History of Line Dancing

Line dance is self explanatory at best. Essentially, a bunch of people get into one or more lines and perform a dance. The dance is usually a form of popular dance and is always choreographed. Line dancers perform the dance repeatedly and simultaneously until the song is over. Repetition of a sequence is a key aspect of line dance. Additionally, “walls,” are also key indicators of line dance.

“Wall”

In line dance, walls and repetition go hand and hand. Once a dance’s choreographed sequence is completed, dancers will then turn to a new wall (usually counterclockwise) and repeat the sequence. This pattern of rotation and repetition will occur until dancers have made one full revolution, or have returned to the original wall in which they begun dancing. The number of walls can vary from line dance to line dance. Some dances are strictly two-wall dances, meaning the dancers will perform the sequence facing one direction and then rotate 180 degrees and perform it in the exact opposite direction. In four-wall dances—-which are the most common type of line dance—-performers will rotate four times (90 degrees counterclockwise after every one sequence). Given there are only four cardinal directions, line dances will never exceed a fourth wall. Though rare, some dances only face one wall.

Origins

Though cowboys can sure pull-off a mean Cotton-Eyed Joe, line dance likely was not birthed out of the Country Western style of dance, contrary to popular belief. It is rather difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of line dance, but this art-form is thought to have originated from folk dance. One style of American folk dance, Contra Dance, shares key similarities with many of today’s line dances. In Contra Dance, dancers will form two parallel lines, facing each other. What is very unique about this style is its inclusion of partners. Every person in the line has a partner opposite to them. Dancers are expected to dance with their partners but are never limited to just them. In fact, interactions with multiple members of the line are a key aspect that make this dance form what it is.

Now if you’ve ever seen or participated in line dance at all, this probably sounds very familiar to you. That’s because Contra Dance is actually a type of Square Dance, which is a more well-known form of line dance! Additionally, Contra Dance, and many other similar dances like Square and Polka, will typically feature a caller who will direct the dancers through a series of moves.

Timeline

The great thing about line dance is its ability to form community, even if it’s just for 3-4 minutes. Since line dance has become a part of popular dance culture in America, it’s fairly easy for a group of strangers at a graduation party, dance hall, wedding, or any other social gathering where there’s a DJ to bond over this commonality, regardless of skill or taste in music.

Here is a list of popular line dances from the 70’s all the way up to today:

70’s

  • Funkytown
  • The Hustle
  • YMCA Dance
  • The Electric Slide

80’s

  • The Hokey Pokey
  • The Cotton-Eyed Joe
  • The Macarena

90’s

  • The Achey-Breaky Heart

2000’s

  • The Cha-Cha Slide
  • The Soulja Boy
  • The Hoe-Down-Thrown-Down
  • The Cupid Shuffle
  • The Wobble

2010’s

  • Beyonce’s “Move Your Body” Dance

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