These fundamental moves are the bread-and-butter of Country Swing because everyone does them at some point in their dance. If you’re new here, check out all the moves on this page. As you practice your dancing, commit them to muscle memory. You will rely on these moves constantly.
If you have been dancing for a while, you can learn the variations to these moves, like how to lead them with the opposite hand. Even the most advanced moves are made up of simpler components from these moves. Practice them often, and you will reap the rewards.
Each preview below takes you to the articles. Below the preview gallery is a checklist I call “Techniques for Success” that helps you determine if you are ready for the next thing.
Techniques for Success at Level 1:
- Understand the roles of lead and follow
- Keep the basic footwork rhythm & beat of the music
- Maintain the dance frame and connection in closed position
- Maintain connection in extended positions through arm tension
- Make “C” shaped hand cups to hold on to your partner, instead of your thumbs
- Navigate the dance floor
See descriptions of each of these below.
Lead & Follow
The lead is the partner who plans and initiates each dance move. They are referred to as the lead, leader, or “male part” of the dance (It should be noted that some women lead, too). The lead always begins their steps on the left foot. They use their body in different ways to communicate to the follow what to do next.
The follow is the partner who carries out the movement suggested by the lead. They are referred to as the follow, follower, or the “female part” of the dance (though some men follow, too). The follow always begins their steps on their right foot. Their movement is more expressive than their lead counterpart.
Dancing is a conversation between lead and follow. The lead must not only tell the follow what to do, but also tell her when, where, and how to do it so the movement contains timing, continuity, and direction. A great lead strives to communicate clearly so the follow can do her job well. He pays attention to the details of his hand placement, arm tension, etc. to find the clearest way to get the move he wants. A great follow does exactly what the lead suggests*. She does not anticipate what the next move will be, but instead responds to what is happening in the moment. When the follower does this, the lead is better able to gauge the clarity of his communication.
*Safety, comfort and trust are priority. If a move is not safe or comfortable for the follow, she should not go through with it.
Keep the Beat in Your Feet
Dance is movement that goes with music. If the steps are not in time with the music, can it really be called dancing? Most people believe they can’t dance because they never learned how to coordinate their upper and lower body movement together. But, anyone can learn to dance if they practice. These steps will help you become a pro:
- The upper body is for communication and connection to your partner. The first few times you practice a new move, study just this part and mess around with the variables (hand placement, hand pose, facing your partner, etc.) to see what works best. Do the move slowly and without music. Practice it a few times until you feel successful with this part of the move and can do it without thinking.
- After you understand how to communicate the move with your upper body, turn your attention toward your lower body, mostly your feet. Both lead and follow, you want to keep your feet moving to the beat throughout the move. Practice the steps without your partner if you need to. Just get used to the timing on the lower half.
- Hint: a move always happens with a change of direction. If your move happens to the left, do it when you just finished going right. For instance, the Outside Turn always happens when the lead resumes moving to the left.
- When you put both halves of your body together, keep practicing slowly and without music! Practice a few times while counting or naming the steps out loud. Establish a slow beat in the basic step (or another learned move).
- Hints: Prepare your new move and pause at intervals in the move to check if it feels right.
- Your partner will be a good sounding wall for feedback.
- Leads, the first few times you do this you might forget to step or you might move your upper half, then your lower half, then back to your upper half… this is common when you are trying to multitask. Going slowly and isolating the beats while reminding yourself what your hands and feet do at the same time for that one beat will help you.
- Once you can do the move slowly, work up to the speed of the music you want to dance to. Note that if the music is slower, the whole move will be slowed down to match the steps to the beat. If it is faster, the move happens faster to stay with the beat. Not all moves work well at any speed of music–some are more suited for slower or faster music.
Closed Position Frame & Connection
Practice the Rhythm Two Step in closed position. Hold the position. Pretend you are the walls of a balloon and the air pressure is forcing the walls outward. From here, notice some things:
- The lead’s right hand is on the follow’s left shoulder blade. Having a hand around her waist is no good–it will make your timing late.
- The follow is pressing back lightly into the lead’s right hand. Her left arm drapes over the lead’s arm but is not heavy.
- The lead’s left hand and follow’s right hand are connected at eye-level to the shorter person. They are pressing against each other but neither one is dominating the other by force.
- Both partners’ chests are lifted in good posture.
For more information see the articles on Rhythm Two Step and Connection.
Arm tension helps you to maintain connection throughout turns and other moves. It also helps you generate stored energy at the end of a move, so that the next move happens in the right place on the dancefloor with the right amount of energy and speed.
To practice arm tension both lead and follow should:
- Stand in Open Position (Butterfly) with both hands connected, standing about an arm’s length away from your partner. You should have a bend in your elbows, and your elbows be near the side of your body.
- Rock step back, and gently pull away from your partner by drawing your elbows back toward yourself. Match the same amount of tension that your partner gives you. The tension should be firm but not overbearing. Here are some common issues:
- Too little tension from the lead and/or follow = weak connection and not enough energy stored for the next move. The dance will feel sluggish and the follow will have a hard time judging the right direction and speed for the moves. The lead will have to work really hard to get anything to happen, and might be limited in his choice of moves.
- Too much tension from either the lead or the follow = two things will happen: 1) you will be pulling your partner into your space and they will have a greater risk of hitting you; and 2) to compensate your partner will have to give you more tension and this puts stress on your muscles.
- Every time you come to this position again, after each move that brings you here, rock back and apply arm tension.
Each article and tutorial will show and tell you more about the specific hand positions for each kind of move. The key thing for both lead and follow to remember is not to grip down with your thumbs or squeeze your fingers to your palm. To do this, think about creating a letter “C” with your hands.
Leads: the more you practice, the more the hand positions will become second-nature. Follows: the more you study the function of each hand position and cue, the easier it will be to follow.
- In closed position, the lead’s left and follow’s right hand are palm-to-palm. You can keep your hand completely flat and just press in to each others’ hands
- In open position, the lead’s palms face inward (toward one another). The follow’s palms face down. both partners have hooked fingers.
- During any turn, the lead’s palm faces the floor, and he has hooked fingers to help guide the follow through the turn. The follow’s hand will rotate with her palm facing up for the most part.
- If after a turn, the lead’s hand is facing the wrong way, doing another turn for lead or follow will correct it. Some things are just easier to lead from the standard hand position.