N American dance; where did the skip go?

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Really nice calling in that square dance! I, too, am curious what blend of influence(s) led to that gliding/walking style. You could almost call the dance “sing-songy” as much as the music and the calling.

I have a relative who grew up near the heart of square dancing culture, and based on what she’s told me, I wonder if social/religious pressure played a role in the music and dance evolving that way. It was a topic of some controversy that she be allowed to dance at all, and I imagine she would’ve been barred outright if there were any “unseemly” hopping and skipping about being done. If I get a chance, I’ll ask her thoughts on that… but I’m sure the pattern was already well-set by the time she came along.

Or maybe the music changed first, and brought the dance along with it.

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Great question, Muircheartaigh. As someone who has done a lot of Scottish and Irish dancing, I’ve often wondered how American square dancing ended up with such a boring dance style that seems to suck all the dynamism out of the music.

But I can recall seeing Hollywood films from the 1940s where square dancing is shown with dancers using skipping steps that we in Europe would recognise, so I wonder if the walking style is a new development.

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Great video, Conical Bore. In spite of the caption it’s not actually clog dancing; the dancers seem to be wearing their Sunday best shoes, not clogs. Anyway, it shows the affinity with Irish and Scottish traditions, although the style seems to be more “off the floor” than in modern Irish set dancing. But that raises the question: if the people in the video could manage some quite complicated stepping, why can’t most modern square dancers not even manage a basic skip-change step?

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Because it’s not part of their dance vocabulary in that style, and it’d go against the music.

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

PS those are definitely clogging steps they’re doing, regardless of the footwear 😊 or at least, they’re what I was taught as clogging

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

@Lisa M. To say “it’s not part of their dance vocabulary” doesn’t answer the question. Conical bore and I have cited evidence that square dancing was done with a step in living memory. Certainly the Irish and Scottish traditions - which the tunes suggest fed into square dancing - had skip steps. Could it be that when square dancing took in people from other traditions, e.g. Germans and Scandinavians in the Midwest, the steps were simplified in the interests of inclusivity? And “it’d go against the music” - many of the tunes also figure in traditions with skip steps.

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Borderer, it does answer the question if you pay a little more attention to context. The notes of the tunes may similar, but the way they’re being played for a square dance tends to be different than the way they’d be played for a set dance.

Conical bore’s video, while great, does not show square dancing - at least not anything at all what my mother’s family would have called square dancing. It shows clogging and while there may be some overt similarities, they are not the same thing.

I can’t speak to the video you mentioned as I haven’t seen it, but my mother grew up in the 40s in a rural area where, as far as I know, “hopping and skipping around” just wouldn’t have been done. I’ll ask her when I have a chance, and it’s certainly possible that there were regional differences in style. But what she’s described as traditional in her area very much matches the examples of square dancing I’ve seen from all over the country, and the sole square dance video that’s been posted in this thread (at the very beginning).

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Do we know how much skip there was in N America 200 years ago? Was there social dancing by ordinary folk who hadn’t practised the fancy footwork, the way there is now?

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

There is a romantic idea that American traditional music and dance (for example square dance and contra dance) are descended *entirely* from the Irish and Scottish traditions. It is just that — a romantic idea. (I’m not attributing it to anyone in this discussion, but it exists.) The written historical record includes major English, German, French, Spanish, African and Native American influences in various times and places. Then there are the influences documented in the oral tradition, which may or may not be less reliable than the written record, which, even for primary sources, may not always be reliable, complete or understandable. The important point is that they are there. Not only where the influence comes from but when.

Something else that influences dance style is footwear and clothing style. Especially footwear, or lack thereof. Just look at the differences between Irish soft and hard shoe dancing, and between performance/competition and social dancing. Or between hard shoe performances of only 50 years ago and today. Now consider how the styles of the same dance steps and patterns might differ between light dance shoes (upper class), ordinary middle class shoes, work shoes (ordinary heavy boots, clogs with a fairly rigid sole, cowboy boots with a heel, or no shoes at all. Is the floor finely finished hardwood, rough pine, or dirt? How tired are the dancers? How old? Social, performance, competition? Has drink been taken?

We know precious little about Irish dance before the 18c. Perhaps another question is “when did the “skip” start in Irish dance?

There really is no single answer to the original question. Perhaps someone has done the in depth research and written a dissertation or maintains a website. Meanwhile, get out and dance as you are able, tap your toes, or keep that beat in your heart.

