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Dance Styles

Your confidence will soar as you learn to connect with the music and your dance partner in a whole new way.

Please click on the dance style below to read more information.


As it evolved to become the first European dance style to be danced in closed position, with the lady literally in the gentleman’s arms, Waltz created quite a scandalous stir back in 17th Century Vienna.

Now considered among the most formal and proper dance styles, it’s clear that the Austrians of that era were not yet ready for the Tango, Rumba or Lambada.

But the pleasures of dancing this beautiful dance in one-two-three rhythm have endured, and spread throughout the world. Even watching it can be trance-like, with its smooth, halting flow and progression.

At the River City Dance Studio, students learn the basic box step first, then the underarm turn, the half-box close, the simple twinkle, the parallel, and the progressive.

With those basic skills, students can start to navigate the counter-clockwise line of dance (although collisions and apologies still occur), and work on advanced sashays and graceful nuances like the timing of the dance’s rise and fall.

Advanced students can also expand their skills in American waltz to the much-faster-paced and complex Viennese Waltz. If Country Waltz is more to your liking, Richard Felix’s River City Dance Studio teaches that, too.

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Foxtrot has a Rat-Pack cool to it, that kind of loose, finger-snapping nonchalance that jets you back into the era of tail-fins and fedoras on a newly-built Vegas strip.

It’s called a dance, but it’s really more about a cool way of walking than dancing. Slow, slow, quick-quick. Two steps forward on a diagonal path, a quick step to the side, and another quick closing step. Then another two steps forward.

The dance frame is as wide as an airplane’s, and it’s important to keep those wings level as you execute a counter-intuitive but snazzy-looking 270-degree spin to the right.

The Foxtrot box step is the other key way to make the 90 degree turn to the left that the line of dance requires. It comes with a change-up in dance step timing, however: a Rumba-like slow, quick-quick, slow, quick-quick.

Promenades keep things interesting between dance corners. You can dance forward, with your lady stepping backward, dance parallel, or step backward yourself, with your lady stepping forward.

If floor space allows, you can also go for a grapevine maneuver that puts 15 “quicks” into rapid succession before ending things with a half-box step.

In your own mind, at least, you’re ready to join Frankie, Dean, Sammy and the boys at the Sands, the Tropicana, or maybe the Desert Inn.

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Tango is all about drama and passion. It’s romantic, like the Rumba, but it’s less about sensual pleasures and more about love as a passionate obsession.

It’s a sexy, dangerous dance, with very little daylight between dance partners, and advanced steps require that your feet, knees and thighs be thrust confidently between those of your partner.

The steps are smooth and dramatic, and the upper body must remain as still as possible for the “stalking” feel of the dance to have its full effect.

The basic step is slow-slow, quick-side-close (T, A, N-G-O), with dancers typically moving at a diagonal to the dance floor.

Because the dance floor is finite, partners will need to turn. A corte, or cut, helps them do that, dramatically halting the forward movement, reversing it, and allowing for a dramatic promenade turn toward open floor space.

While not for the feint of heart, Tango is one of the most dramatic and beautiful dances, when it’s done right. And as they say, it takes two to do it. All this can make it seem intimidating, or beyond the average student’s reach.

But beginning students will be relieved to know there’s plenty of solo practice opportunities, and wide-frame partner practice, before they’ll be expected to move on to the most dangerous legwork and moves.
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The basic footwork in Mambo is almost identical to Salsa, but with a few key differences. Taking its cue from the music, which has more of an elastic snap to it than Salsa, Mambo dancers hesitate just a bit, stepping on the “2” and “6” counts instead of the “1” and “5” counts, as they would with traditional Salsa.

There’s also more emphasis and energy in the delayed step. It’s one-TWO-three-four, five-SIX-seven-eight, vs. the Salsa’s eight-count, with a more fluid one-two-three-stop-five-six-seven-stop rhythm.

It takes a little practice to get the timing just right, and it’s probably better to learn basic Salsa first before taking on the Mambo.

