Despite its associations with cowboy hats and cowboy boots, line dancing originally had little to do with the 'Country and Western' scene. It certainly doesn't date back to the days of the cowboys. Line dancing first started in the USA, some time in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Early line dances were performed to disco music, as much as to country and western, and line dancers would dance to whatever was played. Few of the dances even had their origins in country dancing. The 'Cowboy Charleston', as its name suggests, was based on the Charleston, and 'The Barn Dance Mixer' had its origins in Paso Doble. The 'Tush Push', one of the most popular and best known line dances, was originally written to be performed to 'big band' sounds.
The links with country and western were forged with Billy Ray Cyrus's 'Achy Breaky Heart'. The dance to this song was written as a marketing ploy to sell the single, but line dancing to country music soon became a big dance craze.
Line dancing was introduced to Continental Europe by US servicemen who shared line dancing, country dancing and partner dancing with the locals around their bases. A love of country and western music helped the craze to spread, particularly in the UK, where line dancing is more popular than either country dancing or partner dancing. People like Coral and Ivan Burton and Robert Fowler were also instrumental in making line dancing popular in the UK.
Today, 'purists' will only line dance to country music, ignoring the previous history of line dancing. Others will dance to any tune, as long as someone will tell them the steps. It doesn't matter whether it's reggae, jazz or the latest chart sounds. You name it, if there's a dance that will fit they'll do it. Even if it's only the good old 'Tush Push' - and there's a Status Quo track that that'll fit to!
Line dancing continues to be popular, particularly because it's one of the few dance forms where you don't need a partner, and because it's easy to learn. Hardly a week goes by without a new dance being added to the list.
What Is Line Dancing?
Line dancing is performed by a number of people all facing in the same direction and moving in lines. Everybody in the line does the same steps. A line dance consists of a sequence of steps repeated several times to a particular piece of music. Line dances are defined by three things: level of difficulty, walls and count.
Level of difficulty is divided into beginner (simple dance, easy to learn), intermediate (getting harder, but without many tricky steps, even though the music may be fast) or advanced (tricky steps and/or fast music).
Walls are a requirement. You always turn or do part of a turn during a line dance sequence. The number of 'walls' tells you how many sequences you do before you end up facing in the original direction. It may give you an indication of how far you turn during each sequence, but this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule. 'Walls' will always be one, two or four.
Count is the number of beats one sequence of the dance runs over. The count will usually be a multiple of eight or 16. Common counts are 16, 32, 40 and 48. Occasionally you will find a line dance with a count that's a multiple of four or two, but these are less common. Generally speaking, the higher the count the more difficult the dance is likely to be, as there will be more steps to remember.
Why Line Dance?
It's a widely recognised fact that exercise is good for you. It can increase your lifespan and it makes you feel good. Line dancing has the advantage of being a very social form of exercise, so you can meet people and make new friends while exercising. It's also a lot of fun.
Another advantage of line dancing is that you don't need a partner and you don't feel out of place if you're not dancing with somebody. You could say that at a line dance you're dancing with everybody! It's OK to go to a line dance and just dance on your own, but you will often end up chatting with some of the like-minded people you'll meet there.
The best way to learn how to line dance is to find a class. Some venues have callers, so you may be able to pick it up as you go along. Here are some of the basic steps, so that you'll know what they're talking about.
Cross - Step one foot in front of the other. Your legs will end up crossed, typically at about knee level.
Rock - Step with one foot, moving your weight onto it without completely taking it off the other foot. You can rock forward, back or to the side.
Scuff - Step forward, scuffing the ground with your foot as you move it forward.
Stomp - Stamp your foot fairly hard.
Grapevine ('Vine) - A sideways movement to right or left. A right 'vine is: step to the right, step your left foot behind your right foot, step to the right again. What comes next depends on the dance.
Weave (Extended 'Vine) - Another sideways movement to the right or left, but going further than a 'vine. A right weave is: step to the right, step left behind right, step to the right, step left in front of right, step to the right... for as long as is needed. Usually no more than eight beats.
