According to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, efforts commenced, in 1965, to designate the square dance the official folk dance of the nation. Western-style square dance organizations across the nation collaborated on these efforts. From 1965 through 2003, more than thirty bill proposals were introduced at a federal level to accomplish this goal.
Controversy regarding the legislation ensued. Western-style square dance organizations supported numerous dance styles. Traditional square dancing, clogging, circle, contra, line, round and other heritage dance styles all fell under the broad purview of these organizations. They added non-traditional dance steps and established serious, highly structured competitive dancing contests. Their idea to promote square dancing as the nation's official state folk dance was seen as clearly self-serving by traditional square dance purists.
Historians and folklorists questioned the motives of the modern western-style dance clubs and found fault with the organizations' loose characterization of square dancing. They drew distinctive lines between traditional square dancing and the rest and questioned whether one specific dance style could be representative of a nation whose people came from such diverse backgrounds. They argued that evidence showed that traditional square dancing was just one type, among many, of traditional dance.
Posted on the website of the United Folk Dancers of America:
NATIONAL FOLK DANCE COMMITTEE
THE NATIONAL FOLK DANCE CAMPAIGN IS ON HOLD UNTIL
WE CAN GET SUPPORT TO SUBMIT A NEW BILL
The square dance activity has worked for many years toward the goal of getting square dancing recognized as the National Folk Dance. There are currently 31 states that have designated square dancing as their State Folk Dance. The passage of a bill would give square dancing and its related activities more visibility and have a positive effect on recruiting new dancers.
This page updated on 07/03/15
We take issue with the claim that 31 states have designated square dancing as its official state folk dance. We can only document 24. Some states have designated the square dance as their official "folk dance," others have designated it their official "American folk dance." Still others have designated the square dance their official "dance." Any assistance in this area would be appreciated.
More information on this controversy can be found in the "Additional Information" section below.
Senator Jack Gibson introduced Senate Bill No. 7 in the regular session of the 78th General Assembly. The bill proposed that the square dance be named American folk dance of the State or Arkansas.
The text of this bill follows:
State of Arkansas
78th General Assembly
Regular Session, 1991
By: Senatory Gibson
For An Act To Be Entitled
AN ACT TO DESIGNATE THE SQUARE DANCE AS THE AMERICAN FOLK DANCE OF THE STATE OF ARKANSAS.
WHEREAS, love of state and professions is enhanced by traditions that have become a part of our way of life and the customs of the American people; and
WHEREAS, we have distinctive and meaningful symbols of our ideals in our state's flag and in many cultural endeavors, but no official designation of a State Folk Dance; and
WHEREAS, the square dance, which was first associated with the American people and recorded in history since 1651, has consistently been the one dance traditionally recognized by the American people as a dignified and enjoyable expression of American folk dancing; and
WHEREAS, square dancing is a traditional form of family recreation which symbolizes a basic strength of this country, namely the unity of family; and
WHEREAS, square dancing is an activity for young and old, where senior citizens enjoy dance and fellowship and where disabled persons become skilled, happy and "handicapable" dancers; and
WHEREAS, square dancing is the American folk dance which is called, cued, or prompted to the dancers, and includes squares, rounds, clogging, contra, line, and heritage dances; and
WHEREAS, official recognition of the square dance will enhance the cultural stature of Arkansas both nationally and internationally; and
WHEREAS, national and international prestige is the best interest of all Americans; and
WHEREAS, it is fitting that the square dance be added to the array of symbols of our state character and pride,
BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF ARKANSAS:
SECTION 1. The dance known as the square dance is hereby designated and adopted as the American Folk Dance of the State of Arkansas.
SECTION 2. All provisions of this Act of a general and permanent nature are amendatory to the Arkansas Code of 1987 Annotated and the Arkansas Code Revision Commission shall incorporate the same in the Code.
SECTION 3. If any provision of this Act or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the Act which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this Act are declared to be severable.
SECTION 4. All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are hereby repealed.
And so it was. The square dance became the official American folk dance of the State of Arkansas when Governor William Jefferson Clinton signed Senate Bill No. 7 o February 2, 1991.
