Is Square Dancing Still Popular? Is It Still Taught in Schools?

Square dancing originated in 17th century England but is strongly associated with American culture, thanks to the romanticized image of the American cowboy. It was so popular that it was declared (and still is) the official dance in 28 out of the 50 states! Square dancing was taught in schools for physical education, but also to teach children about socialization, sequencing skills, coordination, and to help improve memory. 

Square dancing is still popular in many states, especially in the southern United States. A lot of people still like to do-si-do away in social gatherings, parties, and official functions. However, it’s no longer part of school curriculums and is not taught to kids anymore. 

But having said this, here’s a caveat. At least as of 2018, there was still a school that had square dancing in it is curriculum! Joseph Kerr School in Elk Grove near Sacramento California was featured in the below news coverage. Check it out. I think the piece actually makes a strong argument for keeping the tradition going.

https://youtu.be/U8eTsSj95gA
Square dancing happening in a school as recently as 2018! Check it out!

This article will talk about where square dancing is still popular today, who might still be interested in this dance, and why they continue to love it. I will then briefly discuss the basics of how to square dance and the different types of square dances in the US. Let’s get started!

Where Does Square Dancing Seem To Thrive Today?

Square dancing seems to thrive in many southern states today. It’s considered an American folk dance, and the passion for it is passed on to the next generations. You might find square dancing parties at family gatherings, social events, and some local clubs that have this dance on certain nights.

Here are some areas where you might still find square dancing flourishing:

  • Virginia
  • Tennessee
  • Alabama
  • North Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Texas
  • Upstate New York
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • New Jersey
  • New Hampshire
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania

Also, check out this interesting blog article found on the CDSS website. Such a great breakdown. But this info is a little dated now as it is from 2011.


Who Typically Enjoys Square Dancing?

Older people typically enjoy square dancing more than younger generations. They learned it in school, grew up with it, and square danced with their friends. As square dancing becomes less common, younger generations don’t learn the art, leaving older people more interested in it.

In the 1970s, there were about a million people square dancing, whereas these days, only about 300,000 people are still square dancing in the United States. According to the United Square Dancers of America, only a third of this number are below 60 years of age. Additionally, only 1% are between the ages of 19 and 29.


History of Square Dancing

In the 1920s, jazz became so popular worldwide, including in the United States, that traditional country music took a back seat. People loved listening and dancing along to jazz’s lively beat. 

However, there was one influential person who never really liked jazz – Henry Ford. He preferred the traditional country dances he grew up with – the polka, chorus jig, quadrilles, and most especially, square dancing.

Henry Ford was a powerful and affluent man, and he’s best known for establishing the Ford Motor Company. He believed that square dancing was better than jazz because it was a more wholesome dance form. 

He also believed that jazz had an unhealthy influence on American culture because it was popularly identified with Blacks and Jews. Henry Ford even stated: 

“Many people have wondered whence come the waves upon waves of musical slush that invade decent homes and set the young people of this generation imitating the drivel of morons. Popular music is a Jewish monopoly. Jazz is a Jewish creation. The mush, slush, the sly suggestion, the abandoned sensuousness of sliding notes, are of Jewish origin.”

And, because of this sentiment, Ford spent millions of dollars promoting square dancing all across the United States by helping establish square dancing clubs, publish square dancing instructions in newspapers, and he even required his employees to square dance. 

Additionally, he was very instrumental in encouraging schools to teach square dance to kids. 

Needless to say, Ford was a racist and anti-Semitic. He believed that Jews were bent on ruling the world and that the Jews could easily manipulate Blacks to join their cause. Little did he know that the dance he so loved – square dancing – actually has deep African-American roots. How ironic!

When square dancing first arrived on the shores of the United States from Europe, the white colonists called on their Black slaves to dance for their entertainment. The Black community learned to love the dance and eventually embraced it as their own. 

Slaves began providing music and entertainment for White people at parties and balls. There even came a time when square dancing callers were primarily Black, and they could dictate precisely how a dance – and even the whole night – would progress.


Why People Love To Square Dance

Square dancing would not survive through the years if it weren’t something fun to do. A lot of people may find dancing entertaining and pleasurable, especially after a hard day’s work. What better way to relax and unwind than to spend time with friends and dance to some lively, feel-good music?

Here are some more reasons why a lot of people still like square dancing:

It’s an excellent way to exercise. What could better get your heart rate up, muscles working, and limbs moving than a good round of square dancing? It’s a form of low-impact exercise that promotes good balance, improves flexibility, builds strength, gets your blood pumping, and is fun for both young and old alike. It doesn’t even feel like you’re exercising at all!

