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The Utah State Folk Dance

Square Dance

Adoption of the Utah State Folk Dance

Fiddle Player

History indicates that early Mormon pioneers settling in Utah, loved to dance. It's reported by Andrew Love Neff, in his book History of Utah 1847-1869 that, "The Mormons love dancing... almost every third man is a fiddler, and every one must learn to dance. In the winter of 1854-1855, there were dancing schools in almost every one of the nineteen school houses, and necessarily so much more attention to dancing involved so much less attention to study." He also writes, " "Let it be remembered that only square dances were indulged in, that the gatherings were opened and closed with prayer, and that preachments were often interspersed with dancing, a happy combination of religion with pleasure and enjoyment..."

The square dance was adopted as the official state folk dance of Utah by an act of the Utah Legislature in 1994. As defined in the Utah Code, square dancing is "...the folk dance that is called, cued, or prompted to the dancers and includes squares, rounds, clogging, contra, line, and heritage dances." This seems to broaden, significantly, the generally accepted definitions of the square dance.

Modern western square dance clubs across the country have collaborated to have the Square Dance declared the state folk dance in all fifty states. They have also been active in efforts to make the Square Dance the national folk dance. There is some controversy over their efforts, which can be read about in the "Additional Information" section below.

About the Official Utah State Folk Dance

Square dance graphic

The square dance is a popular type of folk dance in the United States. This dance for four couples, or groups of four couples, is performed in a compact framework of a square, each couple forming a side. Traditionally accompanied by a fiddle, accordion, banjo and guitar, the couples perform a variety of movements prompted by the patter or singing calls (instruction) of a "caller". Cooperative movement is the hallmark of well-executed square dancing.

Square dancing is to be distinguished from related dances called contra or longways dance where couples stand double file in a line and from round dances where couples stand in a circle. The origin of the square dance can be traced to English derivation and to the stately French cotillion performed in square formation that was popular at the court of Louis the fifteenth later replace by the quadrille (another square dance).

Utah Code

The following information is excerpted from the Utah Code, Title 63, Chapter 13, Section All of Utah's state symbols are listed under Section in numerical order. Utah's state folk dance is number 10.

Additional Information

A Brief History of Square and Round Dancing: by Herb Egender.

Square Dancing: The Historical Geography of an American Folk Custom: Richard M. MacKinnon, Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria, California.

English and French Influence on Square Dancing: By Don Ward and John Brant.

Square Dance History in the U.S.: from the Mid-Atlantic Challenge Organization.

History and Heritage of Modern American Square Dancing: A summary of the essays by Dorothy Shaw, Bob Osgood and Kenny Reese.

The State Folk Dance Conspiracy: Fabricating a National Folk Dance: By Judy Mangin - Originally published in the Old-Time Herald , v.4(7) p.9-12, Spring 1995.

National Folk Dance Effort Moves Forward: We're On Our Way Now, So Let's Make a Lot of Noise!: United Square Dancers of America National Folk Dance Committee.

The Square Dance Legislation Collection: American Folklife Center 1984/024, Compiled by Michelle Forner, Library of Congress, Washington DC, December 1994

Source: Utah State Web Site, (, February 26, 2005
Source: Utah Legislature, (, February 26, 2005


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