The following information was excerpted from the Arkansas Code -- Unannotated, Title 1, Chapter 4, Section 1-4-120.
TITLE 1. General Provisions.
CHAPTER 4. State Symbols, Motto, Etc.
SECTION 1-4-120. State folk dance.
1-4-120. State folk dance.
The dance known as the square dance is hereby designated and adopted as the American Folk Dance of the State of Arkansas.
History Acts 1991, No. 93, § 1.
"78th General Assembly Regular Session, 1991." Arkansas State Legislature. State of Arkansas, 7 Feb. 1991. Web. 16 Jan. 2005.
"Chapter 4 State Symbols, Motto, Etc." Arkansas Code -- Unannotated. LexisNexis®, a Division of Reed Elsevier Inc., 2 Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.
Shearer, Benjamin F. and Barbara S. State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 3 Sub edition, 2001.
"State Dance." The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. State of Arkansas, 2 Nov. 2015. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.
Square Dancing 101: Square dancing basic including positions, forations, moves, and a glossary.
Video Square Dance Lessons Online: Video Square Dance Lessons Online and on DVD from Cyberpoint Marketing, LLC.
A Brief History of Square and Round Dancing: by Herb Egender.
Square Dancing: The Historical Geography of an American Folk Custom: by Richard M. MacKinnon, Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria, California.
Square Dance History Project: Website devoted to the documenting the history of square dancing with historical documents and an emphasis on imagery as much as possible..
History and Heritage of Modern American Square Dancing: A summary of the essays by Dorothy Shaw, Bob Osgood and Kenny Reese.
The State Folk Dance Conspiracy: Fabricating a National Folk Dance: by Judy Mangin - Originally published in the Old-Time Herald, v.4(7) p.9-12, Spring 1995.
National Folk Dance Effort Moves Forward: We're On Our Way Now, So Let's Make a Lot of Noise!: United Square Dancers of America National Folk Dance Committee.
The Square Dance Legislation Collection: American Folklife Center 1984/024, Compiled by Michelle Forner, Library of Congress, Washington DC, December 1994
Square Dancing in Arkansas: Website of the Arkansas State Square Dance Federation, Inc.
State dances: Complete list of official state dances from NETSTATE.COM
More symbols & emblems: Complete list of official Arkansas state symbols from NETSTATE.COM.
Square Dance Fundamentals, John W. Jones. 208 pages. Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (February 5, 2007)
While there have been countless fun books written on square dancing, Squaredance Fundamentals was the first to cut to the chase. There is no interesting history of square dancing, there are no entertaining anecdotes, just the nuts and bolts of how to square dance. Revolutionary illustrations show the dancer’s point of view, not just the spectators’ viewpoint. Dancers can, without turning on their heads, glean from the detailed illustrations exactly what they need to be doing with their hands, feet, etc. Each dancer can effortlessly grasp the material and easily retain it. Renown master caller/teacher, Marshall Flippo, assiduously assisted the author in establishing the very first guidelines for standardized “Basic Maneuvers” which would enable square dancers to dance gracefully with any group, anywhere.
No one shows you better how to execute the maneuvers than John W. Jones with his super simplified instructions and state-of-the-art illustrations in Squaredance Fundamentals - the gold standard for over 37 years.
The American Square Dance, by Margot Mayo. 116 pages. Publisher:Music Sales American (September 1, 2006)
You can have fun square dancing and you'll learn how to dance the figures and even learn how to call a square dance with Margot Mayo's classic manual, The American Square Dance. Here is the basic book for square dancers containing all of the essentials for many hours of enjoyment. An illustrated glossary of square dance terms shows all of the basic square dance figures – promenade, allemand, left, do-si-do, etc. Complete instructions, calls and illustrated figures for 13 of the most popular American square dances appear, plus the music all ready for your pianist and fiddlers to play.