Pivot turn - For example, a left pivot turn is done by stepping forward with your right foot, then swivelling to the left on your toes. Pivot turns are typically half or quarter-turns.
Unwind - Before an unwind, your legs are always crossed. The 'unwind' is a turn that undoes the cross. So if you've stepped your right foot over your left and then 'unwind', you'll do a half-turn to the left, unwinding the cross-over. It's that simple.
Some websites have glossaries of steps, so a web search may help you to find more information.
Useful Dances to Know
New line dances are thought up every day. However, some venues like to play tunes that you can dance the 'old favourites' to. These dances include the 'Tush Push', the 'Electric Slide' and the 'Boot Scootin' Boogie'. Steps for these and many other dances can be found on a lot of line dance websites.
You do not need jeans, a checked shirt, cowboy boots, Stetson and a neckerchief. If you wish to wear these for line dancing that's your choice. They are not compulsory. The only criteria for line dance clothes is that they should be comfortable and cool - that's temperature, not style. You can get quite hot while line dancing. Footwear should be comfortable and should fit well.
Do not wear trainers; they grip the floor too well and your feet need to be able to slide a little. Do not wear high heels or stilettos (that includes the men!); some steps are awkward, if not dangerous, in high heels. Shoes like these can also damage the wooden floor you're dancing on, which is frowned upon. Some kinds of sandals and beach footwear are also unsuitable; they allow your feet to move in the shoe, instead of moving with your feet. Some sandals can also be 'grippy'.
Dance Floor Etiquette
Most of the following tips apply to any kind of dancing, but it's worth mentioning them:
Don't smoke on the dance floor. The damage to the floor by cigarette ends is one reason not to do it, the damage to other people's clothes is another.
Don't eat or drink on the dance floor. You'll only spill it and nobody wants to dance through that!
Don't stand talking on the dance floor once the music has started.
Don't hog the floor. You need a certain amount of space, but everybody's moving in the same direction at the same time, so you don't need that much.
Line dancing is about doing the same steps as everybody else. So don't start doing a different dance, unless there is room for you to go and do your own thing, and unless you know it is acceptable.
If the floor is crowded, take small steps.
If you collide with somebody, apologise even if it isn't really your fault. This keeps everybody sweet.
In some places, particularly the US, line dancing is done at the same time and on the same floor as partner dancing. Remember, partner dances have the outside of the floor, line dancers have the middle. In this situation, at the start of the dance line up facing one of the long edges of the floor. Also remember that dancers round the outside have 'right of way'.
Don't try to teach someone the steps while a dance is in progress. Find somewhere quiet, out of the way, or wait until another time.
Don't walk across the dance area while a dance is in progress. Walk round or wait.
You will develop your own 'style' if you line dance long enough. But don't go crazy. People are there to enjoy themselves, which they won't if your 'style' involves acting like a demented windmill.
Smile, darn it, and enjoy yourself!
Interested in Learning More?
Use your favourite search engine to find some links. There are way too many to try to list them here.
Try a websearch to find a selection of books. There may also be line dance videos, which should also be available from a good record shop. Have a browse and, if you find one you like, buy it. Bear in mind, though, that line dancing is ever-changing. A book or video will give you the steps to some line dances, but new ones come along all the time and the book or video will soon be out of date. Find a website with a good dance database that is updated regularly and make regular visits. There are also magazines that print line dance 'scripts'.
Check out the line dance magazines for classes or line dance venues near you. If they don't list any, you could always write in and ask for help or put in a small ad.
If line dancing hasn't reached your area yet... You could always hire a local hall and start up your own group. One of you will have to be responsible for finding and teaching the dances, but everybody's got to start somewhere.
As far as music goes, either get hold of CDs with the music for your favourite dances, or browse around to see if your favourite music has been choreographed. A few websites allow you to do searches based on the title of a piece of music. New CDs of line dance music are coming out all the time.
Line dancing can be vigorous. Take it easy at first if you are overweight or unfit.