Country-Western Dance Floor Etiquette


1995 By Janet Blackledge Williamsen

The dance floor is divided into concentric lanes like the picture above. The outside lane is the FAST lane. (This is where you'll usually find me!)

Traffic moves around the dance floor in a counter-clockwise direction.

If you are going slow, stay in an inner lane and let people pass you on the outside. The closer you go to the center, the slower you may go.

If you are doing a stationary dances such as a line dance or swing dance instead of a progressive dance, you should dance in the center area of the floor.

Line dancers should never line up clear out to the rail and block progressive dancers. This gives line dancing a bad reputation. Even if the DJ called a cha-cha or an electric slide, somebody else might want to do a two-step. Did you know that the Headhunters' Walk Softly/Leona song was written by Bill Monroe (the father of bluegrass) many, many years before the electric slide was invented?

If there are just a few popular line dances done where the floor gets filled up, it is probably better for the progressive dancers to let the line dancers have the floor.

Line dancers should also be aware of those around them and aware that progressive dancers may be coming around the edge of the floor. The faster the song, the smaller the steps! In other words, be careful not to kick someone in the head, step on someone's foot so they can't dance next weekend, or trip some lady with a black Stetson hat who is spinning so fast in the fast lane that she doesn't see your fancy legwork stickin' out there!

A hardwood dance floor should be treated with care. Drinks (and cigarettes) should never be brought onto the dance floor. When you spill liquid on a hardwood floor, it leaves a dangerous wet spot. Even when it dries, this spot is pretty much ruined for the dancers the rest of the night because it becomes "tacky" and they cannot slide across it.

It's not cool to stand on the dance floor to socialize. Most newbies who do this stand around inside the rail. This is the FAST lane on a country-western dance floor. You are likely to entice a big calf roper into scraping you off this rail with his forearm. Look out, those guys work fast! (3.8 seconds at the National Finals Rodeo!) That's not much time to find yourself on the floor roped, tied, and bawlin' for your mama!

Be nice to your fellow dancers and try not to bump into people. Nothing looks worse than great dancers bumping into other people because they REALLY should know better! Since the man is leading, it is his job to keep an eye out for traffic. If you do cause a wreck, smile and look apologetic. You will usually get a smile in return.

If you are a beginning dancer, remember that everyone out there has probably experienced that same sweaty palm, stiff-as-a-board, first-time-around-the- floor feeling. It will pass if you can get past the urge to argue with your partner about who blew it. If someone makes a mistake, the best thing is to just smile and keep going! Everyone came to have fun. Hopefully, the experts at your club will be kind enough to give beginners the right-of-way. It may be fun to watch the experts, but it is just as much or more fun to watch the beginners! It's even kindof fun to watch old married couples argue... c};-)

I've also heard single ladies talking about how hard it is to get asked to dance. My advice is to try standing near the opening to the dance floor, smile, tap your foot, look around behind you, and get a look on your face that you really NEED to dance to this song. Dance with the first person who asks. Once you get out there a couple of times with different partners, the available dance partners know you won't turn them down.

I don't mean to offend anyone, but it is my opinion that if you want to look western, you should not take country-western dance lessons from a ballroom instructor unless they have a real clear idea of the differences. If you want to dance and dress ballroom, that's different. I have seen many fantastic ballroom dancers on a country-western dance floor. They sure paid their cover charge too and deserve to be there just as much as anyone else! But nothing looks funnier to me than a rhinestone cowboy doing hand and toe pointing moves like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Ballroom and country-western both have their places, but I, personally, don't think the styles should be mixed up.

There is definitely a fork in the road on the way to learning how to country-western dance. Some people learn to do it for competition, and some people just do it for fun. So you have competition, or what I call country-ballroom dancers, and you have social country-western dancers, and they are two different things entirely! Competition dancers have lots of rules and social dancers just have lots of fun! c};-D

Just for fun, I'll try to describe some of the more noticeable styles of "western" wear too:

  • Country-Ballroom Style: Matching outfits, fringe, rhinestone hatbands, white pants on men so they show up in spotlights, ladies always wear skirts and "dancing underpants." Sometimes seen changing into tennis shoes before leaving the club!
  • Western Style: Outfits usually do NOT match, Texas-Starched Wranglers or Rockies jeans long enough to wear when riding horses, "stacked" over leather-soled boots, hats, big western belt buckles, men wear long-sleeved shirts, and ladies usually wear jeans and look like they can handle a horse (or a cowboy).
  • Yuppie Style: Short baggie Levi's, artificial snakeskin boots, ladies have purses... c}:-)

Now don't take this cowboy outfit stuff too seriously. Cowboys don't all look alike. Cowboys pride themselves on their individuality. The shape of their hat is as unique as their personality. A cowboy may take years to settle in on a hat shape, but once he does, you can recognize him from a distance just by his silhouette. Here's an important tip that isn't just for the dance floor: NEVER touch a cowboy's hat without first asking permission.

I heard from a Texas cowboy who says: I am 6'8" tall, with an inseam of 40". This makes it difficult for me to find wranglers long enough to stack (I would need about a 44" inseam at least). Sometimes cowboys can't stack their jeans. Practicality takes precedence over fashion.

I like things really "western," so to me, country-western dancing is more like bull riding or maybe more like riding a reining horse. The more spinning the better! I try to keep my center of gravity and my partner tries to keep his hand directly over my hat. (I think I can identify with Brooks & Dunn's Little Miss Honky Tonk!) My funniest compliments are: "Are you an ice skater? My wife and I think you must be an ice skater!" and "You pirouette like yer hanging on a string!" and of course, "Are you a real cowgirl?" (Well I don't call myself a cowgirl, but I sure won't be offended if you do...)


Janet's Country Western Dancehall Page