Small workshop ceramic old-time square dancing couple vase. (click to enlarge)

Small workshop ceramic old-time square dancing couple vase. (click to enlarge)

Square dancing has a non-urban image. Like folk, country-western and country square dancers don’t usually care to be associated with hillbillies’ rowdier reputation. Manifestations of old-timey entertainments and practices have different constituencies and standards. Like folk music, the square dance is of European origin. Four country-dressed couples perform an American version of the Quadrille to fiddle music and the spoken direction of a caller. Vestiges of this dance, like balladry, survived into the 19th century in rural areas of the South, but the twentieth century practice was motivated partly by an idealization of our agrarian past.

A chief promoter of square dancing was the distinctly non-hillbilly Henry Ford. The architect of the modern assembly line had a romantic nostalgia for “old-fashioned dances” which were “clean and healthful … modern dances are not.” In a 1926 book, Today and Tomorrow, Ford evidences his capitalistic genius and mastery of industrialization. He mentions as well his promotion of “old time fiddle contests” and how he partitioned a corner of his new laboratory building at Dearborn for a ballroom.

Hobbyist ceramic square dancers.  (click to enlarge)

Hobbyist ceramic square dancers. (click to enlarge)

There, two times a week, Henry Ford presided over old time dancing classes: “The rules are followed. There is no holding up of two fingers for a dance and no “cutting in”. The ladies do not enter the room unescorted and must slightly precede the gentlemen. Everything is formal. The instructions are all in the manual we have written.”

“We are all getting a good deal of fun out of dancing.” Ford added, “We are not, as has been imagined, conducting any kind of crusade against modern dancing,” which he had earlier described as “ugly dance” that went with “tuneless music”.

The square dance revival that began in California in the late 1940s produced relatively few pieces of memorabilia.

1950s country square dance bandana.

1950s country square dance bandana.

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