Once you get there, however, the payoff is a stylishly off-beat, syncopated and snappy variation of the Salsa dance steps your already know.

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Ballroom Cha-Cha first grew popular in Europe and North America in the 1950s as a modified version of the Cuban Rumba, with a quick triple-step replacing the rumba’s “slow” beat.

Like many Latin dance styles, the Cha Cha (or Cha Cha Cha) is a “toe first” dance step, which makes the forward-stepping leg straighten as the weight rolls backward from the toe to the ball of the foot and heel.

This weight-transfer involves considerably more hip movement than a heel-first dance step like the Fox Trot. But there’s no need to “learn” to move the hips. Students who focus on the toe-first step will feel their hips move naturally.

Although the toe-first step is similar to Rumba, the quick triple-step also gives Cha Cha a close affinity to East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing.

At Richard Felix’s River City Dance Studio in San Antonio, students learn how they can switch back and forth between the Cha Cha and Swing dance steps during the same song.

As with the Rumba, the Cha-Cha dance steps include the crossover, the open-break and underarm turn, the cross body lead, side breaks, the cross body strut, and many other variations.

Most often associated with Latin music, the cha cha beat is incorporated into a surprisingly broad range of popular songs.

There’s nothing quite like the feel of locking into the cha-cha-cha dance rhythm.

Listen to a music sample

The Rumba is a slow, sensual dance with a toe-first step that ripples seduction up the legs and through the hips.

The basic box step is relatively small, compared with the more formal Bolero, and it’s danced to a “slow, quick-quick, slow, quick-quick” beat.

Unlike the poignant Tango, which emphasizes the bittersweet beauty of romance, thorns and all, the Rumba is all about sweetness and sensual pleasure.

The ballroom version, formalized in England in the 1950s, has its roots in African and Cuban dance styles.

At Richard Felix’s River City Dance Studio, students who master the basic box can quickly progress to combinations including the Crossover, Open Break, Underarm Turn, the Cross Body Strut, the Open Cuban Walk, and more.

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Bolero, introduced to the U.S. in the 1930s, is a variation of the Rumba, and shares its African-Cuban roots.

Rumba is smooth, romantic and sexy, and Bolero is its more refined, formal cousin. It combines romance and grace, but without the seduction that ripples through the Rumba body movements from toe step to hip.

Danced to the same “slow, quick quick, slow, quick quick ” rhythm, starting with a basic box, Bolero dancers move in larger steps with more dramatic flair, to music with a tempo that’s almost as languid as Country Trot or Nightclub Slow.

Movements include Rumba-like cross body leads, open breaks, underarm turns, fifth position breaks and crossover breaks. But the movement is large and sweeping, incorporating a Waltz-like rise and fall.

If you start dancing the Rumba, but feel that the tempo is almost awkwardly slow, you have an excellent opportunity to shift gears and dance the Bolero.

The Bolero can be danced to most songs with a slow, dramatic tempo, including:

  • My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion
  • Live to Tell by Madonna
  • Beautiful Maria of My Soul by The Mambo All Stars
  • Mas Alla by Gloria Estefan and Abriendo Puertas

Listen to a music sample

The easiest way to picture East Coast Swing is to think of a 1950s sock hop dance party with ponytails, bobby socks and poodle skirts.

This quick-paced dance, an outgrowth of the Lindy Hop that can be danced to almost any classic rock and roll beat, uses a basic triple-step, triple-step, rock step pattern with free-wheeling left turns, right turns, throw-outs and underarm turns.

Dancers usually start out facing each other in closed position, but the man’s left hand holds the woman’s right hand lower than in most other ballroom dances, comfortably at belt-level, as if the woman’s hand was a Frisbee.

There’s no real line-of-dance movement required, although couples dancing East Coast Swing can move around the dance floor and are less rooted in place than they are with West Coast Swing, where guys circulate around their ladies as they twirl within a relatively well-defined “slot.”

Any old-time rock-and-roll or rockabilly music, from Elvis to the Stray Cats, is a good fit with East Coast Swing dancing.

