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Evolution of Line Dance

Most historians researching on Line Dance seem to be of the opinion that, line dancing in one form or another has been around since recorded time.

There has been a difference of opinion about the origin of line dance. Some think it came from the 2 step Merengue when prisoners were chained together and had limited movement. Others like Rick Bowen feel that Contra dancing was responsible for bringing this melting pot of dances to the west.

Dance and music have always expressed the spirit and personality of every culture. Finding common ground for races trying to find footing in foreign land needed a language they could use to connect with, and what better than Dance and Music.

Social interactions involving dance and music removed awkwardness. They can be traced to the taverns of Ireland and to the ballrooms of Europe, to the Czars’ palaces of Russia and further back still to the tribal rituals of African villages. This dance style was not so much original as it was a spontaneous adaptation of traditional moves brought west by various immigrant cultures.

Puritanical thought processes and inhibitions brought by settlers from the east influenced the west and polka became a popular form as it had some intimacy of the waltz and the energy of the Irish Jig. Youth took to it as it offered intimacy to some extent.

While Poles, Germans, French, Irish, Jews, Scandinavians, Czechs and Russians still enjoyed their own folk dances, among the hybrids that became popular because they offered less intimacy and more versatility, were Line Dancing and Schottische in western provinces like the Texas. According to Bowen, the most common move in line dances was the basic Schottische; step, cross, step, lift (or scoot). This, followed by the Polka and the Cha Cha, both of which play a large part in the composition of the line dance. More recently, still, syncopations of the style normally found in West Coast Swing have made a large imprint on the line dance choreography.

Bowen is supported in this view by another US line dance choreographer, Fred Rapoport, who wrote that the Texas Two Step was created by frustrated military cadets passing through West Point’s Military academy in the 1850’s. ‘This unusual link’, he argues, ‘provided a seminal influence in the birth of line dancing’ because the Two Step became a phenomenon.

The cowboy according to some dance researchers became the most important influence, and little attention was paid to traditional dance forms. Long working hours and cowboys on harsh day routines entered dance halls with bright eyes, carefree swagger, and hoped to relax and enjoy with abandon. They were averse to intricate steps and thus emerged hybrids of casual traditions.

English County dance brought to New England in the 1800’s seemed to have started it all, and this is the most popular opinion.
Folk Dancing, the strongest influence on line dancing has origins in three different backgrounds-

1.North American (Native American dance traditions)
2.Africa (African tribal dance traditions)
3.European continent (country Folk Dance traditions)
Contra dances like the Stroll rose from these influences.

In the late 1920’s, George “Shorty” Snowden brought an entire Ballroom audience to the floor with his rapid, break-away solo steps. Shorty George called this step the Lindy Hop. The connect was
that Charles Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic in 1927 in one dramatic “hop”.

Christy—patrons of line dance say that 1970s, the disco era brought line dancing to its own through movies like Soul Train and Saturday Night Fever of John Travolta. 1980s again saw Urban Cowboy and Jack Travolta take over. 1993 Achey Breaky Heart and a little before that Tush Push made it raging popular.

Pop rock jazz disco, big band music, country music became the most important influence over dance. It formed a healthy social outing in the form of church events, schools, fetes etc. Music was sometimes created for Line Dance alone and some complained that creativity was at its lowest with compositions that catered to dance alone.

In 1994 choreographer Max Perry had Global dance hit with Swamp Thang for the song The Grid. This was a techno song and helped to start a trend of dancing to forms of music other than country. Max Perry, along with Jo Thompson, Scott Blevins and several others, began to use ballroom rhythms and technique to take line dancing to the next level. In 1998, the band Steps created spread this to other countries with 5,6,7,8. Line dancers performed to the 1999 version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Dwight Yoakum. Line dance now had very traditional dances to country music, and not so traditional dances to contemporary music

Some Derivatives (Being danced on the club night on 4th September, 2016)
Examples listed below.
Square dances were called “Contredanse Francaise,” and the longways dances became known as “Contredanse Anglaise.
Austen uses the more exclusive definition of “country-dance” to refer to longways dances, which she differentiates from the square-based cotillions.
Longways dances were progressive dances for “as many as will” in which men and women stood opposite one another in two lines and couples danced up and down the line. Special halls were constructed to accommodate one and all, who ever heard it by word of mouth.

This line dance became popular in the 1950
In the 1800’s two lines would form, men on one side, women on the other. Partners would join between the two lines and dance down the middle. When they reached the end of the line they separated and the next couple would begin.
Eventually became the Stroll, which originated in the 1840’s. Billboard first reported that “The Stroll” might herald a new dance craze similar to the “Big Apple” in December 1957
The “Stroll” was used in the film “American Graffiti”
and then there was no stopping its popularity.

In the West patterns formed, interaction and settlements became organized and shaped the character of new relationships. Barn dances, balls and get-togethers were organized and Invitation was never formal, so those who heard usually came to dance. To prevent confusion on the dance floor (very few people knew the same steps), steps were called, and a figure who soon became important enough to become a legend, emerged. This hero was the Caller and it was his job to orchestrate the varied crowd into a uniform pattern of responses and dance steps. It was popular in the mid 50’s to 60’s
and was created and danced in Columbus, Ohio in 1957.
Featuring a mix of back and forth pattern and caller steps, its popularity inspired dance teams, competitions, and various recordings. It is featured in the John Waters movie “Hair Spray”

In the early 1980’s, in a ballroom in Nashville, Jim Ferrazanno, in company with Melanie Greenwood and a band that refused to play any country, were about to establish a line dancing legend – Tush Push. As Jim recalled, They were playing an awful lot of Cha-Chas when I wrote it. A lot of people have put in hip bumps since then but originally they were pelvic thrusts. Jim scribbled his first line dance on a napkin kindly provided by the management and showed it to Melanie who promptly got up with him and began dancing the new creation. Other dancers took to the floor and the legend of the Tush Push was born

Billy Ray Cyrus, and Melanie Greenwood, together gave line dance the leap that it saw in the 1990’s. Not only was the track Achy Breaky Heart a phenomenal recording success, starting and spreading a new breed of country music fans referred to as the Cyrus Virus, but Melanie’s 32 count, four wall dance of the same name was to take line dancing into the international limelight, it is why, as we approach the millennium, line dancing has reached almost every point of the globe.

A ballroom dance in 3/4 time with accent on the first beat and a basic pattern of step-step-close.
Many of the familiar waltz tunes can be traced back to simple peasant yodeling melodies. The eighteenth century saw the allemande form of the waltz in France. The contra dance used this popular step of arms intertwining at shoulder level. Line Dancers used it too in partner dances.
The waltz was criticized as it traveled from Austria to England and France even as recently as in 1866 by the guardians of morality who were opposed to the closer hold. Religious leaders considered the dance vulgar and sinful, Dance masters, a threat because of its easy pattern.

By the end of the eighteenth century, this old Austrian peasant dance gained popularity in high society too. The basic steps of the waltz could be learned in relatively short time and this is what the Lilys and the Marigolds will open the evening with

The Travelling Four Corners, which were choreographed by Texan (Miss) Jimmie Ruth White owed their existence to Square Dancing. Indeed, The Travelling Four Corners is, in it’s original form, a quad dance (square) but choreographed in the general concept of the line dance. In fact line dance is, just like the our democracy, a melting pot of cultures and dance forms

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A Walker