It’s a great mental exercise. The various steps involved call for good memory and proper body coordination. Square dancing also requires cross-lateral movements, which are good exercises for your brain. Moreover, executing the steps while actively listening to the caller improves alertness and focus. Interestingly enough this is an integral benefit to line dancing as well. Check out my article on specifically how line dancing is good for the brain. I’m sure the reasons are similar.

It’s easy to learn. Square dancing steps are simple, and there are no special skills needed. All you have to do is learn the basic steps. Listen to the caller’s cues, move in time to the rhythm with your partner, and have fun!

It helps reduce stress. Square dancing can help lift a person’s mood, release tensions, and ease anxiety. Dancing can be therapeutic because it promotes good vibes, helps clear your mind of negativity, and allows you to spend time with people doing something you all like. The lively music will certainly help put a smile on anyone’s face. When your body feels good, your mind will feel good too.

It’s a great way to socialize. Square dancing is a great way to spend time with friends and meet new people. There is no age requirement, so you can bring along the whole family. Furthermore, it’s a great way to effortlessly socialize with strangers who could eventually become your friends. 


How To Square Dance 

Square dancing is simple, easy to learn, and loads of fun. It used to be taught to kids in elementary school and was a big part of community life. Many of us grew up dancing along to the lively music and dressing up in billowy skirts and colorful, fun costumes. 

If you are new to square dancing and you find a place to go, here’s the basics of what everyone will do to get started:

  1. Grab their partner.
  2. Look for three other couples to dance with.
  3. Arrange yourselves in a square with each couple standing on each side of the square. (The more squares, the better!)
  4. Listen to the caller, who’s in charge of calling out the sequences dancers must execute to form the dance. 
Here’s a great video that walks through some basics you’ll need to know to get started in square dancing.

Types of Square Dance

Square dancing evolved and adapted to its dancers’ various cultures and preferences. Some folks loved it for its simplicity and flexibility, while others developed it into something more structured and complex. Whatever the case may be, the variations only proved to make dancing even more enjoyable for more people.

Here are some of the more popular types of square dances:

Quadrille. This is the classic style of square dancing that came from the English and French. The movements among the couples are synchronized and choreographed. It includes a lot of quadrille movements like ladies’ chains and incorporates a lot of bows as well.

Traditional Squares. This is a type of square dance that is from the 18th century. It’s traditional in the sense that the couples’ movements are precise. Usually, the first couple starts by approaching the second couple to dance with them. They then approach and dance with the third couple while the others look on. As they approach the fourth couple, the second couple advances toward the third, and so on. 

Southern Mountain Style. This type of square dance is popular in Southeastern states and the Appalachian Ridge. It has a unique arrangement wherein the dancers are formed into a large circle instead of a square. In this type of dance, there are performers and non-performers, and they all join in a sequence that ends with everyone joining hands in a large circle.

Western Squares. This type of square dance is an offshoot of Traditional Squares. It’s composed of a total of 99 movements which are more random and creative than the steps in Traditional Squares. It would be up to the caller to be as creative as possible with the movements and sequences for the couples dancing.

Modern Western Squares. This type of square dance was developed in the 1940s amid growing interest in square dancing. Here, calls are sung or rhythmically spoken. The females also switch partners and go all across the square in a counter-clockwise direction until they return to their original partners. 

Singing Squares. This type of square dance began in the 1930s. It uses sequences from Quadrille, Southern Mountain Style, Traditional Squares, and Western Squares. Dancers’ movements are synchronized with a particular song, and often, the lyrics to the song are altered to adapt to the necessary movements. This type of dance makes use of traditional songs as well as popular songs at that given time.

Here’s a great example of singing square dance call. The video begins with a great walk-through.
This is a true singing square dancing example. The song? Sweet Home Alabama – square dancing style!
Here’s one more! Rock Me Mama! Square dance singing call to Darius Rucker’s song Wagon Wheel!

This last one is interesting since this song is popular in the line dance world as well with the line dance “Rock Me.” Check it out here!

Maritime Canadian Squares. This is another unique type of square dance because it features a stretchable square. The number of couples dancing can be extended to 15 or more, depending on the available dancers and the size of the venue. It makes use of waltz and polka rhythms. 


Final Thoughts

Square dancing is a spontaneous yet organized type of dance well-loved in various parts of the United States. It’s no longer as popular as it used to be and is no longer taught in schools. However, it still thrives, particularly in many southern states. 

While its popularity has died down there are still some who are passing down the love for square dancing to the next generation. And that’s why this lively, simple, yet intricate dance is here to stay for many more years to come!

Sources

Brian Sheridan

I'm the owner of CDT. I live in Fullerton, California, and enjoy country dancing with my friends at least once a week.

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