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The Square Dance

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Square Dance

    Square dancing is not native only to the United States, there are importation's from the British Isles. The Square dance is relatively a modern term (1870s & up) to describe Country or Contra dances (Contredanse Anglais) of the past such as Lancers, Quadrilles, Basse, Hautes dances, Circle dances, String dances, Longways, plus Reels, Cotillions, Buck and Wing, Jigs, etc. The Quadrille which originated in 1740 is considered the start of traditional Square dancing.

    There are different styles and mannerisms in square dancing throughout the world. Originally these dances were primitive dances done in lines (columns) and circles, then modified to Squares or Quadrilles (see Quadrilles for more info). Square dancing which is basically a "Sequence dance" was one of the popular of activities in colonial times. In the southern Appalachians, America would make its only real contribution to Square dancing called Running Sets.

    The term Square dance can be applied to many types of American folk dances in which an even number of couples participate, arranged so that they form a square, as in square set and Quadrille (four couples), or in two lines facing each other called a Contra or as in a Longways set (Side By Side) or in a circle as in a running set. In Squares and Rounds, the term square dance is used for any type of dance that is not done by individual couples. Round dancing is a form of choreographed ballroom dancing with a cuer, like ballroom dancing, is done in couples. Clog dance is another form but is done as an individual. Most of the original square dances / steps were brought to the US (importation's) from England. Today there are basically two types of Square dances:
1) Traditional Square Dance
2) Modern Western Square Dance.

    The square dance is made up of many figures that are called out during the set by a trained caller who was originally a dance master
(dance Instructor.) These callers or 'Prompters' as they were originally known would call out the steps to remind the dancers what to do next, with the traditional caller originating with the Cotillions and Contredanse's of an earlier, mostly forgotten time. Square dancing became a part of the early 20th century barn dance scene, unfortunately this would add a hillbilly or Hick stereotype with the public towards Square dance.

    During the early 1920s, the car maker Henry Ford, a lover of Square Dancing, would take on a campaign to bring many of these dances back into popularity, although he failed at his attempt, he did a lot to help a later boom with Lloyd Shaw in Colorado creating new styles of Square dance choreography which evolved with a ton of new calls and dances. It's popularity was ripe for the new introduction's of the Amplifiers, Microphones and the 45 rpm records that would make Square dancing a new and also fun experience en masse.

  * Contra dances (Contredanse) have sets with some couples being "active and some being inactive." Contra dances have a beginning and end.
   * Square dances have no inactive or active couples, instead there are head couples (backs to caller) and side couples.
   * Circle dances such as the big circle or big set, there is an "active couple" and an "inactive couple" who face each other, which are called "odd and even." Circle dances have no beginning or end.
  * Barn dances or Hoe Downs consisted of Waltzes, Virginia Reels, Corn Husking Dances, Jigs, Buck, Schottische dancing etc.

General Square Dance Time Frame:
* Colonial: - 1700's|
* Quadrille 1810's|
* Appalachian (English country dance), 1820's|
* Southwestern (Contradanza), 1820's|
* Barn Dances, early 1850's|
* Frontier Farmer & Frontier Cowboy, 1880s|
* Henry Ford era, 1920's |
* Western era (Lloyd Shaw) - 1930/40's|
* Modern Square Dancing 1950's. |

In 1976 the US Post office used cancellation stamps entitled: 25th National Square Dance Convention Anaheim, June 24 - 26.


Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

England 1860's None / Varies Folk / Square
Square dancing is California's Official State Folk Dance...(Shares same bill as West Coast Swing for Official State Dance).

Sheet Music Covers

Music Titles

1894- Sugar Cane Barn Dance Arkansas Traveler Promenade Through Georgia
1904 - Eliza Simpkins Back to Back (Do-Si-Do) Rocky Top
1957 - Harvest Dance $ Birdie in the Cage San Francisco Bay Blues
Chubby Calls the Twist Bob Wills Square Dance #2 Seneca Square Dance
Shoefly Boston Fancy $ She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain
Washington Square Dance Buffalo Gal Square-Dance Boogie (Will Carter)
      Call the Wind Maria Square Dance Medley

Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

Coming Round the Mountain Square Dance Polka
Arkansas Swing Fireman's Dance Sugar Foot Rag Square Dance (Foley)
Hollywood Barn Dance Grand Square Quadrille The Tempest
Square Dance Jubilee Head Couple Separate Tennessee Flattop Box
Square Dance Katy Hull's Victory town and country Square Dance
  Lady Round the Lady Turkey In The Straw
      Money Musk Virginia Reel
      Oh Susanna Washington Square Dance
      Ozark Saturday Night Yankee Doodle
      Patter (Hey Le-Lee Li-Lee) The Square Waltz
      Pop Goes the Weasel  

Various Square dance CD's

$ Square Dance Music And Calls $ World of Square Dance
$ Square Dance - Level 2 $ Contra Dance & Square Dance Music of New Hampshire
$ Square Dance - Vol. 3 (Basic) $ Square Dance Party

Night Clubs, ETC.



