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History of Square Dancing

History can be become rather long so we'll try to keep it short.
We don't want you to go off the boil.

Dancing is as old as mankind itself. I guess we can't be sure if Adam and Eve danced because of the lack of historical records (who at the back said it was the dance of love?). There are records showing the dancing of squares, lines and circles in the early history of the American West, which is where the Square Dancing that we dance today evolved from.

Square Dancing is really the authentic barn dance of those American pioneering days. These dances were Country Dances which came from where the many immigrants originated, that is, most European countries. Therefore,  many of the dances were from English shores. Though Square Dancing's form has changed over the years certain basic moves still remain to indicate those mixed origins of the basics . Which is why we call it American Square Dancing.

Modern Western American Square Dancing - Today 

You may not expect "today'" to include fifty or more years ago but it is compared with several centuries ago.

In the early history of the American West, square dances were often impromptu affairs, when all that was needed was space to dance, music provided by a violin or squeeze-box, sufficient people to form a "set" (4 couples) and an M.C. who was known as the Caller.
When larger dances were organised and people went to their local Saturday night dance (in some rural communities this was the only entertainment), probably held in a barn, each square would have a caller, calling to that square. When public address systems came along only one caller was needed.
Although the square dance of modern times has become more sophisticated and stylised, the party sprit, infectious music and rhythms of the old dances are still there.

In the 1900's square dancing faded a little but in the early 1920's it was given a boost by Henry Ford. 
Yes, Henry Ford of Ford cars fame. He supported and helped promote dancing with one of the dance leaders of that time. In the mid-1930's another dance leader  emerged who collected much of the history of the dances. This was Dr. Lloyd 'Pappy' Shaw. With this American Square Dancing gained a new popularity. Today, the history of square dance is preserved by the Lloyd Shaw foundation.


Getting Closer

As the modern highways and the automobile enabled people to move around much more so this popularity gained momentum. Callers were being more creative and found to be creating more patterns and movements.  Square Dancing was also helped along throughout the 50's by American service personnel at their many Air Force Bases. When in the 60's people were travelling even more, dancers  found they did not know some of the moves being danced in the other areas  they were visiting.
Around 1970 a number of callers joined together and formed an organisation called Callerlab, a membership of callers. By 1972 many of the moves had been put into lists called "programmes", a guideline by which you could travel anywhere, to any country, and be able to dance to an announced programme. Where ever you travel the commands are spoken in English. (Something the EU can't take away from us).

So there you are, did I keep it short?  If you think I didn't, believe me, there is so much more which could be written.

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last updated - 28th July 2001