Do Real Cowboys Line Dance?


Cowboy: “Can I have the last dance with you?”

Cowgirl: “You are having it!”


Dance has always been a way for people to relax and express themselves and that was as true for the nineteenth century cowboy as it is today. After spending hours in the saddle, cowboys weren’t exactly known for grace. Nor did they worry about traditional dance forms.   One observer commented in 1873, that “some punchers danced like a bear ’round a beehive that was afraid of getting stung.”


 Timing has an awful lot to do with the outcome

of a rain dance


Balls, Fandangos and German hops were held at ranches, barns, saloons and even under the stars.  Announcements were made in local newspapers or simply word of mouth.  Impromptu dances were common.  A few cowboys would start dancing in the middle of town and everyone would soon join in. Sawdust or corn flour was often scattered across the dance floor to allow boots to slide with the greatest of ease.


 When one partner pulls and the other bucks, you ain’t gittin’

no where fast!


If women weren’t available “stag” dances were held.  The “heifer-branded” men wore a kerchief tied to one arm and knew not to take the lead.  Even the roughest, toughest cowboys were expected to mind their manners on the dance floor. Men were referred to as “gentlemen” and women as “ladies.”  


Some cowboys march to a different drummer

and some polka 


The Polka became all the rage during the nineteenth century and phrases such as polka dots, polka socks and polka hats began creeping into the language.


Cowboys took to polka like birds to the air, adding a distinct western flair.  A cowboy’s spurs forced him to shuffle with his feet apart. Women were often held in a “vise” grip better suited to wrestling steer (actually, this describes the way my husband dances). 


Dancing is like a shower: one wrong turn and

you’re in hot water!


Immigrants brought their native dances to the west. Marching to a different drummer is one thing, but dancing to one can lead to chaos. The foreign dances with their intricate steps soon turned the dance floor into mass confusion.  No one really knows who first came up with the idea of picking up a megaphone and calling out steps to keep everyone on track, but this was the beginning of the “figure caller.”  After awhile, these callers began to create their own dances and square dancing was born.  (Did you know that square dancing is always called in English, even in foreign countries?)


If it’s got hair, I can ride it. If it’s got a beat, I can dance to it. (The Cowboy Way)

The two-step dance (sometimes called the Texas two-step) originated in 1889 when John Phillip Sousa composed the Washington Post March.  The nineteenth century two step was derived from the polka.  It actually has three steps, not two, but who’s counting?


One thing is certain, no cowboy ever worried about having two left feet.


Do real cowboys line dance?  Some say no and some say yes. What do you say?

Any hoofers out there?


Is there a dance scene in Dawn Comes Early?  You betcha!

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26 thoughts on “Do Real Cowboys Line Dance?”

  1. I love to dance. I took dancing lessons as a young girl and my father and Uncle taught me to ballroom dance. My dad taught me to waltz and foxtrot being from over the pond, and my Uncle taught me to Jive, Jitterbug and swing. My family all love to dance. But my nieces and nephews won’t get those lessons, because they were all so young when both of these wonderful men died. So Cowboy…bring it on.. If you can do it, so can I.

  2. Whoops.. forgot to mention Margaret.. I love your new book.. Putting it on my tbr list.

  3. If a real cowboy wants to hold a girl in his arms…. dancing is one way to get her there..
    Love your books!!

  4. Great post, Margaret, and so fun! When I was in high school in the early 90s cowboy swing was very popular in Wyoming and many of the cowboys at school took lessons and were awesome. We had a course that combined English and American History and when we came to the section on Westward Expansion the teachers took our class down to the common area every class period for a week and we all learned the two-step, cowboy swing and had a square dance. Luckily, some of the guys in our class were experts and it was fun to be swung around the floor. :o)

    Your book is in my TBR pile, and I hope to wade through it all soon, because this looks wonderful!


  5. Speaking of rain dances, I just heard that the next Olympics, in London, they are going to have it cloud up and rain….somehow orchestrated by techology.
    Does that seem possible? Even as I type this I want to go back and see what I really read.

    We could really use rain right now!

  6. I’m just a klutz but maybe I’ll line dance when I’m in Bandera LOL. Just kidding. Years ago hubby and I went to a fund-raiser square dance at a historic barn. I gotta say, it was such fun I’ve never forgotten it. Good one, Margaret. xoxox

  7. Mary, Interesting, but I don’t think technology is needed to make clouds in London. (The dampest winter I ever knew was the summer I spent in London). Once you have clouds it doesn’t take much to make rain.

    When I was teaching, I swear running children made it rain. Whenever we sent students out for recess on cloudy days it always started to rain, and we’d have to bring them in.

    Maybe rain dances do work.

  8. I love dancing, but my husband and I just can’t seem to do it together. I can think of maybe a handful of times where we managed to glide around the dance floor the way we should. I am the problem, I keep trying to lead. My DH took Ballroom Dance lessons in high school. I think we need to take them together.

    We did some Scottish folk dances at a Celtic Festival a year ago and managed to do pretty well. Before that we tried Contra Dancing, but it is strenuous and my husband didn’t care for it.

    I was in a 4-H square dance group in high school and really enjoyed it. It is a lot like contra dancing and the Scottish folk dances. Having set sequences is enjoyable. I took line dancing for a year or so, but it bothered my knees and ankles too much. I guess I’m not 18 any more (or 25 or 55 even.).

    Since we now live in the South, there aren’t too many cowboys around. But I don’t think things have changed so much that they don’t still enjoy a good time on the dance floor.

    Thanks for the fun “quotes” and post.

  9. Patricia, my husband and I have the same problem. I think it’s because he’s six foot six and I’m five foot two. I noticed on Dancing with the Stars that couples do better if they’re about the same height. Anyway, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

    Thank you for sharing.

  10. Hi Margaret, I don’t dance too much any more. Age, and a bad leg can do it. When I married the first time, my new husband and his family put on dances every week at Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley. We lived at Furnace Creek Ranch during the winter months. I learned to square dance, shottish (I’m sure I murdured that one), and a lot of other ‘country’ dances. It was so much fun and the guests of the Inn looked forward to these nights. (Early 1950’s). I haven’t danced very much since then.
    My second husband didn’t dance. He said all his rhythm was in his fingers! (He’s a guitarist). Yeah. So I didn’t do much dancing these last 40 years.
    Loved the post. And the new book. Will have to get that one, too.

  11. Couldn’t let it rest. Dance name: Schottische! No wonder I couldn’t remember how to spell it. I prefer the phonetic way.

  12. Hi Mary, wow, I can’t imagine anyone living in Death Valley. It sure is pretty, though, in the spring. An old neighbor of mine was the first white woman born in Death Valley. Her father worked at the Borax mine.

    Thank you for looking up the spelling of the Scottish dance. I can hardly pronounce it, let alone spell it.

  13. Lol…I don’t know…I’m not very coordinated but I sure hope cowboys like to line dance. Love the cover for “Dawn Comes Early”!

  14. Hi again, We lived in Death Valley because we had the horse concession at Furnace Creek Ranch. We also had the mules for the 20 Mule Team when it was hooked up. We lived in a very old ranch house in the date palm orchard. The kids (2 teens) road the bus to school in Shoshone, 60 miles away-one way. We lived there all winter. After Easter we moved to Lone Pine where we had the Mt. Whitney Pack Trains pack station for the summer. It was a nomadic life, but loads of fun and hard work.

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