What is Line Dancing?
A line dance is a choreographed dance with a repeated sequence of steps in which a group of people dance in one or more lines or rows without regard for the gender of the individuals, all facing the same direction, and executing the steps at the same time. Line dancers are not in physical contact with each other. Older “line dances” have lines in which the dancers face each other, or the “line” is a circle, or all dancers in the “line” follow a leader around the dance floor; while holding the hand of the dancers beside them.
History and Culture
Although line dancing is associated with country-western music and dance, it has similarities to folk dancing. Many folk dances are danced in unison with dancers arranged in one or more rows and often connected with the dancers next to them; while these rows are described as “lines,” they may curve, corner, or otherwise be nonlinear in the geometric sense. The Balkan countries, among others, have a rich tradition of line dance surviving to the present. These folk line dances are also performed in the international folk dance movement. Folk line dances have many forms: pairs of lines in which the dancers face each other, or a line formed into a circle, or the line follows around the dance floor. The dancers may hold hands with their neighbors, or use an arm-on-shoulder hold, or hold their neighbor’s belts.
The absence of a physical connection between dancers is, however, a distinguishing feature of country western line dance. Line dances have accompanied many popular music styles since the early 1970s including pop, swing, rock and roll, disco, Latin (Salsa Suelta), and Jazz.
The Madison was a popular line dance in the late 1950s. The 1961 “San Francisco Stomp” meets the definition of a line dance. At least five line dances that are strongly associated with country-western music were written in the 1970s, two of which are dated to 1972: “Walkin’ Wazi”and “Cowboy Boogie”,five years before the disco craze created by the release of Saturday Night Fever in 1977, the same (approximate) year the “Tush Push” was created. The “L.A. Hustle” began in a small Los Angeles disco in the Summer of 1975, and hit the East Coast (with modified steps) in Spring of ’76 as the “Bus Stop. Another 70s line dance is the “NutBush”.
Over a dozen line dances were created during the 1980s for country songs.The 1980 film Urban Cowboy reflected the blurring of lines between country music and pop, and spurred renewed interest in country culture, and western fashion, music, and dance. Many early line dances, though, were adaptations of disco line dances.”Boot Scootin’ Boogie” was choreographed by Bill Bader in October 1990 for the original Asleep at the Wheel recording of the song of the same name. The Brooks and Dunn version of the song has resulted in there being, at least 16 line dances with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” in the title, including one by Tom Maddox and Skippy Blair under contract to the recording company.
Billy Ray Cyrus’ 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart”, helped catapult western line dancing into the mainstream public consciousness.In 1994 choreographer Max Perry had a worldwide dance hitwith “Swamp Thang” for the song “Swamp Thing” by The Grid. This was a techno song that fused banjo sounds in the melody line and helped to start a trend of dancing to forms of music other than country. In this mid 1990s period country western music was influenced by the popularity of line dancing. This influence was so great that Chet Atkins was quoted as saying “The music has gotten pretty bad, I think. It’s all that damn line dancing.”
Max Perry, along with Jo Thompson, Scott Blevins and several others, began to use ballroom rhythms and technique to take line dancing to the next level. In 1998, the band Steps created further interest outside of the U.S. with the techno dance song “5,6,7,8”. In 1999 the Gap retailer debuted the “Khaki Country” ad on the Academy Awards ceremony. Line dancers performed to the 1999 version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Dwight Yoakam.
Line dance now has very traditional dances to country music, and not so traditional dances to non country music. It now uses more than just the “stereotypical” country music, in fact line dancers dance to most styles of music: country as well as modern pop, Irish, Latin just to name a few.’
Line dancing is practiced and learned in country-western dance bars, social clubs, dance clubs and ballrooms worldwide. It avoids the problem of imbalance of male/female partners that plagues ballroom/swing/salsa dancing clubs. It is sometimes combined on dance programs with other forms of country-western dance, such as two-step, and western promenade dances, as well as western-style variants of the waltz, polka and swing.
The Macarena and the Chicken Dance, the latter of which is danced in a circle, are other examples of line dance.
Line dancing reached Europe, nourished by the arrival of Country Music Television and in 2008 gained the attention of the French government.
Each dance is said to consist of a number of walls. A wall is the direction in which the dancers face at any given time: the front (the direction faced at the beginning of the dance), the back or one of the sides. Dancers may change direction many times during a sequence, and may even, at any given point, be facing in a direction half-way between two walls; but at the end of the sequence they will be facing the original wall or any of the other three. Whichever wall that is, the next iteration of the sequence uses that wall as the new frame of reference.
- In a one-wall dance, the dancers face the same direction at the end of the sequence as at the beginning.
- In a two-wall dance, repetitions of the sequence end alternately at the back and front walls. In other words, the dancers have effectively turned through 180 degrees during one set. The samba line dance is an example of a two-wall dance. While doing the “volte” step, the dancers turn 180 degrees to face a new wall.
- In a four-wall dance, the direction faced at the end of the sequence is 90 degrees to the right or left from the direction in which they faced at the beginning. As a result, the dancers face each of the four walls in turn at the end of four consecutive repetitions of the sequence, before returning to the original wall. The hustle line dance is an example of a four-wall dance because in the final figure they turn 90 degrees to the left to face a new wall. In some dances, they turn 270 degrees, a “three-quarter turn,” to face the new wall.