West Coast Swing, by contrast, is better suited to the slightly slower tempo of classic blues. Less “the King,” more B.B. King.

You can dance the East Coast Swing to almost any classic Rock ‘n Roll or Rockabilly song, including.

  • All Star by Smash Mouth
  • Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce
  • Big Time Operator by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
  • Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations
  • Candyman by Christina Aguilera
  • C’est la Vie by Bob Seger
  • Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac
  • Fire Woman by The Cult
  • Hey Ya! by Outkast
  • Holiday by Green Day
  • How Sweet It Is by Michael Buble
  • Jitterbug Boogie by Fantastic Shakers
  • Jumpin’ Jack by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
  • Miserlou by Dick Dale
  • Moondance by Van Morrison
  • Pick Up The Phone by Swingerhead
  • Shake, Rattle and Roll by Huey Lewis & The News
  • She’s So Cold by Rolling Stones
  • Superunknown by Soundgarden
  • The Contender by Royal Crown Revue
  • The Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani
  • This Will Be by Natalie Cole
  • Two By Two by Tony Bennett
  • You Make Me Real by The Doors

Listen to a music sample

The West Coast Swing dance style is similar enough to East Coast Swing to allow for a considerable crossover: You can dance either one to the same dance tunes, and you’re likely to see both versions on the same dance floor.

But West Coast Swing has a greater range of sophisticated, jazzy, off-the-beat improvisation that really works best when both dance partners are exactly in tune. (Little mistakes can be covered up much easier on the East Coast side of the swinging fence.)

For those up to the challenge, the musical genre that lends itself best to West Coast Swing is the blues. It fits in well with the dance’s personality: more of a cool, world-wise LA sophisticate, less of an earnest and perky Sock Hopper.

The basic form of the dance is significantly more complex than the basic form for other dance styles, with pairs of triple-steps and underarm turns that allow the man to revolve around the lady and lead her through a series of twirls back and forth, in an imaginary slot.

The man’s lead must be timed perfectly, and while dancers have a lot of flexibility to improvise, they also have a lot of opportunity to get their timing off.

But West Coast Swing devotees, like those addicted to the nuances of Tango, are as dedicated to their art as fly-fisherman, and they probably wouldn’t have things any other way.

Here are a few examples (some of which also work for East Coast Swing)

  • Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones
  • Celebration by Kool & the Gang
  • Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin
  • Dream a Little Dream by Louis Armstrong
  • Fever by Peggy Lee
  • In the Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett
  • Mustang Sally by Wilson Pickett
  • Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye
  • Stayin’ Alive by Bee Gees
  • Sweet Dreams by The Eurythmics
  • The Thrill is Gone by B.B. King

Listen to a music sample


Emerging in the early 20th century from African and Cuban roots, Salsa music and dancing get their syncopated rhythms from a variety of percussion instruments, including a pair of cylindrical wooden sticks called claves.

Similar in step-style to the Mambo, Salsa dancers start with the first beat of music with a 1-2-3-stop, 1-2-3-stop rhythm. Left foot forward, weight-shift right, left foot close, stop. Right foot back, weight-shift-left, right foot close, stop.

As with other Latin dance styles like the Rumba, a toe-down stepping style is key to the art of transferring weight to the straightening leg, allowing for a naturally sexy movement to the hips, with minimal motion above the waist.

Salsa variations include many moves common to other dance styles, including the open break and underarm turn, the cross-body lead, cross-body lead with inside and outside turns, the chasse turn, suzie-q step and more.

There are plenty of turns and fancy foot steps for the guys as well as the ladies, but out on the club dance floors, you’ll see some guys with a more understated approach, with minimal moves on their own, but with excellent leads and timing.

This keeps the spotlight where it seems to belong in much of Latin dancing, on the beauty expressed by the ladies.

