” beat sometimes and skipping to step on the main beat creates the quick-quick, slow-slow that country two-step is known for.

In this diagram the “bouncing ball” represents steps to either the main beat or 1/2 beat of the music. The wait in between the steps or timing is the key.

For me, as a lead this was the hardest and most intimidating part to getting into country Two-Step. I would ask a lady to dance we would go out onto the floor, assume the correct dance frame and then with other dancers already going I would freeze! I couldn’t hear the beat! I couldn’t start! Honestly, there was no immediate fix to this. It just took some time getting used to hearing and feeling that beat almost subconsciously and naturally so that now I can begin right away.
Tip: I did learn to listen for that beat even before asking someone to dance! This way I was almost already dancing before we started!

Beginning the Two-Step Dance

So, as the lead, there is no absolute beat to start on (like there is with line dancing). You just pick a beat and begin. As the leader, you do signal your partner that you are beginning by leaning in and pushing.
The lead begins with their left foot and consequently, the follower steps backward with their right foot.
Then the 2nd (quick) step is taken by your right foot and the follower steps back with their left.
Then you pause for the “&” and step on the main beat, with your left again, followed by a 2nd “slow” step on your right after skipping another “&” beat.
The diagram above illustrates this.

Line of Dance for Two-Step and Partner Dancing

When you go to any country bar to see partner dancing or any ballroom for that matter you will notice that the direction of traffic on the dance floor is always moving counter-clockwise. This is a big part of dance floor etiquette and is very important!
Notes:
Along with the counter-clockwise line of dance, generally it is understood that the outer lanes are going to be used by the more experienced dancers and (unlike a freeway) is the “fast-lane.” The inside lanes of the dance floor are meant for the slower or beginner dancers. And the more toward the middle of the floor the more it is free of traffic. Occasionally there is a really great couple that wants to do some fancy tricks right in the middle open area—so just keep your head up and watch out! It is also pretty common for country bars to allow for line dancing to a given song to happen in the middle while the Two-Step dancers go around them.

The Two-Step is known as a “Progressive” or “Traveling” dance and is always danced in a counter-clockwise direction around any dance floor. This graphic illustrates this as well as where to dance as a beginner dancer (inside lane) or more advanced dancer (outside lane).

Two-Step Dancing Leader & Follower Roles

Leader: As a leader, it is your job on the dance floor to watch and steer your partner safely around the dance floor. After getting a good grasp on the basic two-step, a good next level is to turn your partner and lead backward. However, this doesn’t switch the responsibly to the follower to watch out. The leader now must look over their shoulder and see the traffic and continue to steer the two of you safely around the dance floor.
But of course, if the follower sees a collision about to happen they can try to give a heads up! But its really not their job. The leader is to be aware of the space and try to see all the dancers around.

Follower: As the follower, it is important to help maintain that pressure between you and your leader. This is how you will know what they’re doing. If you are getting your feet stepped on by your lead you may be collapsing in and not keeping that pressure.

Different Styles of Two-Step Dancing

While the timing for the Two-Step is agreed on universally, there are some differing thoughts about style. This observation of style has to do with timing and is really a discussion for the leader. The main one I’ve heard is how big your steps should be and if your speed is constant or variant. It stands to reason that maybe for a “quick” step you can’t step as far, but for a “slow” step you can take a bigger longer step. But some would say, no, just take longer to make the step! So, all steps are the same distance. I’ve also heard when you do the quick step it should be as if someone “pushes you from behind” hence you’re speeding up at that moment, to then slow down at the “slow-slow.” I don’t think it matters much! The main thing is that as the leader, whatever style feels right for you, you are a good lead and your follow can feel it and pick it up.

Two-Step Dance Routines

The Basic dance frame “closed” position, the steps, timing, how to start and understanding the leader and follower roles is all you need to get out on the dance floor and begin! At this point, you are ready to go out dancing and move around the dance floor – in a counter-clockwise direction!

This all provides the foundation for Two-Step and can be built upon throughout years of dancing enjoyment. The following are a few added dance moves and routines to add to your growing repertoire.

180º Turn – This is a simple turn of the both of you initiated by the lead. The turn is accomplished by the lead using the first slow to move his partner to the right out of the “track” and then completing the full turn of both partners on the second slow. Then the next quick-quick is the lead walking backward, pulling the follower who is now walking forward.

Outside Turn – Possibly more common than turning around might be just turning or spinning the follower. This is accomplished by a small “prep” or signal to the follower with the left hand and turning them around by pulling their hand away from you so they turn clockwise. They will follow their right shoulder. As they come around the leader will reposition their right hand back under the shoulder blade.

Sweetheart Position – This not necessarily a dance move, but another way to progress around the dance floor beside the “closed position.” When in “closed position” the leader just pulls the follower in for a 1/2 inside turn switching hands. Both partners look forward, both holding right hands in front and left hands held above the follower’s shoulder. The Sweetheart Position gives the follower a nice break from always traveling backward.
Extra: Once you have this down, try moving to it while the leader is traveling backwards! This forces the lead to be the one turning to walk forward.

Two-Step Dancing Tutorials

This post obviously isn’t intended to turn you into a world-class Two-Stepper overnight! There are many other intermediate and after that advanced routines or patterns to learn! The ones explained above will be a great start and allow you to blend in pretty well with a typical night of Two-Stepping at your local country bar. Below are some great video tutorials showing some of the basics covered above. These videos also add additional tips and will take you farther. Enjoy!

To begin with, this brief tutorial from Robert Royston, a 5-time country dance world champion goes over the basics!
In this tutorial Anthony and Rose of Country Dance X seek to settle the debate of how to dance the Two-Step once and for all and take a look cause they are legit dance pros!
Lastly, here is a more lengthy and equally reliable tutorial from another equally qualified couple going through several patterns for the Two-Step.

Brian Sheridan

I'm the owner of CDT. I live in Fullerton, California, and enjoy country dancing with my friends at least once a week.

3 thoughts on “Learning the Basic Country Two-Step Dance

  1. Good information, I really like the stuff that you put in this blog post, amazing tips, thank you so much for sharing this beneficial post.

    1. Thank you for the nice comment! Hopefully this pandemic goes away soon and we can resume some normalcy and even get back to some country dancing!

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