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What is Line Dance?

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A line dance is a choreographed dance with a repeated sequence of steps in which a group of people dance in one or more lines or rows without regard for the gender of the individuals, all facing the same direction or facing each other, and executing the steps at the same time. Line dancing is practiced and learned in country-western dance bars, social clubs, dance clubs and ballrooms. It is sometimes combined on dance programs with other forms of country-western dance, such as two-step, western promenade dances, and as well as western-style variants of the waltz, polka and swing. Line dances have accompanied many popular music styles since the early 1970s including pop, swing, rock and roll, disco, Latin (salsa suelta), rhythm and blues and jazz.

The Madison was a popular line dance in the late 1950s. At least five-line dances that are strongly associated with country-western music were written in the 1970s, two of which are dated to 1972: “Walkin’ Wazi” and “Cowboy Boogie”, five years before the disco craze created by the release of Saturday Night Fever in 1977, the same (approximate) year the “Tush Push” was created. The Electric Slide was a Disco-based line dance created and popularized in the mid-1970s.

Over a dozen line dances were created during the 1980s for country songs. The 1980 film Urban Cowboy reflected the blurring of lines between country music and pop, and spurred renewed interest in country culture, and western fashion, music, and dance. “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” was choreographed by Bill Bader in October 1990 for the original Asleep at the Wheel recording of the song of the same name. The Brooks and Dunn version of the song has resulted in there being at least 16 line dances with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” in the title, including one by Tom Maddox and Skippy Blair.

The 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus helped catapult western line dancing into the mainstream. In 1994 choreographer Max Perry had a worldwide dance hit with “Swamp Thang” for the song “Swamp Thing” by The Grid. This was a techno song that fused banjo sounds in the melody line and helped to start a trend of dancing to forms of music other than country.

Max Perry, along with Jo Thompson, Scott Blevins and several others, began to use ballroom rhythms and technique to take line dancing to the next level. In 1998, the band Steps created further interest outside of the U.S. with the techno dance song “5,6,7,8”. In 1999 the Gap retailer debuted the “Khaki Country” ad on the Academy Awards ceremony. Line dancers performed to the 1999 version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Dwight Yoakam.The Macarena was a hit based on a line dance in the mid-1990s.Line dancing reached Europe, nourished by the arrival of Country Music Television.

Line dancing now has very traditional dances to country music, and not so traditional dances to non country music. It now uses more than just the “stereotypical” country music, in fact line dancers dance to most styles of music: country as well as modern pop music, Rock & Roll, Gospel, Irish, and Latin just to name a few.

Each dance is said to consist of a number of walls. A wall is the direction in which the dancers face at any given time: the front (the direction faced at the beginning of the dance), the back or one of the sides. Dancers may change direction many times during a sequence, and may even, at any given point, be facing in a direction half-way between two walls; but at the end of the sequence they will be facing the original wall or any of the other three. Whichever wall that is, the next iteration of the sequence uses that wall as the new frame of reference.

  • In a one-wall dance, the dancers face the same direction at the end of the sequence as at the beginning.
  • In a two-wall dance, repetitions of the sequence end alternately at the back and front walls. In other words, the dancers have effectively turned through 180 degrees during one set. The samba line dance is an example of a two-wall dance. While doing the “volte” step, the dancers turn 180 degrees to face a new wall.
  • In a four-wall dance, the direction faced at the end of the sequence is 90 degrees to the right or left from the direction in which they faced at the beginning. As a result, the dancers face each of the four walls in turn at the end of four consecutive repetitions of the sequence, before returning to the original wall. In some dances, they turn 270 degrees, a “three-quarter turn,” to face the new wall.

So there you have it, a brief description and history of the modern line dance community. If you think about it line dancing has been around since the time of man with Folk dances, tribal rituals and people just feeling the beat. So go out join a class and dance your way into a great inclusive community.  Keep Dancin’   Larry B

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