You can dance Salsa to many songs, including

  • Ayer by Gloria Estefan
  • Cali Aji by Grupo Niche
  • Cara De Nino by Jerry Rivera
  • La Dicha Mia by Celia Cruz
  • Melao De Cana by Celia Cruz
  • Mi Media Mitad by Rey Ruiz
  • Mi Tierra by Gloria Estefan
  • Montuno by Gloria Estefan
  • Quiero Estar A Solas by Ana Belen
  • Si Senor! By Gloria Estefan
  • Si Tu No Te Fueras by Marc Anthony
  • Tu Eres Mejor by Willy Chirino
  • Tus Ojos by Gloria Estefan
  • Yiri Yiri Bon by Ricardo Lemvo

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With a hard-to-miss beat and a simple basic dance step, Cumbia is one of the most accessible dances. Its popularity in San Antonio night spots and Tejano dance events makes it a good addition to your dancing repertoire if you want to spend less time waiting for a dance style you know, and more time dancing. Some clubs will spin nothing but Cumbia for an hour or more at a stretch.

Tejano- and Mexican-style Cumbia differs from the Cumbia that took root and flourished in Colombia and the Dominican Republic. If you hear music and see dancing that might be mistaken for a variation of Salsa with an extra little step on the fourth beat, you’re watching Colombia/Dominican cumbia.

Mexican and Tejano-style cumbia is almost Samba-like with its rhythmic pulse and weight. All Cumbia variations, however, have four steps to four beats of music, unlike Salsa’s three-steps-and-pause. The basic step is an alternating side step-rock step, side step rock-step pattern.

The other major Tejano-style dance in Texas besides Cumbia, equally confusing in nomenclature, is Latin Polka, sometimes called Ranchera. By either name, this dance style has almost nothing in common with Country Polka.

You don’t have to master the terminology, of course, to feel the beat of the music and apply some fun Tejano dance steps to the dance club floor. The basic step takes only minutes to learn, and will provide hours of enjoyment.

Here are some more samples of Tejano-style Cumbia music

  • Amor Prohibido by Selena
  • Baila Esta Cumbia by Selena
  • Piel Morena by Thalia
  • Yo Te Amare by La Mafia

Listen to a music sample

Ballroom Samba dancers will not be mistaken for the plume-bedecked ladies flashing their jewels, teeth, and a lot of skin, at Rio’s Carnivale.

Aside for the more modest dress code at most dance studios like Richard Felix’s River City Dance Studio, Ballroom Samba is a partner dance, not meant to be danced solo.

It emerged from Samba-Carioca, an urbanized dance style built on the potent rhythms and movement of other Brazilian dances with deep African roots.

The heavy, throbbing pulse of the beat has a mesmerizing effect, and when you learn to move your body in time, it can feel like you’re succumbing to the grip of a force much larger than yourself.

Ballroom Samba became popular in the UK and US in the 1930s and 1940s, and remains one of the most engrossing and joyful dance steps taught today.

The footwork for the basic step starts as a box. But unlike the Waltz or the Rumba, dancers lean forward in an athletic stance as they flex up and down to the beat, shifting their weight left, bouncing slightly, then shifting right, and rising again.

The constant leg-flexing makes Ballroom Samba one of the most aerobically challenging dances taught. But unlike a health club treadmill, you don’t need a lot of motivation to keep going.

Samba music has a way of grabbing you and carrying you to the end of the song. You may be gasping for breath when the song’s over, but you’ll also be hooked and hungry for more.

Samba’s heavy, pulsing beat has a way of getting you out of your seat and out on the dance floor. Here are a few samples

  • Brown Girl In The Rain by Boney M
  • Carrilio De Noite by Carrilio
  • Coco Jambo by Mr. President
  • Comadre Compadre by King Africa
  • Encierrame by Jon Secada
  • La Isla Bonita by Madonna
  • Lola, Lola by Ricky Martin
  • Mama Mia by Azucar Moreno
  • My Friend Mi Amigo by Paulina Rubio
  • Ole Ole by Leonid Agutin
  • Quien Te Quiera Como Yo by Donato y Estefano
  • Rosalinda by Thalia

Listen to a music sample

The Merengue is a fun and festive dance, and the basic steps couldn’t be easier to learn: Step, close, step, close.

