travel

Getting Weird in Austin

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Austin, Texas

December 2018

The Broken Spoke is an Austin dance hall tradition dating back 1964 and has played host to a passel of Texas country music legends. Karen and I found ourselves at the venerated dance hall on a rainy Friday night in December.

We arrived around 7:30, just as the Texas Two-step lessons were being concluded. The area around the dance floor smelled like Aqua Velva and partially digested beef brisket, just as you would expect. The class is catered to tourists and recommended if you want to efficiently cut a rug on the crowded floor.

The small stage stands at the end of a long narrow dance floor which is lined on both sides with tables. In Texas, dance floors are for dancing. If you want to watch the action, you’ll need to find a spot at one of the side tables.

At 8 o’clock, Jason Roberts (former fiddler for Asleep at the Wheel) made the announcement that he and his band would be playing both kinds of music…country and western. The locals danced with the tourists in a loose amalgamation that could be described as something between order and chaos. Most songs were played in 4/4 time, which meant the two-step would be the proper dance method. Couples shuffled and twirled counter clockwise on the edges of the hardwood floor, while the more skillful swing dancers exercised their advanced moves in the middle.

Songs played in 3/4 time require the waltz and can really trip up the novice who just barely learned the two-step.

Occasionally, a song will be played in time signatures and tempos similar to polkas. This gives the tourists from the lake states the opportunity to show off their dancing prowess and University of Wisconsin sweatshirts. In what shouldn’t be a surprise, many C&W songs are compatible with the polka.

Unfortunately for Karen, I only have two dances in my repertoire. There is the Junior Prom dance, where points of contact are limited to hands, shoulders, and waist. Then there is the Sokol Shuffle so named because apparently it only comes naturally to the male line of my family. It has influences rooted in Myrtle Beach Shag, too much gin, the Disco Bump, and the tap dance that Yosemite Sam does below. I usually just tell my dance partner to loosen up and hold on.

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