Becoming Texan: Learning to Dance Two-Step

Wearing a cowboy hat makes me feel like I am going to a costume party. I have worn all kinds of hats before, but cowboy hat in particular feels like a strange object on my head. Since I set out to become a true Texan, I better get used to it.

The hat wouldn’t bother me if I were walking around or having a drink at a bar, but tonight I am dancing two-step. With a hat on my head I am taller than my partner which makes spinning awkward. Other than that I seem to memorize the steps well and catch the rhythm.

learning to dance two step austin

Challenge #2: Learning to Dance Two-Step

My decision to see, do and eat all things Texan is proving to be one of the best I’ve ever taken! In a nutshell, I am doing everything a true Texan should do no matter how terrifying, awkward or impossible it may seem to a Russian girl. My first challenge was to try Franklin BBQ which turned out to be one of a kind experience that included waking up at 6 AM and staying in line for 4 hours among other things.

My second challenge was to learn how to dance Texas two-step. In Austin, there’s no place better than Broken Spoke for that purpose, the oldest and most famous honky tonk dance hall still in operation. On a Wednesday night I found the most country-looking dress in my wardrobe, borrowed a cowboy hat from my husband (who is not a cowboy, just happens to have a hat) and headed to the enclave of true Texan spirit in nouveau hip Austin.

broken spoke austin texas

Broken Spoke, Honky Tonk Heaven

Broken Spoke is not your average dancehall, but a cultural phenomenon that has been around for over 50 years. Broken Spoke was here when South Lamar Boulevard was considered the outskirts of the city. It is still here today among the hustle and bustle of South Austin with trendy condos around.

honky tonk broken spoken

broken spoke history

It was built in 1964 by James White who, in an interview to Grantourismo, confessed:

“We opened with two cigar boxes. We didn’t even have a cash register. I knew nothing else about running a honky tonk other than that we needed to offer cheap beer — it was 25 cents a bottle. The hardest thing I would ever do was put the price up to 30 cents! For the grand opening we gave away 300 free plates of BBQ. Everyone said, “you won’t last six months!” and here we are, the oldest surviving honky tonk.”

broken spoke austin tx
A dance hall regular who never leaves this table
james white broken spoke
James White, the creator of Broken Spoke

According to The Austinot, James White came up with the name “Broken Spoke” while he was in Army:

“I was thinking about it being something original, something Texan. I had wagon wheels rattling around my brain, thought about this old movie ‘Broken Arrow’ and then it came to me. I’ll get a couple wagon wheels, knock a spoke out, and put ‘em on each side of the door. And that’s how I got my start.”

Over the years, the joint hosted many country stars including Bob Wills, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. While I am not good with country singers, I did spot a lot of familiar faces on the pictures with James White. Clint Eastwood, Geroge W. Bush, Claire Dance and Fergie are just some of them.

inside broken spoke

My Experience

For beginners like myself, Broken Spoke offers classes every night from Wednesday to Saturday, conducted by James White’s daughter Terri. “I don’t care if you’re old or out of shape or butt-ugly,” Terri once said to Texas Highways magazine. “If you can two-step, you’ll have the ladies lined up to dance with you.”

As you can imagine Terri is extremely straight-forward which made me slightly scared at first and grateful for finally meeting a person who doesn’t give a damn about being politically-correct.

Wednesday night wasn’t busy with only five couples at the class. The girls are standing on one side of the hall, the boys on the opposite with Terri in the middle explaining the basics. The main thing to remember: feet never part with the floor. You don’t step, you glide. Quick, quick, sloooow, slooooow. I memorize the steps fairly well and feel very proud of myself until the moment when real dancing begins.

broken spoke dance hall

It hasn’t been half an hour since the class finished and the dance floor is full of couples swirling to live music. “Please do not!!! stand on the dance floor” sign looks right at me so I retrieve to the railing on the side and patiently wait till an unsuspecting cowboy invites me to dance.

I don’t have to wait long. My first dance is, surely, awkward, but sweet. My partner is over sixty years old, dressed up in a nice shirt and smelling of a good perfume. I step on his feet constantly, he tries to make me feel better by tapping the rhythm with his hand on my back and repeating “quick, quick, slow, slow”, when I lose my step.

I always said that dancing is much harder on the guys, who have to remember all the tricks, while a woman simply follows the lead. This time wasn’t quite as easy on me since every partner seemed to be dancing his own version of two-step. At some point I tried to switch off my brain, stop counting and fully rely on music to take me to the right place. Surprisingly, it worked.

Watch me learn how to dance Texas two-step!

Second challenge is officially completed! If you have any suggestions what I should do to become a true Texan, comment below and I will do it!

Broken Spoke – 3201 S Lamar Blvd, Austin

Classes: Wednesday to Saturday at 8 PM ($8)

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Yulia is a Russian food and travel blogger who found home first in Sri Lanka for 3 years, then in Brazil for a year and is currently based in Austin, Texas. She is the kind of person who starts a research of the new country by googling “what to eat in…” instead of “what to visit in…” Yulia is a self-proclaimed “food nerd” who will spend hours reading on the origins of pecan pie before trying it and who doesn’t consider waiting in line of 50 people to get a cronut a waste of time. She finds it hard to keep her delicious findings to herself and that is the reason why this blog exists.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Joleen Jernigan says:

    —Riding a horse? Too easy? How about grooming and outfitting one? Or taking a class on something rodeo-ish, like barrel racing? I learned some of these in kindergarten at school!
    —Tubing the river? Like the Comal?
    —Eating Chicken fried steak?
    —Partying in a Mexican border town (ehhh, maybe not—not so safe anymore)?
    —Fishing at Caddo Lake?
    So fun! Love this story, and you look smashing as a cowgirl!

    1. Thank you Joleen! These are some fresh ideas! Where can I learn to groom and outfit a horse? I didn’t even know you can do that! Partying at the Mexican border sounds crazy good! The closest I have been to the border is Big Bend, but there were no parties there 😀

      1. Joleen Jernigan says:

        Bandera, Texas! It’s the Cowboy Capital of Texas (self-proclaimed) and has several dude ranches. There’s a river, too, I think the Frio (though pretty shallow in spots, esp. in dry years)! And I saw a Cowboy on a horse walk into the 11th St. Bar there, and the rider got a beer and the horse got water. Please disregard the Mexican border statement; it’s no bueno right now.

        1. Thank you Joleen! I’ve heard of Bandera, I need to check it out! It sounds like a Western movie 😀

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