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The Official Folk Dance of the Commonwealth

Square Dancing

Adoption of the Official Folk Dance of the Commonwealth

Square dancing was adopted as the official folk dance of the Commonwealth by an Act of the 1991 Session of the Virginia General Assembly. The legislation was signed by Governor L. Douglas Wilder.

The definition of square dancing offered in the Code of Virginia, "...includes squares, rounds, clogging, contra, line, the Virginia Reel, and heritage dances, is hereby designated as the official folk dance of the Commonwealth," greatly expands on the generally accepted definitions of square 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 Folk Dance of the Commonwealth

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).

Code of Virginia

The following information is excerpted from the Code of Virginia, Title 7.1, Chapter 5, Section 71.-140.4.


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: Virginia General Assembly, (http://legis.state.va.us/), February 26, 2005


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