By Steve Bing
What we today call Old Time Traditional Square Dancing, historically has its roots in France during the 1700s where it was termed the “quadrille”, a 4-couple set danced in a square formation. During this time, the English were dancing their stately longways dances in the courts and the ballrooms. However, folk dance historians surmise that the French did not have the large ballrooms as in England so they took the longways dances and turned them into smaller 4-couple squares and called them “quadrilles.”
In the late 1700s, the French quadrille made its way to the British Isles and then to America where it met with varying popularity. There was an instinctive revolt against the formal edicts of the dancing master, the purist who wanted to “do it the way it was done in London.” The square dance left the ballroom and found its informal way into the New England barns, the western frontier towns, the mining camps, the mountain cabins and settlement schools, and the Texas cattle ranches, always traveling over the mysterious folklore grapevine which preserves our folk customs. Each part of the country contributed to its vernacular, so that Old Time Traditional Square Dancing today has regional differences.
Most commonly popular today in the southeast but found everywhere across America are what are sometimes called “Traditional Southern Squares” or “Appalachian Squares” and is most often danced to traditional old time music played with fiddle and banjo. The Traditional Square Dance caller drives the fun-filled dance floor with musical lyrical patter to the fiddle and banjo playing Appalachian mountain tunes harkening back to the barn raisings, corn-shuckins, play parties, and weekend community dances of rural America.
Old Time Traditional Square Dancing goes back to our early American heritage and retains the dances and figures of our pioneer ancestors. It is not to be confused with modern Western Square Dancing, which was started in the 1950s in California. Old Time Traditional Square Dancing does not require prior experience on the dance floor, a whole bunch of formal lessons, or fancy costumes. Just come as you are and get ready to enjoy a great time. Partners are not required. Invite your friends!