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by John Brant

The Hollywood Connection

Movies helped to fuel Square Dancing's rise in popularity

by John Brant

Following WWII Square Dancing enjoyed a large boost in popularity. Thanks to the efforts of Lloyd "Pappy" Shaw and his Cheyenne Mountain Dancers, Modern Western Square Dancing was born.

The post war nation was ready to settle down and raise families. Many thousands of young couples were looking for activities outside of the home. Square Dancing fit the bill for many of them. The nation was locked into a fascination with the Old West way of life mainly fueled by Hollywood. Hundreds of western films were produced in the 40's and 50's. The early days of television were also dominated by westerns.

The cowboy image was in, and the old time dances portrayed in the films were popular with the public. Square Dancing fit the Hollywood image of the time. The western wear, the music, and the dancing all fit the image Hollywood had created. It was what the public wanted. As a result, Square Dancing enjoyed a huge growth rate in the late 40's and 50's.

Below is a partial listing of the movies that have sequences with old time square dancing, contra dancing, English country dancing, quadrilles, reels, or circle dances. There were many more movies that had other forms of dancing during that period. Musicals were also very big during that era.

Even with this partial list, it can be seen how dominate the old time dancing was in the movies in the 40's and 50's. Out of the 39 movies listed here, 62% were made in the 40's and 50's. Starting in the 60's, there was a large drop off of dancing being portrayed in the movies, both Squares Dancing and all other forms of dancing.

Could the rise and fall of the popularity of Square Dancing have anything to do with the influence of Hollywood? There certainly seems to be a correlation. There were several factors that lead to the rise of Square Dancing. The Hollywood influence certainly added to the excitement of the time for the dance.

These are some of the movies that have sequences with old time square dancing, contra dancing, English country dancing, quadrilles, reels, or circle dances.

Gone With the Wind 1939 (Clark Gable-Virginia Reel played very fast)
Destry Rides Again 1939 (Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich)
Drums Along the Mohawk 1939 (Henry Fonda-circle dance and reel)
Pride and Predjudice 1940
The Westerner 1940 (Walter Brennan, Gary Cooper)
Star Spangled Rhythm 1942 (Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray)
State Fair 1945
Sheriff of Cimarron 1945 (cowboy hero Sunset Carson dances)
Christmas in Connecticut 1945 (Barbara Stanwick)
Duel in the Sun 1946 (Lloyd Shaw hashes Birdie in the Cage)
My Darling Clementine 1946 (Henry Fonda)
My Pal Trigger 1946 (Roy Rogers, Square Dancing on horses)
Welcome Stranger 1947 (Bing Crosby)
Square Dance Jubilee 1949
Summer Stock 1950 (Gene Kelly and Judy Garland)
Square Dance Katy 1950
Copper Canyon 1950 ( Ray Milland w/Les Gotcher calling)
Hillbilly Hare 1950 (Bugs Bunny calls)
Louisa 1950 (Charles Coburn and Spring Byington)
Wagonmaster 1950 (Ward Bond)
War of the Worlds 1953 (Gene "Bat Masterson"Barry )
The Second Greatest Sex 1955
Oklahoma 1955
Johnny Appleseed 1955 (Disney cartoon-movie)
Giant 1956 (Elisabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean)
Searchers 1956 (John Wayne)
Indiscreet 1958 (Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman)
McClintock 1963 (John Wayne)
Barry Lyndon 1975 (Ryan O'Neal)
Bound for Glory 1976
The Snowman 1982 (cartoon with circle dancing & Virginia Reel)
Mickey's Christmas Carol 1983 (cartoon)
Square Dance 1987 (Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Winona Ryder, Rob Lowe)
My Cousin Vinny 1992 (Joe Pesci)
Son In Law 1993 (Paulie Shore, Ernie Kinney calling)
Ethan Frome 1993 (Liam Neeson)
Barbarians at the Gate 1993 (James Garner, modern style square dance calling w/Verne Weese)
Four Weddings and a Funeral 1994 (Dashing White Sergeant-3 face 3 )
Little Women 1994 (has a formal quadrille)

This article may be reprinted with no further permission from the authors and/or publications.  Permission has been granted in advance for the reprinting with the stipulation that credit be given to the contributing author/publisher.

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