Line Dance –
Past, Present and Future

Line-dance is a choreographed dance,  emphasis on choreographed which is important because there are forms of folk dancing that are danced in lines but not considered line dance because folk dancing is not choreographed and is a traditional dance form.

Except for tags and restarts, line-dancing involves the repetition of a sequence of steps. Each repetition is identical to all the others.  Normally each sequence is on a different “wall” that can be either a one wall, two wall or four wall dance.  It is common for each wall to last for 8, 24, 32, 48 or 64 beats of the music.  The waltz is a 1-2-3 count and is the exception to this.

Line Dance – Past

Even though dances that could loosely be called line-dances, choreographed line dances was born in the 1980’s.  Before that there was dances like the “Bunny Hop” that appeared in the 1960’s, “The Stroll” and the “Hully Gully that is still around today.  In the early 1980’s line-dancing was born as it is recognized today. The first known choreographed line-dance was Jim Ferrazzano’s the “Tush Push“, which is one of the most well known line-dances today. It was originally choreographed to 1940’s big-band style music.

Also in 1980 two dances were choreographed in Texas by Jimmie Ruth White, “The Traveling Four Corners” and the “J.R. Hustle“. These dances were born out of the Country & Western dance scene and done to country music.  Also many folk dances were adapted to country music and given new names such as “Charleston Cowboy“, the “Alley Cat“, “Wild, Wild, West“. This adaptation was especially driven by the release of  the movie “Urban Cowboy” in the early 1980’s featuring John Travolta which inspired the “Cotton-Eyed Joe“, the “Two Step” and several other line-dances.

In 1981 the Oakridge Boys released “Elvira“. By 1985 the dance of the same name and it’s several variations (Electric Slide, The Freeze, etc.) were common. Just when the dance was choreographed is unknown – the earliest known step description dates to 1985, but the dance probably dates back to 1981 or 1982. The 1985 step-sheet was not one that would be familiar to line-dancers today – instead of a step description, the sheet was a diagram.

In these early years line-dancing was by no means exclusively connected with country music and the country music scene. Some dances were done to country music such as Bill Bader’s “Bootscootin Boogie”, but most were done to contemporary music – pop and rock ‘n roll. Some of the most popular dances from the 1980’s include “Copperhead Road“, done to the rock song of the same title by Steve Earle, “Cruisin” to the pop song “Still Cruisin” by the Beach Boys and “Mustang Sally“.

In 1992 Billy Ray Cyrus made a music change from county to country-pop, a move many others have followed.  As part of the promotion for his song, “Achy Breaky Heart“, Melanie Greenwood was asked to choreograph a dance to the song. Both the song and the dance was a huge success and line-dancing became identified with country music. So line-dancing began to spread around the world via the country music scene.

Soon after there was a large influx of line-dances choreographed to country tracks – to meet the demands of all the country fans who had decided to give line-dancing so  “Waltz Across Texas“,”Hot Tamales“, “Chattahoochee“,”God Blessed Texas” and “Coastin” to name a few started to surface.

In the late 1990’s when the country line dancing such as “Achy Breaky Heart” fad faded and line-dance choreographers were becoming more experienced and were beginning to experiment, they started writing dances to songs that they liked, rather than writing dances to currently popular country songs and more new line-dances were being choreographed to non-country music.  

Many of the dancers who started line-dancing in the early to mid 90’s did so because they were country music fans (and most still are today). Many are unhappy with line-dancing returning to pop so many have quit dancing. I’m a country music fan and prefer dances to country songs simply because I prefer that music, however I line-dance because I love line-dancing and the exercise it gives me, not because of the music!.  So I tend to teach a wide variety of line dances so even the dancers that do not particularly care for country western music can dance to pop or rock music also.

Line Dance – Present

Line-dancing has always been and still remains most popular in the USA than any other country, after all, come from the USA – and in the USA country music is the mainstream music, not pop and rock. On sheer numbers, they’re far more line-dancers in the USA than in any other country.

Line dances are increasing in difficulty. Dances that 10 years ago would have been labeled advanced are today considered easy intermediate or even beginner. Every year sees the upper level of dances continue to increase in complexity and difficulty. As the difficulty increases, line-dancing is becoming increasingly professional in appearance. The downside is that as the difficulty of the average level dance increases, beginners will be increasingly left behind as people attempting line-dancing for the first time will find it increasingly harder to pick it up. This underscores the necessity to maintain true beginner classes and the need to continue to cater to these dancers and it is getting extremely difficult to find a true beginner class as many teachers try to rush their students lest they become bored covering the same dances over and over.

To add to the confusion more and more dances are choreographed to the same song.  It is than up to the instructors in that area to decide which dances and which version they will teach to a particular song.  I have traveled all over the country and not only are dances different in different states but also in different cities and can also vary in the same town.  Many areas have different variations to the same dance or they do or do not use tags or restarts.  So do not be surprised when you enter a new dance venue and find everyone inserting an extra hand clap or making quarter turns instead of half turns.  Just go with the flow and you will have more moves in no time, after all line dancing is all about being part of the community of dancers and enjoying each other’s company.   I teach a dance “vanilla” if there is a tag, restart etc I teach it as written.  I feel it is respectful to the choreographer that wrote the dance and also helps when people move to other areas that they have learned the dance the way it was choreographed. 

Line Dance – Future

With choreographers continuing to produce ever harder dances and the demand for harder dances grows, this polarization will continue to grow. Competition dancing has become, in a word, professional. This does give line-dancing a respectability that it’s not had in the past, but it does mean that competition dancing is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the non-competition line-dancers.