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A History of Line Dancing

by Rick Bowen, Pine Grove, CA

Line Dances began sometime around BC. As far as I have been able to determine from research, line dancing in one form or another has been around since recorded time.

What we do today evolved from the old "Contra" dances that were very popular in the New England States from the early 1800s. Contra style dances are still popular but in a slightly different form. In the 1800s two lines would form, men on one side, women on the other. The partners would join between the two lines and generally do their own routine down the middle. When they reached the end of the lines, they parted and moved back into their respective lines and the next couple would begin. The "Stroll" from back in the 1940s is a good example of this style of dance. If you saw the movie "Grease," you saw the "Stroll" being done by John Travolta.

In the 1970s, the form of Line Dance we do today was born. I have no data on specific dates but, when I first got into "Country Western" style dance, there weren't that many line dances being done. I was told that "Four Corners" was the second oldest line dance of this style but, no one could ever tell me what was the oldest. That is hearsay because I've never been able to find anything in writing to back it up. I have books written by a man who was born in the early 1800s and who gave what I consider to be fairly accurate information on the concept of line dancing. That's where I got most of my information. [Rick did not give me this mans name or any other info. on him].

The "J.R. Hustle" dating back to 1980 & "The Traveling Four Corners" were choreographed by a gal from Texas by the name of Jimmie Ruth White. The Traveling Four Corners is (in it's original form), a quad dance (square) but choreographed in the general concept of the Line Dance.

I've seen some very old film dating back to the beginning of moving pictures and some even older photos of African tribes in line dance formation doing step combinations not that far removed from what we do today. There were similar dances done by the American Indian. I realize that most people, when they think of Indian dances, visualize circles around a fire but, many dances were done in lines, moving left & right in a step, close, step, close series of moves

Until recently, the most common move in line dances was the basic Schottische; step, cross, step, lift (or scoot). This, followed by the Polka and the Cha Cha, both of which play a very large part in the composition of the Line Dance. More recently, still, syncopation's of the style normally found in WCS have made a large imprint on the Line Dance choreography.

Looking back at some of the earlier line dances, having the correct number of steps, utilizing the correct number of musical beats, didn't seem all that important. The J. R. Hustle mentioned earlier, was the only dance for a very long time that actually followed the concept of phrasing to the musical major (32 beats).

Chorus lines, which have been around for a very long time, are not that different in concept when compared with line dances we do today. So, as I said, Line Dancing, in one form or another, has been around for a very long time.

A long time friend of mine, the first I know of to teach CW dance in the public school system, gave me step-descriptions from the 1970s. Back in the 70's & early 80's, teachers from all over the country would get together in what they called "Dance Caravans" similar to the "Dance Camps" that you see today except it was for teachers only. They exchanged dances, ideas and general information on how to improve on what they were doing. Most of these people were professionals who owned their own studios and generally taught in several areas of dance, not just CW. Specifics on Line Dancing history is rare and trying to nail down exact dates is impossible.


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