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The Maryland State Folk Dance

Square Dancing

Adoption of the Maryland State Folk Dance

In 1994, a bill to designate square dancing the official state folk dance of Maryland was introduced to the Maryland General Assembly by State Senator Leo E. Green representing Senate District 23, Prince Georges County.

On March 29, 1994, a hearing was held by the House Appropriations Committee where dancer Stan Fowler testified against the bill. According to Julie Mangin's piece, The State Folk Dance Conspiracy: Fabricating a National Folk Dance, Mr. Fowler contested enactment of the legislation based on the following points:

  • If the purpose of a state symbol is to distinguish the state, it doesn't make sense to select a symbol that many other states have adopted.
  • There is nothing unique about the dancing proposed in the legislation. One could visit any state and witness the same kind of dancing as was proposed to represent Maryland.
  • The dancing proposed by the legislation was exclusionary. He quoted an article in the Washington Post from February 6, 1987, in which a historian for a local modern Western square dance association said, "We kind of look down our nose at square dancing over at Glen Echo. It's totally open to the public, and they don't meet our criteria for being a member of the Washington Area Square Dance Cooperative Association."
  • It would be impossible to select any specific dance as representative of Maryland because of the cultural diversity of the state.

According to Julie Mangin, Mr. Fowler's testimony resulted in a unanimously negative vote in committee. It appeared that the legislation was stopped. But, according to Ms. Mangin, Mr. Fowler's testimony was countered by a letter to Mr. Howard "Pete" Rawlings (Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee) from Richard Peterson of the Washington Area Square Dance Cooperative Association which suggested economic benefit to Maryland should square dancing be approved as the official state folk dance. "We had intended to bid for the national square dance convention again...this June. In 1984, we had the national in Baltimore and attracted over 25,000 square dancers. With the negative vote we received from the House Appropriations Committee, this makes our bid rather useless. The conventions have been going to other states that have passed the legislation."

The committee reconsidered and approved the legislation on April 9, 1994. The bill was approved by the House of Delegates and the Senate and forwarded to Governor William Donald Schaeffer for his signature. On May 27, 1994, he signed the legislation designating square dancing as the official state folk dance of Maryland.

Modern western square dance clubs across the country have collaborated to have the Square Dance declared the state folk dance in all fifty states. They have also been active in efforts to make the Square Dance the national folk dance. There is some controversy over their efforts, which can be read about in the "Additional Information" section below.

About the Official Maryland State Folk Dance

Square dance graphic

The square dance is a popular type of folk dance in the United States. This dance for four couples, or groups of four couples, is performed in a compact framework of a square, each couple forming a side. Traditionally accompanied by a fiddle, accordion, banjo and guitar, the couples perform a variety of movements prompted by the patter or singing calls (instruction) of a "caller". Cooperative movement is the hallmark of well-executed square dancing.

Square dancing is to be distinguished from related dances called contra or longways dance where couples stand double file in a line and from round dances where couples stand in a circle. The origin of the square dance can be traced to English derivation and to the stately French cotillion performed in square formation that was popular at the court of Louis the fifteenth later replace by the quadrille (another square dance).

Maryland Code

The following information is excerpted from the Maryland Code, State Government, Title 13, Section 13-314.

	[1994, ch. 707.]

Additional Information

A Brief History of Square and Round Dancing: by Herb Egender.

Square Dancing: The Historical Geography of an American Folk Custom: Richard M. MacKinnon, Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria, California.

English and French Influence on Square Dancing: By Don Ward and John Brant.

Square Dance History in the U.S.: from the Mid-Atlantic Challenge Organization.

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.

The Square Dance Legislation Collection: American Folklife Center 1984/024, Compiled by Michelle Forner, Library of Congress, Washington DC, December 1994

Source: Matthew Bender & Company, Inc., (, February 24, 2005
Source: Maryland General Assembly, (, February 24, 2005
Source: The State Folk Dance Conspiracy: Fabricating a National Folk Dance, Julie Mangin, 1995


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