How Country Dancing Began…

rsz_1rsz_nagel2Giddy up ladies and gentleman! Cowboys and cowgirls across the nation hear this… A story tellin’ of an age old dance, part of a global phenomenon, whose history runs wide and deep. From the taverns of Ireland to the ballrooms of Europe, Country dancing came about, and in the 16th century Elizabethan Court, it was simply known as “English Country Dancing”. As the generations passed, and with the discovery of the New World, people from all over the world brought their native dances to America, and Country dancing was no exception.

Fast forward a few hundred years and we find ourselves deep in the heart of the American Southwest. Cowboys were not the most dance-savvy of men. Although they loved to dance, many cowboys did not like the idea of leading a lady across the dance floor or memorizing steps. Rather, they would jump in with a wild whoop and a goat cry to make their mark on the dance floor. Puritans found this unsafe, and attempted to spread the prohibition of dancing from East to West.

Country dancing was often frowned upon by many, but not altogether banned. The minuet, cotillion, pattern dances and courtly processions were favored by most of the country. In other words, if you were “safe” folk, you could dance. This opened up much interaction between settlers. There were organized barn dances, Cowboy Balls and get-togethers, and they danced at any venue they could. In fact, invitations travelled by ear and all who arrived, danced!

To avoid chaos on the dance floor some of the dancers knew a few of the same steps and the term“Caller” was born. His job was calling dance steps as the music is changed. The popularity of the Caller had grown immensely as they travelled around the world. Now the role of the Caller and the steps he called out turned into traditional square dancing. The Cowboy waltz also helped to promote square dancing. The waltz tended to be full body contact as opposed to just hand-to-hand contact.

Although, Country waltz was common for most, the young were unable to dance with the opposite sex because of the intimacy, so a new dance called the Polka started moving towards the West. Polka was a hybrid between Waltz and Irish Jig. Everyone had a soft spot for the polka, and it was danced often in those days.

Over time, a dance that was specifically “Country Western” began to evolve. Many moves and styles popular in Appalachia and the South came west and were absorbed. Freed Black Americans also added a special influence that can still be seen in today’s Country swing dance. Women were handled as if the Cowboy were throwing a beating calf to the ground to be branded. Heavy Cowboy boots were the cause of horrid footwork, yet Cowboys were so excited to go out dancing that after a long day of being out on the trail, they would skip regular necessities and even a change of clothing and go straight for the dance floor while still in spurs, forcing him to keep his feet apart and shuffle as he moved to the music. The basic “push pull” position of the Country Swing in particular shows the rhythm of grasping the reins of a horse.

We could literally go on and on about the rich and unique history of Country Western dancing, but what better way to understand it than to come on down to Dance FX Studios in Mesa, AZ and take some beginner’s Country Western dance lessons here with us! Together we’ll go though all types of Country dancing that you’ll want to know today. So go ahead, grab life by the reins and we’ll see you on the dance floor!