The nightclub two-step is a versatile dance which is perfectly suited to the romantic ballads so common in popular music today. it's a fairly basic two-person dance step, created in 1965 by Buddy Schwimmer with his sister, based on the surfer stomp. It's usually danced to ballads with a steady four-count beat. ("In Your Eyes" is a personal favorite.)

The "nightclub" label comes from the way the dance is confined to a single, compact space on the dance floor, with a few moves added to allow you to travel a short distance when necessary -- perfect for crowded nightclub floors. It's also ideal for wedding or Valentine's Day dances, homecoming or your prom, or just impressing your date with the fact that you know how to dance without needing to weigh you down with too many moves.

This step should not be confused with the Texas two-step, which is a travelling dance and is performed to very different music.

Like any dance, nightclub two-step has a wealth of complicated moves and variations, but the basic steps are easy to learn and are perfectly suitable for the occasional dancer. Together with the waltz, this dance will help get you through wedding receptions and any other social dances you may be forced into throughout your romantic life.

Most couples, when confronted with a ballad, will do what Buddy Schwimmer calls the "Why" dance -- the man puts his arms around his date's waist, she puts her arms around his neck, and they cuddle a bit while they step back and forth in a slow circle until one of them says, "Why dance? Let's just go home." Nightclub two-step is an alternative to this which will impress everyone around you who doesn't know how to do it. (People who don't know how to dance are easily impressed by anyone who can so much as stay on the beat. Trust me on this.)

Guys, ladies: you don't need to practice this dance with your partner, but it helps.

The Arms and Stance

Nightclub two-step is danced with both partners facing each other -- as opposed to waltz, where each parter is looking over the other's shoulder. Your toes are pointing towards your partner's, and you're looking into each other's eyes. (Not so hard so far, is it?)

The leader (normally the man, but it's no longer a given that a dancing couple consists of a man and a woman) will hold his left arm out and bent upwards at an angle, positioning his hand at the follower's eye level. The forearm should be straight up and down, or nearly so, and the upper arm angled as much as necessary.

The right arm is also held out, but the forearm is bent inwards instead of upwards and is held against the back of the follower's shoulder. At all times during the dance, the elbows should be held up and away from the body, but not so high that the follower's arms are being lifted uncomfortably. From behind, it looks something like this:

 v  O

The follower (speaking of whom) should hold her right arm up, similar to the leader's left arm, with her hand at her eye level. The leader should take her hand comfortably in his, not squeezing tight (no matter now nervous he is). The follower's left arm should be placed over the leader's, with her hand placed gently over the bicep.

At all times both dancers' arms should be held firm, but not rigid. If either pair of arms is too loose, the leader can't signal a lead; if too stiff, the leader can't execute a move at all. Just enough tension should be in the arms so that the follower can sense the leader's body moving and move together with him.

You can practice this by getting into the correct stance, positioning your arms comfortably, and letting the leader take one step forward, then back, then to the side, then back, then turning ninety degrees to the side, and so forth... until the follower can consistently pick up on the leader's body movements while still maintaining eye contact. You must be comfortable with leading and following in this way before you can do even the basic steps together.

The Basic Footwork

The basic step for this dance is counted in four beats of the music, like this: one-and-TWO, three-and-FOUR, one-and-TWO, three-and-FOUR. The leader will begin on his left foot, the follower on her right, so you can practice this rhythm just by stepping in place. Turn on your favorite slow-dance song and face each other -- you don't need to get into your stance yet. When the music seems right, begin together: left-right-LEFT, right-left-RIGHT for the leader, and right-left-RIGHT, left-right-LEFT for the follower.

Don't stomp the floor, for heaven's sake -- this is a romantic dance. Once you've got the rhythm and the left-right worked out, continue by dancing the first and third beat on the ball of your foot (not your toes), like this: ball-ball-FLAT, ball-ball-FLAT. If you've ever learned dancing before, you may know this as a step-ball-change.

