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Square Dance History Project

Square dancing has been an integral part of American social life for centuries. Traditional square dance was vital for generations of Americans, especially in rural communities; in the post-World War II era, modern square dance similarly enjoyed participants numbering in the millions.

Despite its popularity, the history of square dance has not been well documented. Scores of books explain specific figures and calls, but there is no current source that offers a detailed discussion of the development of this form of American social dance. We hope this site helps to fill that need.

Old Folks' Frolic

This is a photograph from a news story in the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times of April 7, 1942. Caption: "These lively square dancers and other oldsters performing yesterday brought a… ...more

Golden State Round Up 1964

Grand march at the Golden State Round Up, Oakland, CA, 1964. Each row is 4 squares, and there are about 50 rows That's 200 squares, or 1600 dancers. The event featured live music, with an 11… ...more

Princess Elizabeth square dancing - 1951

This photograph of then Princess Elizabeth square dancing took place during a visit to Canada in 1951. The press coverage helped spur the rapid growth of square dancing in that… ...more

Doonesbury - square dance

...in which Zonker, a character in Garry Trudeau's comic strip Doonesbury, presents a common view of one social activity... This "Doonesbury Flashback" appeared March 20, 2012, a reprint… ...more

Schlitz beer ad, 1950

Full page ad for Schlitz beer that appeared in Newsweek magazine, August 21, 1950, attesting to the popularity of square dance in popular culture. Modern Western square dancers were not… ...more

Cheyenne Mountain Dancers in DC (thumbnail)

This is a smaller version of the photograph. If you want a significantly larger file that can show faces clearly, click here. Identifications of the dancers are with the larger photo. ...more

Santa Monica 1950 - World's Largest Square Dance

At the time, it was the world's largest square dance event. Santa Monica, California, was celebrating its Diamond Jubilee in square dance style. Lloyd Shaw was invited to be the Grand… ...more

Soco Gap Dancers

Photograph of the Soco Gap Dancers, North Carolina ...more

Recent Items

Today's Whirling Confuses Old-Time Square Dancers

This 1957 newspaper story from central Massachusetts describes a dance culture in transition, as traditional New England square dancing was meeting up with -- and in some cases being… ...more

Square dancing at Augusta Heritage Festival - 1994

An evening dance at the Augusta Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia on July 15, 1994. Larry Edelman calls the figures to the music of the New Dixie Entertainers: Mike Bryant, Marcia Bryant,… ...more

Big circle dance - Manny Wiener & American Square Dance Group

Caller Manny Wiener leads a big circle dance—here introduced as a Kentucky running set—with members of Margot Mayo's American Square Dance Group. This is a portion of a half hour… ...more

Arkansas Traveller variations

After several opening paragraphs in which the author decries the tendency toward ever more complex figures, he does admit that experienced dancers enjoy "a little variation." He takes one… ...more

Swamp Country Dance

This is a first-person account of attending a country dance in Georgia in the mid-1950s. The author describes the big circle formation in detail:

"A single dance would go like this; The… ...more