The music and the dance steps both follow an 8-count beat, so dancers will often step four counts to the side, then four counts back. Or four counts forward, four counts back. Or four counts circling, then reverse.

If you’re out at a club or a party and Merengue music is playing, you can join in the fun just by taking little marching steps.

When you’re comfortable with the musical beat and you’re stepping in time, you can work on fine-tuning the basic Merengue step.

This involves the Latin toe-first step, shifting the weight upon a straightening leg, naturally leading to a lot more hip movement than a straight-hipped 1-2-3-4 march in place.

You’ll be amazed at how this manner of stepping, awkward at first, melds naturally with the beat of the music.

In time, the movement will seem as natural as if you were born and raised in the Dominican Republic, just like Merengue itself, before it grew up and traveled throughout the Americas and the rest of the world.

Here are a few more samples

  • Candelosa by Latino Allstars
  • Cachamba (Hay un Hoyo) by Kinito Méndez
  • El Baile del Ki Ki Ki by Kinito Méndez
  • El Baile del Sua Sua by Kinito Méndez/Gabriel Romero
  • La Vaca by Frenesi de Merengue
  • Luna Llena by Elvis Crespo
  • Pintame by Elvis Crespo
  • Rompecintura by Benman Group
  • Suavemente by Banda La Bocana
  • Tu Muere Aqui by La Banda Gorda
  • Tu Sonrisa by Elvis Crespo

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Tejano refers to more than a dance style. It references everything about the unique culture that emerged among Spanish-speaking residents of Texas, some with ancesters who first settled here hundreds of years ago.

Similar in many ways to the Norteño culture of northern Mexico (Texas was, for a time, under Mexican rule), Tejano encompasses a full range of musical and dance styles, including Conjunto, Danzon, Mambo, Bolero, Polka, Waltz, Redova, and Ranchera.

With a diverse array of musical influences, not just from the various classes and regions of Mexico, but from Germans, Czechs, and other European Americans and also African Americans, Tejano and Conjunto music continue to evolve.

Some of the more recent influences on Tejano music and dance include Western Swing, South American imports like Cumbia, and American Rock ‘n Roll.

But the core and soul of Tejano music remains with traditional folk, with the ever-popular accordian as a musical centerpiece.

Listen to a music sample

Lively and festive, Latin Polka is one of several musical styles under the Tejano folk music umbrella, sometimes referred to as Ranchera, Norteño or Conjunto.

Produced with accordions, bajo sexto, drums and bass, Latin Polka is native to Texas and Northern Mexico, and reflects the confluence of Mexican, German, Czech and Polish cultural influences.

South Texas Conjunto bands typically provide music for a variety of dance styles, including Bolero, Country Waltz, Country Two-Step, Cumbia, Huapango, Mambo, Ranchera, and more.

Listen to a music sample

Country Western

If there were a dance called Country Fox Trot, it would look a lot like Two Step. Both dances are really more about stylish heel-first strolling than dancing, and both share a slow, slow, quick-quick rhythm.

The only real difference in the basic step is the Fox Trot’s sidestep-close on the quick-quick beat. With two-step, you keep progressing forward.

Dance floors, like everything else in Texas, are huge, but this is one fast-traveling dance, and partners moving in a counter-clockwise line of dance cover a lot of ground.

The music, of course, is as different as Frank Sinatra and Hal Ketchum. Two step music has an almost metronomic clip-clop beat. Foxtrot music has two soft beats, then two emphatic beats. (When the shark bites with his teeth dear).

And even if the footwork isn’t that complicated, it’s still a partner style dance that depends on the man’s lead for its success. On his cue, the lady twirls and spins, and if his timing is off, there’s little she can do to correct the situation.

Another good tip for couples is to stay away from the cowboy boot/open-toe dance shoe combination until the man acquires enough skills to reduce the risk of kicking a toenail off by mistake.

