7 Dances Every Southerner Should Know

When the mood strikes, we celebrate with a twirl and a two-step.

Girls Dancing in Cowboy Boots
Photo: Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Dancing is part of the DNA of Southerners. We know how to cut a rug in style, and we sure do enjoy it. There are a few different dances that every Southerner should know, just in case the opportunity to dance arises. And in the South, the opportunity will inevitably arise, so you should have a few types of dances up your sleeve. We've been known to practice our toe-tapping in dance halls, at wedding receptions, and sometimes in impromptu dance sessions on Southern sidewalks. Whenever the mood strikes, we're not afraid to celebrate with a twirl and a two-step. And because Southerners are so nice, our friends and neighbors often join in too. The next time you ask someone to dance, you certainly don't want to step on any toes, so we recommend practicing whenever you can. Whether we're square dancing or waltzing, you'll never see a Southerner on the sidelines. You're just not allowed to be a wallflower when your favorite Southern tunes start to play.

1. Contra Dance

This folk dance has its origins in European communities, but Southerners have wholeheartedly embraced it. Contra dances are organized across the country, but especially in Southern cities where aficionados are eager to take to the dance floor. This is a couples' dance that uses long lines and square dance-style commands—plus the dulcet sounds of fiddle and banjo—to get couples twirling through the dance hall. Find a contra dance event near you and try it out: Beginners are always welcome, and it's easy to pick up the rhythms of this Southern-favorite dance.

2. Line Dance

Step into any Country-Western dance hall with your friends, and you'll surely find yourself in the middle of a line dance. Slip into your cowboy boots, grab your wide-brimmed hat, and line up to learn the steps for this fun dance style. There is something irresistible about the experience of line dancing—watching your friends fumble through it, laughing together, and finally getting into the rhythm of the steps is just the beginning. In just a few minutes, you'll get the hang of it, and you may surprise yourself with what a good dancer you are.

3. Square Dance

Get a group of couples together, and you're ready for a square dance. This dance—which was originally European and now feels very American—is so ingrained in the culture of the South that elementary schools have even been known to teach it in physical education classes. Walk in on one of those classes, and you'll see a mass of 5th graders shouting, "Promenade your partner!" The fun of this dance is truly contagious. There are numerous styles, but if you learn the Appalachian and modern Western versions, you'll be ready for any square dancing situation that may arise.

4. Swing Dance

Styles of swing dance developed in African-American communities in the South and in Harlem during the Swing era of the 1930s and 1940s. Incredibly catchy, these dances use the rhythms and energy of jazz music in numerous styles, including the jitterbug, Lindy Hop, and Charleston. Try your hand at perfecting the Charleston and break out your old jazz records, or, if you're really good, sign up for one of the swing competitions held across the country.

5. The Shag

While the terms Shag and swing dance are often lumped together, they are in fact different. The Shag, known as the Carolina Shag, started on the beaches of South Carolina among young generations dancing to "beach music" in the 1940s. It is a version of the jitterbug that quickly developed into its own style—a quick, fun, and social dance. The basic steps follow the "one-and-two, three-and-four, five-six" pattern led by the gentleman.

6. Two-Step

The two-step has many different incarnations on the dance floor, but we're partial to the Country-Western two-step, also known as the Texas two-step. This style of dance varies from dance hall to dance hall, but it is a partner dance with three central steps. It's legendary because this is the dance that famously utilizes the rhythmic pattern "quick, quick, slow."

7. Waltz

It's a classic for a reason. Southerners need mastery of the waltz for numerous scenarios, not the least of which is wedding receptions. Whether you're in a country club or a reception hall, being able to grab your dancing partner's hand and twirl them through the steps of a waltz is a special talent. When you want to surprise—and delight—a loved one, gift them dancing lessons. While there, you'll certainly learn the waltz, and it is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with each other. Just watch out for your partner's toes.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles