According to the genealogical chart, the roots of square dancing started way back in 1450, with two major ancestors, one English and one French. People from virtually every European country immigrated to the "new Land" during America's first 200 years. They brought with them their customs, languages, skills, fashions and their dances. At first, grouped into ethnic concentrations in different parts of the country, they enjoyed their dances in the pure forms of their homelands. As people spread across the land, migrated west and moved from one city to another, the various forms of dance and the dance costume became more and more integrated and influenced the emergence of the American Square Dance that we enjoy today.
Our square dance dresses of today can trace their history back to the elegant ballrooms of France and the grand manors of England. In those countries the minuet, polka, waltz, and quadrille were danced. It was an era of stately music, stately dances and stately dress. We go forward in time and the move to open the West is on. Days are long and hard with both men and women working in the fields and tending the livestock. There was not much time for gaiety so every occasion was used for socializing. Often people came from miles around to see their neighbors, catch up on the news and dance the night away. Women's dresses were long; starched petticoats and floor length pantaloons were worn underneath.
As square dancing grew out of the fad stage into a solid, stable activity, fashion, too, came into its own as a recognized costume. Tailored, western-cut trousers and western shirts for the men identify the male square dancer to the world.
Perhaps the ladies, though, deserve the nod for having played such a large part in the change of character or evolution of our costume. Taking advantage of the many choices of material and colors available to hem and calling upon their innate knowledge of styling, the female square dancer has visually lifted square dancing from the red barn scene and placed it in a category of beauty and grace.
A swirling floor of full skirts, bouffant petticoats and modest pettipants have long attracted the photographic eye and resulted in good publicity for our hobby. Many a costumed dancer seen by a non-participant has resulted in his joining a class. Neat and gaily attired club members have been able to open halls for the square dance activity which had been previously denied due to an ugly misconception of the hobby.
We have a wonderful heritage to look back on in square dance costumes, who can tell what the future will bring.
(This article is a partial reprint of paragraphs taken from USDA's publication booklet B-018 entitled "Square Dance Attire". A copy of the booklet can be printed or requested from the USDA web site at www.usda.org)
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