On January 8, 1990, when Governor Michael S. Dukakis signed the bill to name square dancing the "official folk dance of the commonwealth, Massachusetts became the first New England state to name the square dance as an official state dance. To this day, it remains only one of two New England States that took the plunge. Connecticut is the other.
At the time, it was hoped that Massachusetts would set the example for the other five New England States. That was not to be. In fact, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island have not honored the square dance or any other state dance as of this writing (02/23/16).
It was the case at the time that there was a strong push from national square dance leadership for each state to designate the square dance its official American folk dance. Read more here.
Leading the campaign in Massachusetts were State American Dance Chairmen Pete & Betty Rawson. They guided the square dance measure through both houses of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
From what we can gather, the process seemed to have proceeded in the legislature quite rapidly and with very little fanfare. The bill was approved by the Massachusetts House of Representatives on December 26, 1989 and approved by the Senate, the next day, on December 27, 1989.
Senator Henri Rauschenbach, representing the commonwealth's Cape and islands district, delivered the good news when the bill was approved by the Senate and headed to the governor.
Massachusetts can perhaps be considered the "folkiest" state in the Union.
In 1981, prior to the adoption of an official "folk" dance, Massachusetts designated an official "folk" song, "Massachusetts," by Arlo Guthrie.
In 1996, the Commonwealth followed through on designating an official "folk" hero. The choice was Johnny Appleseed, born John Chapman in Leominster, Massachusetts.
The square dancing 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 dancing 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 dancing). It will put the designation of an official folk dance in Massachusetts in context.
A context for the designation of square dancing as the official folk dance of Massachusetts can be established by reading about the effort to declare the square dance the national folk dance of the United States of America.
The following information was excerpted from the Massachusetts General Laws, Part 1, Title 1, Chapter 2, Section 32.
PART 1. ADMINISTRATION OF GOVERNMENT
TITLE 1. JURISDICTION AND EMBLEMS OF THE COMMONWEALTH, THE GENERAL COURT, STATUTES AND PUBLIC DOCUMENTS
CHAPTER 2. ARMS, GREAT SEAL AND OTHER EMBLEMS OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Section 32 Folk dance of the commonwealth
Section 32. Square Dancing shall be the official folk dance of the commonwealth.
"American Folk Dance Committee." American Square Dance Mar. 1990: 78. Print.
"Association News, Eastern District Square and Round Dance Association, Inc." Northeast Square Dancer Sept. 1989: 74-75. Print.
"Folk Dance of the Commonwealth." Massachusetts Secretary of State. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Web. 25 Feb. 2005.
"Massachusetts Adopts Square Dance." Northeast Square Dancer Apr. 1990: 19. Print.
"State Folk Dances." American Square Dance Jul. 1990: 63. Print.
Square Dancing 101: Square dancing basic including positions, formations, moves, and a glossary.
Video Square Dancing Lessons Online: Video Square Dancing Lessons Online and on DVD from Cyberpoint Marketing, LLC.
A Brief History of Square and Round Dancing: by Herb Egender.
Square Dancing: The Historical Geography of an American Folk Custom: by Richard M. MacKinnon, Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria, California.
Square Dancing History Project: Website devoted to the documenting the history of square dancing with historical documents and an emphasis on imagery as much as possible.
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 Dancing Legislation Collection: American Folklife Center 1984/024, Compiled by Michelle Forner, Library of Congress, Washington DC, December 1994
Official website: North Shore Square And Round Dance Association (NSSARDA).
Official website: The Southeastern Massachusetts Coordinating Association, Inc. (SEMCA)
Official website: Square Dance New England.
State dances: Complete list of official state dances from NETSTATE.COM
More symbols & emblems: Complete list of official Massachusetts state symbols from NETSTATE.COM.
Square Dancing Fundamentals, John W. Jones. 208 pages. Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (February 5, 2007)
While there have been countless fun books written on square dancing, Squaredance Fundamentals was the first to cut to the chase. There is no interesting history of square dancing, there are no entertaining anecdotes, just the nuts and bolts of how to square dancing. Revolutionary illustrations show the dancer’s point of view, not just the spectators’ viewpoint. Dancers can, without turning on their heads, glean from the detailed illustrations exactly what they need to be doing with their hands, feet, etc. Each dancer can effortlessly grasp the material and easily retain it. Renowned master caller/teacher, Marshall Flippo, assiduously assisted the author in establishing the very first guidelines for standardized “Basic Maneuvers” which would enable square dancingrs to dance gracefully with any group, anywhere.