Finally, the movements. The first and third steps in nightclub two-step are done by hooking the stepping leg behind the stationary one. On the first beat, the ball of the leader's foot will move behind the right foot and a little further to the right. The leg shouldn't stretch and the waist shouldn't turn -- just reach it over far enough to be comfortable. On the third beat, the right foot hooks behind the left foot in the same manner. This is called a "rock-step" in all ballroom and nightclub dances, and looks something like this:

  _     _
 |L|   |R|
 |_|   |_| 
    \      _
     ---> |L| (ball step)

The follower's footwork is identical to the leader's with the left and right feet switched, so that both dancers are moving in the same direction on the first and third beat -- hook-right-LEFT, hook-left-RIGHT for the leader, and hook-left-RIGHT, hook-right-LEFT for the follower.

Finally, some minutae to work on once you're comfortable with that basic step:

  • When performing the rock-step, the stationary foot should not move at all -- its step is done by lifting the heel off the ground while keeping the ball of the foot on the ground.

  • Don't twist your hips, or your upper body, while doing the rock-step.

  • When the rock-step returns on the second or fourth beat, it won't go right next to the stationary foot, but several inches to the side. If you stop dancing at this instant, you should be in a comfortable "at ease" stance, with the feet slightly apart positioned under your hips.

  • Your shoulders should not bob up and down while you're carrying out these steps. Remember, this is a slow and romantic dance. Don't scrunch your back down to keep your shoulders level, but try to bend your legs while dancing so that your upper body flows smoothly to the side, then back, then to the other side, then back again.

  • While doing this basic step during the complete dance, the leader should gradually turn himself and his partner in a clockwise circle. This keeps the dance from being too boring while the couple remains in one place.

The Underarm Turn

You'll get bored doing just the basic step about forty seconds into the song, so it's important to learn some moves and leads. The most basic lead is an underarm turn, and this turn carries through to every other ballroom and nightclub dance there is. The leader's job is to indicate the turn properly; the follower's job is to pick up on the lead and execute it gracefully.

The turn begins on the second of the four beats. As the leader returns from the first rock-step (to his right), he raises his left hand slightly and brings the follower's hand with it. At the same time, he gives a gentle push to her shoulder with his right hand, leading her under the raised arms. He then continues with the second rock-step (to his left) as if nothing had happened, while the follower does her thing.

The follower, when she feels her right hand being raised and her left shoulder being nudged, releases her left arm from his right while still holding her right hand in his left. This hand-hold should be loose, for both partners -- too tight a grip and the follower's arm and wrist will tangle her up.

During the third beat, the follower will step through under the raised arms with her left foot, keeping the ball of her right foot in place. She turns her body ninety degrees, facing to what used to be her right, and landing on the ball of her left foot. Her right foot stays in place, but moves to the ball instead of staying flat. It looks something like this:

   /    \
 _    _  \       __
|L|  |R|^  ----> _L|    three-
|_|  |_||    

On the second half of the third beat, the "-and", she pivots on the balls of both feet and turns clockwise so her body is facing the opposite direction. Like this:

   __   \    ____
  |R_   /   __   \      and-
     <-    |L_   /

Finally, on the fourth beat, she turns her body the remaining ninety degrees to face her partner and replaces her left foot next to her right. Like this:

 _    _
|L|  |R|     __
|_| <------ |L_

Once her feet are back in place, the leader's right hand should move behind her shoulder and the follower's left arm should be raised over it and placed over his right arm again. Both dancers are back in their starting stance again.

All of this should be done so that at the end, both dancers are on both feet facing each other in a normal stance. On the first beat of the next measure of music, the two dancers can continue with another basic step as usual.

That's It!

Those two moves are the barest beginnings of the nightclub two-step, but they'll be enough to get you through a song together and impress the know-nothings around you. If you have a chance, visit your local library to see if they have instructional videos for this dance step, or else (if you're really devoted) you can purchase a good one online for $30-40. A video will take you through these basic steps plus several others, and have the advantage of showing you what two dancers should look like during this dance.

Finally, if you have a chance, practice these dance steps with someone besides your significant other. The more different people you dance with, the less likely you are to fall into unspoken signals and habits and the greater the chance you will learn to lead or follow correctly. Don't forget to give each other spoken feedback while you're practicing so that you know what lead-and-follow signals you're expecting from each other.

Good luck at that next wedding!

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