Thoughts on Square Dancing

I love square dancing, I love polkas, and I love those parts of my life where the government has no right to meddle. For years, the powers-that-be in the Modern Western Square Dance (MWSD) world have tried to have square dance declared the national folk dance. The two most recent attempts (1984 and 1988) went down in flames. So, instead of learning something from that experience, they have launched a state-by-state effort to do essentially the same thing.

Here's the thing that bugs me about this idea: you can't legislate a folk dance; it is the absolute antithesis of a folk dance to legislate, organize, or otherwise try to control it. Once you do, it isn't "of the folk" any more. The folk process is an organic, natural grassroots process. Sure, organizational influences have had their effect on the dance, but that doesn't change the essential nature of a folk dance.

Now the polka people have gotten into the act. In Pennsylvania, they are following up on square dancing's failed attempt to legislate a state folk dance. Whoa, folks! It's not about which dance is better. It's about whether it is appropriate for legislatures to say anything about it at all. It's not. Wouldn't you rather your elected officials be working on more important issues such as the state of education or the reduction of crime?

The most common justification for these campaigns is the promotion of square dance. If square dance needs the government's help to survive, wouldn't it be better to let it die of natural causes? Think about it -- the bald eagle is one of the few official symbols of the United States of America, and it almost became extinct. It would be better for the vitality of square dancing if organizers would make changes that would attract younger people to the dance, such as relaxing the costume requirements and the need for hours of lessons. People just want to dance. They don't want to have to jump through so many hoops just to get there, and have to dress funny, to boot.

Here's an article I wrote on the subject in 1995: The State Folk Dance Conspiracy: Fabricating a National Folk Dance