Here are a few samples

  • Chattahoochie by Alan Jackson
  • Goin’ Through the Big D by Mark Chestnutt
  • Mercury Blues by Alan Jackson
  • Past the Point of Rescue by Hal Ketchum
  • Should Have Asked Her Faster by Ty England
  • Small Town Saturday Night by Hal Ketchum
  • When the Wrong One Loves You Right by Wade Hayes

Listen to a music sample

Among the slowest of all the dance steps taught at Richard Felix’s River City Dance Studio, Country Trot is like a version of Nightclub Slow, but instead of rocking more or less in place, there are two progressive steps to keep a smooth-flowing line of dance, counter-clockwise on the dance floor.

An example of Country Trot music

  • Daylight by Alison Krauss

Listen to a music sample

Like traditional ballroom Waltz, Country Waltz starts with a box-like step and is danced with three steps in four beats of music. Denim and boots are the attire of choice, not tuxedos and chiffon. But the boot-scootin’ crowds can look every bit as smooth as they cruise and twirl around the dance floor.

Traditional waltz dancers make their way around the floor, but with a halting progression, like underwater sea fans in a pulsing, wave-like ebb and flow.

Country Waltzers, by contrast, are in a constant state of forward motion, with half-box steps, forward steps, and twirls. There’s less swooping, less rise and fall, and more forward lean as they follow the counter-clockwise line of dance.

As with Country Two-Step, the line-of-dance flow is so smooth and consistent, it’s as if everyone is on one big ride. It doesn’t take long to earn your ticket.

Many, but not all, of the songs perfect for County Waltz dancing have a Country Western flavor. They include

  • Allegheny Moon by Anne Murray
  • Country Waltz – The Straight Story by Angelo Badalamenti
  • Country Waltz – Uncle Henry’s Favorites by Marvin Gaster
  • Country Waltz by Bill Monroe and Claude V. Breeland
  • Half The Man by Clint Black
  • Heart by Reba McEntire
  • I See It Now by Tracy Lawrence
  • I’d Rather Miss You by Little Texas
  • Lady Lay Down by John Conlee
  • Mama Needs Someone To Hold Her by Larry Stewart
  • Old Fashioned Broken Heart by Lisa Stewart
  • She Waits by Kenny Rogers
  • Slow Movin’ Storm by Roger Ballard
  • Someone Is Standing Outside by Patti Austin
  • Someone To Call Me Darling by Lorrie Morgan
  • Strawberry Wine by Deana Carter
  • Tennessee Waltz by Emmylou Harris
  • Today by The New Christy Minstrels
  • Warning Labels by Doug Stone

Listen to a music sample

The cultural history of San Antonio and Austin includes a unique amalgamation of music and dance styles. People not familiar with this region may be surprised at German, Czech and Polish influences in the region’s folk and country music popular among English and Spanish speaking residents alike.

At San Antonio’s River City Dance Studio, most students first encounter polka music during the practice parties, where it’s played during a stop-the-music ice-breaker to ensure everyone gets a different dance partner and no one’s left out.

Those who want more advanced instruction in Country Polka learn the triple-steps, skips, and spins that will soon have them gasping for breath, if not from the aerobic intensity, then from laughter at a fun and festive dance style that refuses to take itself too seriously.

  • Helena Polka by Brian Marshall and his Tex-Slavic Playboys
  • Garden Rose Polka by Brian Marshall and his Tex-Slavic Playboys

Listen to a music sample

Starting in the late 1920s and continuing the late 1940s, the Swing, Jitterbug and Lindy Hop were all the rage, and in Texas, people naturally combined their love for both Jitterbugging and Country Western music.

Later on, dance studios formalized the basic movements into East Coast Swing, with its triple-step, triple-step, rock-step rhythm and its circular line of movement, and the West Coast Swing, where the man leads the lady to do her twirls within an imaginary “slot.”

Country Swing applies elements of East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing to Country music. Some Country Swing music is so fast-paced, however, that dancers replace the triple step with a single step and a simple shift in weight.

Samples of Country Swing include:

  • Miss Molly by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys
  • Choo Choo Ch’Boogie by Asleep at the Wheel
  • My Baby Thinks She’s a Train by Asleep at the Wheel

Listen to a music sample

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