No one shows you better how to execute the maneuvers than John W. Jones with his super simplified instructions and state-of-the-art illustrations in Squaredance Fundamentals - the gold standard for over 37 years.
The American Square Dancing, by Margot Mayo. 116 pages. Publisher:Music Sales American (September 1, 2006)
You can have fun square dancing and you'll learn how to dance the figures and even learn how to call a square dancing with Margot Mayo's classic manual, The American Square Dancing. Here is the basic book for square dancers containing all of the essentials for many hours of enjoyment. An illustrated glossary of square dancing terms shows all of the basic square dancing figures – promenade, allemande left, do-si-do, etc. Complete instructions, calls and illustrated figures for 13 of the most popular American square dancings appear, plus the music all ready for your pianist and fiddlers to play.
The Square Dancing and Contra Dance Handbook: Calls, Dance Movements, Music, Glossary, Bibliography, Discography, and Directories, by Margot Gunzenhauser. 320 pages. Publisher: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers; annotated edition (July 28, 2010)
This comprehensive guide to traditional style square and contra dancing, sometimes referred to as "country dancing," covers both music and style and gives background information on various dance types and calling techniques. Ninety dances, presented in chapters according to type (mixers, progressive circles, contra, Southern mountain style, squares and others), in a wide variety of formations are described with drawings and diagrams for many of the movements. A glossary of terms, a directory of addresses (organizations; vendors of books, recordings and audio equipment; and dance camps), and an annotated discography and bibliography are also provided.
A glossary of terms, a directory of addresses (organizations; vendors of books, recordings and audio equipment; and dance camps), and an annotated discography and bibliography are also provided.
The Complete Book of Square Dancing (and Round Dancing), by Betty Casey. 208 pages. Publisher: University of North Texas Press (June 1, 2000)
This book includes: 50 basic movements, 35 advanced movements, variations, dances that are a part of the American heritage, Contra and Round Dances, polkas and reels, and calls, past and present.
“Square dancing is friendship set to music,” says author Betty Casey. Just take four couples, old or young, put ’em on a good floor, turn on the music, and you’re all set. Whether you’ve done it before or you’re just starting out, this book tells you everything you need to know—85 basic movements used all over the world, the spirited calls unique to square dancing, the costumes and equipment that are best, and music (from “Red River Valley” to “Mack the Knife”) that will set your feet in motion.
Square Dancing Made Easy, Grade level: K-6. Audio CD (September 1, 1995), Number of Discs: 1, Label: Educational Activities, Inc.
All Time Favorite Square Dancings with Calls, Audio CD (September 8, 2009), Number of Discs: 1, Label: KADO, Run Time: 60 minutes.
Square Dancing Music & Calls, Audio CD (November 21, 2006), Number of Discs: 1, Label: Collectables Records.
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Social Dancing in America: A History and Reference (Volume One), by Ralph G. Giordano. 380 pages. Publisher: Greenwood (November 30, 2006)
Social Dancing in America examines the role of social dancing in daily life from the first settlements in 1607 through the birth of the nation in 1776 and into the beginning of the 21st century. This two-volume set provides a history of American social dances including the Virginia Reel, Square Dancing, the Lindy Hop, Rock 'n' Roll, the Twist, Disco, Breakdancing, and Hip-Hop. Social Dancing in America places social dancing in a historical, social, cultural, and political context.
Volume 1 explores the integral role that social dancing played in the lives of Americans from the first settlements in 1607 through the 19th century, often in the most unlikely of ways. For example, readers may be surprised to learn that George Washington was a well-known aficionado of social dancing, and that he incorporated the etiquette and manners of dances such as the Minuet as a means of diplomacy to secure European allies during the Revolutionary War. After his death, Americans continued to celebrate his birthday with a grand ball that included dancing.
Social Dancing in America: A History and Reference (Volume Two), by Ralph G. Giordano. 428 pages. Publisher: Greenwood (November 30, 2006)
Volume 2 places social dance in a 20th-Century context, illustrating how social dancing itself paralled the social, economic, and cultural traditions of each era. For example, segregation and the Jim Crow mentality was cemented in place all over the United States, and for much of the century, dancing and dance halls were strictly segregated. Segregation forced a mass migration north, and with it came the transformation of Delta Blues music into an American original—Jazz. Jazz gave birth to the Charleston, and later evolved into Swing, which created the Lindy Hop. Later, with the advent of television, programming such as American Bandstand, Soul Train, Dance Fever, and MTV greatly influenced dance styles and modern trends such as Rock 'n' Roll, Freestyle, Disco, Breakdancing, and Hip-Hop.