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Country western dancing

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The history of country western dancing in a nuthell

Country western dancing is quite old and it is always associated with American country and/or western traditions. Also known as kicker, cowboy and country dancing, there are many varieties of dances that are performed in traditional western apparel and cowboy boots to the lively music. Some of these include: Two Step, Waltz, Cowboy, Ten Step or Traveling Cha Cha, the Polka, the Ten Step Polka, the East Coast Swing and the Nightclub Two Step. Western group dances fall into several categories as well. Some of these include: Line, Square, Traditional and Modern Western square dance.

Country western dancing is relaxed and casual with a strong emphasis on style. Agility on the dance floor and keeping time with the music are two important elements. Cowboy boots and shiny belt buckles complement the dancing and boots are the primary reason this dancing style features more flat glides with some heel and toe touches rather than an emphasis on toe movements. At no time, is either foot completely off the ground.

Each dance is done many different ways, and can be known under different names, depending on location and in some cases, the particular dance hall. According to most aficionados, there is no one “correct” way to do a particular dance. There is a definite positioning etiquette on the dance floor, however, as several types of dancing can take place simultaneously. With country western dancing, men traditionally set the pace, establish the length of stride and the woman follows. If the woman has more skills, then her guiding should be tactful and subtle and relinquished as soon as the man figures it all out.

Where did country western dancing come from?

The early American settlers from the British Isles, continental Europe and the slave population from Africa all brought their music and dance traditions with them as they made their arduous passage across the ocean. After the French Revolution, the Virginia Reel became very popular as well as French quadrilles, including the cotillion. These early influences are apparent in the terms used today in square dancing.

In frontier days, men danced with each other when women were not available. Frontier parties that involved country western dancing were said to be devoted to “making the splinters fly”. In the early 1800's, many of the larger farmhouses had dance rooms built in along the back of the second story. In smaller houses, the kitchen became the dance floor.

Solo dancing or “jigging” was also popular and was mostly done by men The term "jig" refers to various forms of solo dance steps and music that aren’t categorized. Country western dances were often community events associated with specific occurrences such as corn shucking and house raising. Musical accompaniment was usually a black man playing the fiddle and sometimes the banjo, which was derived from older African instruments.

House parties featuring music and country western dancing were common in the South through the 1920s, when commercialized country music was beginning to take root. These dances were important social events in the lives of many Americans. From the late 1930s through the 1950s from the Lower Great Plains to California, roadhouses, country fairs and dance halls in small towns provided a venue for millions of Americans to dance to Western Swing.

California’s largest barn dance was held in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton every Friday and Saturday night from 1951-1961. Over 2,000 people paid to attend these broadcasted shows, and many danced to the live performances of popular entertainers. The 1970s and 1980s saw the birth of what the Guinness Book of Records calls the world’s largest nightclub. Gilley's Club in Pasadena, Texas, boast a country and western dance floor that could hold 6,000 people within its 48,000 square feet of space.

Country western dancing retains its popular appeal in many areas of America today. Its history is deeply rooted in America’s past. There are many dance floors out there just waiting for your two cents and your Two Step. Find out where they are in your locale and get out there and dance to the lively strains!

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