Just for fun, here’s an energetic young square dance competition team in Canada — yes, it’s technically square dance. They’re having fun and they’re certainly not walking through the dance. How many influences can you spot?
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6ee0DcgWHjw

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Well put, Tracie - while there may be recognizable influences of Irish or Scottish dance in North American dancing, it’s a fallacy to imagine there weren’t a variety of other ingredients that went into the blender for this tradition.

That said, your (great!) video highlights an issue with terminology that the OP may need to clarify: There are different types of square dancing in North America. For example, am I right in thinking that your video shows Métis square dancing, or something closely related to it?

Another example would be the indigenous traditions of fiddle dancing/square dancing that are present here in Alaska. I have limited knowledge of both that and Métis dancing, but I’ve seen enough of both to know that while there may be some similarities to American square dancing, it’d be a mistake to see them as anything but their own distinct styles and traditions.

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Thanks, Tracie, that’s a great clip. That kind of dancing makes you want to get up and join in.
I think that a skip and lift in the dance is intrinsic to human nature. Before posting the question I watched a number of walking square dances on YouTube and every now and again I spotted someone starting a skip step - particularly noticeable with children - only to supress it quickly and get back to the plodding. I think that those posters who have suggested a puritan influence may be on the right track. I suspect the walking style may be from those regions with a Nordic/German protestant background where, historically, dancing was barely tolerated and then only if were sombre and controlled. You can’t allow youthful passions to get inflamed by riotous music and movement. Whereas those from southern Europe quite enjoyed having their passions inflamed.
Of course, this is only conjecture. It could well be, as Tracie has suggested, that the style developed in regions where people had to work so hard they could barely lift their feet, let alone skip.

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

Hmmm. I haven’t had time to go through the responses above, so apologies if this has already been mentioned.
Don’t I remember a story about dancing being banned for religious reasons? Possibly in the US, or perhaps even earlier among the people who went to the US. Dancing leads to holding hands, and that can lead to kissing, and kissing leads to, oh, goodness gracious, let’s not go there!

And that, for the purposes of enforcement, “dancing” was defined as “lifting one foot above the other” or some such distinction. And so the resourceful victims of this prohibition came up with workarounds involving walking or running. Or did I dream that?

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

That YouTube clip posted by Tracie is from the Manitoba Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg that celebrates Indigenous culture. The dance group is from Quebec and the dancers are almost certainly Métis. You can see the Métis Red River Jig (not a jig) influence in the body movements but also the influence of the competitive clogging scene. It is interesting the fiddler is playing “Breaking Up Christmas,” a tune I’ve not prior heard outside of the Galax, Virginia or Round Peak, North Carolina tradition as best played by Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, Fred Cockerham, Eddie Lowe, et al. https://youtu.be/8fGg2gUgkT0. There are so many different traditions influencing these excellent young dancers.


Though not comprehensive studies of the numerous North American dance traditions, these two texts speak at length about the multitude of influences on the regional styles studied:
-Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics; Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian dance, by Phil Jamison,
-The Crooked Stovepipe: Athapaskan Fiddle Music and Square Dancing in Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada, by Craig Mishler.

Re: N American dance; where did the skip go?

My parents always danced square dances with a skip. They were raised in southern Idaho in the 1920s and 30s. My mom’s mom was from North Carolina. My dad’s mom was a step dancer, not like modern Irish step dancing, not like modern Appalachian step dancing, but looking back in my cloudy memory as much closer to Sean Nos with a freer upper body plus a very little bit of skirt work. Her family came from Scotland and Appalachia. The Methodists weren’t allowed to dance on Sunday (including after midnight on Saturday night), but the Mormons were.

My former mother-in-law and her siblings didn’t skip but glided smoothly when dancing. She grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado and attended Cheyenne Mountain High School whose principal was the great Lloyd Shaw. “Pappy” Shaw collected dances from around Colorado and New Mexico, and was a progenitor of the modern square dance scene. Two of his books are: Cowboy Dances, and
The Round Dance Book. He felt strongly that dancing was better physical education than football, baseball, etc. as the boys and girls were together on a more equal footing (pun intended), learned to socialize better with each other and it was an activity they could continue their entire life into old age.

In 1939 the Cheyenne Mountain Dancers were invited to the National Folk Festival in Washington, DC. In this photo my future mother-in-law Mickie Purfield Carey is fourth from the left, and uncle Jack Purfield is ninth from the left. Sharp-eyed observers will note there are what appears to be a twin on each end of the lineup. Both are Pappy Shaw himself. The photo was taken with a motorized panoramic camera. He ran quickly back behind the camera from one end of the line to the other! https://squaredancehistory.org/items/show/105