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The Nebraska State American Folk Dance

Square Dance

Adoption of the Nebraska State American Folk Dance

Contrary to the practices of other states, the Governor of Nebraska has been empowered to designate official state "items." In 1997, the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature granted the Governor this authority by an act of law. Section 90-119 of the Nebraska Statutes reads:

In line with this act, the American folk dance was declared the "official state American folk dance" on September 19, 1997. According the Nebraska Blue Book, 2002-2003 Edition:

"On Sept. 19, 1997, Gov. Ben Nelson declared the square dance to be the official state American folk dance. Square dancing developed as the nation progressed toward the west. It became a popular diversion from the hardships settlers faced. Square dancing is called, cued or prompted to dancers. Related forms include round dancing, clogging, contra dancing and line dancing."

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 Nebraska State American 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).

Nebraska Statutes

Designation of the square dance as the official state American folk dance is not documented in the Nebraska Statutes because it was made official by declaration of the Governor of the state rather than by legislative action.

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.

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

Source: Nebraska Unicameral Legislature, (, February 24, 2005
Source: Nebraska Blue Book, 2002-2003 Edition, (, February 24, 2005


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