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Gandy Dancers

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Stage Name

Birth Name

Gandy DancersGandy Dancers

        The Gandy dancers were not really dancers of the traditional sense but Railroad section crews who would sing a rhythm, partly to pass the boredom and partly to create a timing to repair or align railways (tracks). They supposedly got the name Gandy from the "Gandy Tool Company" (might be mythical) who manufactured some of the tools like the Picks, Shovels and Lining bars called a "Gandy pole/Bar" which basically was a long straight pry bar (a long hand lever) with a sharp pointed end which the men used to to align the tracks and / or replace railroad ties. It's well known that these guys were called Gandy dancers for the way they used those back breaking levers in unison as well as the rhythmic ...

like cadences and dance like mannerisms to prevent the trains from derailing by lining (aligning) the rails and tamping the bed of ballast beneath them.

    Gandy dancer is a slang term used for early railroad workers who laid and maintained railroad tracks in the years before the work was done by machines. The early section workers were mainly African-American and Chinese Section workers, while Italians, Irish, Mexican (traqueros) and Native-Americans made up the rest.

    Another theory about it's name is that the rails were heavy and made heavier as they where somewhat anchored to the ground, and typically a large crew of 8 to 12 men would move the rail together, shuffling carefully in time to the music and supposedly looking like a flock of waddling geese. This apparently led to some people calling these particular section workers "gander dancers," reference to the Geese, which was later corrupted into "Gandy dancers."

    Though rail tracks were held in place by wooden ties and the mass of Ballast (crushed rock) beneath them, each pass of a train around a curve would, through centripetal force and vibration, produce a tiny shift in the tracks on each pass and over time could move the rails many feet. If allowed to accumulate, such shifts could eventually cause a derailment; work crews (the Gandy's) had to pry them back into place routinely. The dancing part would refer to the movement of the lever they used in rhythmic unison to adjust or moves the rails. The bars they used were the "dancers" and how they would make those lining pry bars dance. These Gandy songs also might be the evoution of the Blues.

... Also see Ballin' the Jack and Ring Shout, Buzzard Lope, Eagle Rock, the.


Birth Place

Birth Date



The South (U.S.A.)early 1900'sAfrican-American section crewsn/a
(possibly 1860's)

Related Dance Types

Dance Partners

Music preview clip

Music Titles

Ballin' the Jackn/aVideo Clip not available at this time(Field Hollers / Work Songs / Shouts)
Buzzard LopeVideo Clip not available at this time(Marches / Blues / Cadences)
Eagle Rock, theVideo Clip not available at this time(Spirituals / Religeous Songs)
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1954 - Gandy Dancers Ball (Frankie Lane)
Ring Shout
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1963 - Gandy Dancer (Century's, the)
Shake Dance
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1972 - Gandy Dancer (Sweet William)
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Good Lord waits at the End of the Road (Jig Band)
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Berta, Berta
Video Clip not available at this time I've Been Every Where Lord
Video Clip not available at this time Take this Hammer (Lead Belly)
Video Clip not available at this time Poor Boy (Got the Line)

Night Clubs


Misc. Research Words

n/an/aLinin' Track
Navvy (European Term)
Railroad Ties
Railroad Spikes
Video Clips (pop-up)




Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1929 - Fox Movietone Newsn/a5/1918 - The Outlook (N.Y.)
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1955 - Bring Your Smile Along (Frankie Lang)
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1973 - Gandy Dancers  
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1974 - Blazing Saddles (racist content)    
Video Clip not available at this timeColor Purple, The
Video Clip not available at this time1994 - The Gandy Dancers

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Created April 20, 2013
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