Colonel Shelbys n/a Appalachian
1878 - John Brewer's Cabin (Colorado)       British Isles
1940s- Stage Door Canteen (Madison Sq. Garden)       Colorado
Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan (1920s)
            New England
            Plymouth Rock (1660s)

Instructional Videos


Ballets / Stage

$ Christy Lanes Square Dance Today 1948 - Captain Billy's Mississippi Music Hall 1904 - Worlds Fair
  1937 - Barn Dance
  1987 - Square Dance
1940 - Worlds Fair
  Gunsmoke: #252 'Catawomper' Rodeo
  Lucky Strike cigarette commercial Square Dance (St. Denis)

Instructional Books

Magazine Subscriptions


$ Buck, Flatfoot, Tap: Solo Southern Dance of the Appalachian, Piedmont & Blue Ridge Mountain Regions $ American Square Dance 9/23/1794 - New Hampshire Gazette
$ National Square Dance Directory 1861 - Rocky Mountain News
$ Complete Book of Square Dancing and Round Dancing   7/1928 - Frontier Times V.5#10
$ Handbook for Folk, Square, Contra, and Social Dance   1/1936 - Mountain Life & Work
$ Square Dance & Contra Dance Handbook   9/1940 - Theatre Arts Monthly
    8/18/1951 - Colliers Magazine
2/1996 - Smithsonian Mag.
    American Square Dancer Mag
    Sets in Order Magazine
    Square Dance Magazine
    The New England Caller

Movies with or About Square dance

1898 - Clog Dancing 1949 - Square Dance Jubilee
1898 - Irish Jig $ 1950 - Copper Canyon (Gotcher) [DVD]
1894 - Highland Dance 1950 - Hillbilly Hare
1898 - Sailor's Hornpipe 1950 - Le Quadrille
1898 - Scotch Reel 1950 - Louisa
1902 - Quadrille réaliste 1950 - Square Dance Katy
1929 - The Barn Dance $1950 - Summer Stock
1935 - The Moor's Pavane $1950 - Wagonmaster
$1938 - The Old Barn Dance 1953 - Old American Barn Dance
1938 - Quadrille $1953 - War of the Worlds [DVD]
$1939 - Gone With the Wind [DVD]. In Old Santa Fe
$1939 - Destry Rides Again [DVD] 1955 - Johnny Apple seed
$1939 - Drums Along the Mohawk (Circle / Reel) $1955 - Oklahoma [DVD]
$1940 - Pride and Prejudice 1955 - Second Greatest Sex
1940 - Village Barn Dance $1956 - Giant [DVD]
$ 1940 - Westerner, the [DVD] 1956 - ove Me Tender (Elvis)
1941 - Barn Dance Frolics (Soundie, Frank Novaks group) $1956 - Searchers [DVD]
$ 1942 - Star Spangled Rhythm [DVD] $1956 - The King and Four Queens
1943 - National Barn Dance 1958 - Indiscreet
$ 1945 - Christmas in Connecticut [DVD] 1963 - McClintock
$ 1945 - Sheriff of Cimarron 1964 - Moonshine Mountain
$ 1945 - State Fair [DVD] $ 1975 - Barry Lyndon [DVD]
$ 1945 - The Southerner [DVD] $ 1976 - Bound For Glory [DVD]
$ 1946 - Duel in the Sun [DVD] (Shaw) $ 1982 - The Snowman
$ 1946 - My Darling Clementine [DVD] 1983 - Mickey's Xmas Carol
$ 1946 - My Pal Trigger (Horses) [DVD] $ 1987 - Square Dance [DVD]
1947 - Hollywood Barn Dance $ 1990 - New England Dances
$ 1947 - Welcome Stranger $ 1992 - My Cousin Vinny [DVD]
1949 - ABC Barn Dance $ 1993 - Barbarians at the Gate (Weese) [DVD]
1949 - Hills Of Oklahoma $ 1993 - Ethan Frome [DVD]
1949 - Ma & Pa Kettle Go To Town $ 1993 - Son In Law (Kinney)
1949 - Sat. Night Square Dance (short) $ 1994 - 4 Weddings & a Funeral [DVD]
  $ 1994 - Little Women (Quadrille) [DVD]
Partial Movies list supplied by John Brant.