The Square Dance and Contra Dance Handbook: Calls, Dance Movements, Music, Glossary, Bibliography, Discography, and Directories, by Margot Gunzenhauser. 320 pages. Publisher: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers; annotated edition edition (July 28, 2010)
This comprehensive guide to traditional style square and contra dancing, sometimes referred to as "country dancing," covers both music and style and gives background information on various dance types and calling techniques. Ninety dances, presented in chapters according to type (mixers, progressive circles, contra, Southern mountain style, squares and others), in a wide variety of formations are described with drawings and diagrams for many of the movements. A glossary of terms, a directory of addresses (organizations; vendors of books, recordings and audio equipment; and dance camps), and an annotated discography and bibliography are also provided.
A glossary of terms, a directory of addresses (organizations; vendors of books, recordings and audio equipment; and dance camps), and an annotated discography and bibliography are also provided.
The Complete Book of Square Dancing (and Round Dancing), by Betty Casey. 208 pages. Publisher: University of North Texas Press (June 1, 2000)
This book includes: 50 basic movements, 35 advanced movements, variations, dances that are a part of the American heritage, Contra and Round Dances, polkas and reels, and calls, past and present.
“Square dancing is friendship set to music,” says author Betty Casey. Just take four couples, old or young, put ’em on a good floor, turn on the music, and you’re all set. Whether you’ve done it before or you’re just starting out, this book tells you everything you need to know—85 basic movements used all over the world, the spirited calls unique to square dancing, the costumes and equipment that are best, and music (from “Red River Valley” to “Mack the Knife”) that will set your feet in motion.
Square Dancing Made Easy, Grade level: K-6. Audio CD (September 1, 1995), Number of Discs: 1, Label: Educational Activities, Inc.
All Tiime Favorite Square Dances with Calls, Audio CD (September 8, 2009), Number of Discs: 1, Label: KADO, Run Time: 60 minutes.
Square Dance Music & Calls, Audio CD (November 21, 2006), Number of Discs: 1, Label: Collectables Records.
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MY HEART BELONGS TO TRADITIONAL SQUARE DANCE, This is a high quality pre-shrunk t-shirt that will not shrink or fade. It's comfortable, casual and loose fitting and will quickly become one of your favorites. It wears and looks well on anyone. It is cured with a heat treatment process to ensure lasting durability.
Brand New High quality preshrunk tee-shirt that will not shrink or fade. Double-needle stitched hemmed sleeves and bottom. Highest quality printing materials. 50% Cotton, 50% Polyester preshrunk blend. Soft, comfortable and weighs 6 oz.
Social Dancing in America: A History and Reference (Volume One), by Ralph G. Giordano. 380 pages. Publisher: Greenwood (November 30, 2006)
Social Dancing in America examines the role of social dancing in daily life from the first settlements in 1607 through the birth of the nation in 1776 and into the beginning of the 21st century. This two-volume set provides a history of American social dances including the Virginia Reel, Square Dancing, the Lindy Hop, Rock 'n' Roll, the Twist, Disco, Breakdancing, and Hip-Hop. Social Dancing in America places social dancing in a historical, social, cultural, and political context.
Volume 1 explores the integral role that social dancing played in the lives of Americans from the first settlements in 1607 through the the 19th century, often in the most unlikely of ways. For example, readers may be surprised to learn that George Washington was a well-known aficionado of social dancing, and that he incorporated the etiquette and manners of dances such as the Minuet as a means of diplomacy to secure European allies during the Revolutionary War. After his death, Americans continued to celebrate his birthday with a grand ball that included dancing.
Social Dancing in America: A History and Reference (Volume Two), by Ralph G. Giordano. 428 pages. Publisher: Greenwood (November 30, 2006)
Volume 2 places social dance in a 20th-Century context, illustrating how social dancing itself paralled the social, economic, and cultural traditions of each era. For example, segregation and the Jim Crow mentality was cemented in place all over the United States, and for much of the century, dancing and dance halls were strictly segregated. Segregation forced a mass migration north, and with it came the transformation of Delta Blues music into an American original—Jazz. Jazz gave birth to the Charleston, and later evolved into Swing, which created the Lindy Hop. Later, with the advent of television, programming such as American Bandstand, Soul Train, Dance Fever, and MTV greatly influenced dance styles and modern trends such as Rock 'n' Roll, Freestyle, Disco, Breakdancing, and Hip-Hop.