In Honor of Square Dancing

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Grace Bentley

November 29th is National Square Dance Day.

Well do-si-do and swing your partner round and round, y’all, because today is National Square Dance Day.

Square dancing, for those who did not have to endure a gym unit of it or have never been to a barn dance (not too common in Lake Forest), is a style of dancing in which 4 couples, traditionally arranged in a square–hence the name–are cued through a series of steps by the beat of the music and a prompter, who calls out steps to the couples on the floor.

With 19 states having declared it their official state dance (including Illinois!) and the country drawl that comes to mind when reading the words “y’all” and “do-si-do”, it’s a commonly accepted belief that square-dancing is a quintessentially American activity.

For the most part, it is. While square dancing definitely blossomed and thrived in the saloons and barns of the American West, the roots of square dancing actually lie in the 17th century United Kingdom. In the royal courts, there would be 6 dancers who performed choreographed step-based dances which inspired the English country folk to do the same at their local dances, which in turn inspired the Scottish and Irish to create their own variations.

And then, as the passage to the New World opened up, the farmers and laborers of Ireland, Scotland, and England moved to America and brought over square dancing with them. As they settled in the ever-expanding western United States, square dancing obtained more set rules and well-known dances, a little fiddle and a lively beat, and eventually even the prompter to call out the steps, reminding the dancers to swing their partner round and round.

As humanity and our culture have evolved, so have our dance styles, and as with all other popular fads, square dancing has faded away out of the spotlight. Replaced by the polka and waltz, and eventually the semi-jumping-to-the-beat seen on the dance floor today, square dancing lays with the romanticized memories of the Old West and cowboys.

However, it’s not obsolete in the slightest–for those willing to don the cowboy boots, there are square dance lessons in Glenview and many square dances planned in the Chicago area–perfect for the upcoming prom and turnabout.

Happy National Square Dancing Day!