Other Related Dances of the time...

Allemande Country Western La Boulangère Roger de Coverly
Arkansas Traveler Court Dances Les Contredanse Round Dance
Barn Dance Courant Maypole Dance Schottische
Black Hawk Waltz Double Column (Longways) Minuet Sequence Dancing
Blue Pacific Waltz Fireman's Dance Morris Dances Sicilian Circle
Buck Folk Dances New England Quadrille Step Dances
Chorus Jug Halay (Central Anatolia) Pedestal Dance Strathspeys
Circle Highland Fling Pigeon Wing String Dances (Reels)
Clog Hornpipe Portland Fancy Varsouvianna
Contra Dance Jigs (Gigue) Quadrille Virginia Reel
Cotillions Kentucky Running Set Reels Waltz
Counter Dances      

Dancers, Choreographers etc.

Dance Groups


Dancers Agnes de Mille Frank Novak's Rootin Tooters (1941) Henry Ford (1863-1947)
Benjamin Lovett (1920s) Pioneer Dancers George Washington (1732-1799)
Bob Osgood Cheyenne Mountain Dancers (Shaw)
Charles Weidman (Sq. Dance)   Saint Amand (1791-1832)
Doris Humphrey (Sq. Dance)   Prince Hito of Japan
Francis Stepney   Princess Elizabeth & the Duke of Edinburgh
Henry Ford (1863-1947)    
John Griffith    
John Playford (1623-1687)    
Lloyd "Pappy" Shaw (1930s)    
Milton Bearle (1940s)    
Peter Cartwright (1785)    
Ruth St. Denis (Sq. Dance)    
William Levingstone    

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...





English Dancing Master Playford, John 1650 n/a
The Dance Of Society DeGarnos William B. 1875 n/a
Cartier and Baron's Practical Illustrated... Cartier, P. Valleau 1879 C.T. De Witt
The Perfect Art of Modern Dancing Witherspoon, Edna 1894 Butterick Pub.
Old Fashioned Dancing, revived by Ford Ford, Henry Ford 1900's n/a
Good Morning Ford & Lovett 1926 n/a
$ Cowboy Dances Shaw, Lloyd 1939/52 Caxton Press
Honor you Partner Ed Durlacher 1949 n/a
Old Time Dances: Square and Round A.J. Latimer
1950 Danceland Pub.
Handbook of Square Dance Bossing, Ed 1951 Fitzsimmons Co.
Square Dancing: A History Damon, S. Foster 1957 n/a
Clogging and the Southern Appalachian Square Dance
Bonner, Frank
1983 Bonner
$ Step by Step Through Modern Square Dance History
Mayo, Jim
2003 1st Books Library

Musicians, Bands, Composers


Vintage Callers

Blue Ridge Boys Dinah Shore Al Horn Jeff Parrott
Bob Wills Gene Autry Beryl Main Jess & May Sasseen
Bayou Ramblers     Bill Stone Jim Enlee
Dick Jurgens & his Orchestra     Bob Osgood Ken Anderson
Hi Hatters & Bronc Wise     Cecil Browe Lawrence Loy
Irving Berlin (1888-1989)
    Chuck Myers Lou Cuius
J.A. Browne     Del Kacher Louis Calhoun
Jack Barbour & His Rhythm Rustlers     Dick Myers Margot Mayo
Kalox Rhythm Boys Band     Don Franklin Paul Jackson
Lester Woytek's Melody Cowhands     Don Stewart Raymond Smith
Old Daddy Fairbanks (1870s)     Ed Durlacher Richard Kraus
Red Foley     Gary Mahnkin Rick Hampton
Sammy Kaye     Grace Wheatley Steve Smith
      Hayes Herschler Tommy Jackson
      Jeff Driggs  

Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

Square Dance Calls

Barn Dance Frontiersmen Patter Calls Allemande Left / or Right
Buck dancers Hillbillies Petticoats Birdie in the Cage
CALLERLAB/ ROUNDALAB Jiggers Prairie skirts Dive for the Oyster
Cowboy Junket Puritans Do-Si-Do
Crinoline /Skirts Kitchen Rackets Revolutionary War Lady 'Round the Lady
Dancing Master Longways Running Set Promenade
Fiddler Maypole Square Set Hootenanny
Folklore Missionaries Tax Men Hoe Down

Other ...

DVD - Square Dance Movie starring Wynona Ryder.
March 27, 2013