Cowboy Dances

A collection of Traditional Western Square Dances By Lloyd Shaw

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Perhaps one day they will all quiet down to one great Ameri­can folk-dance form. Perhaps on the great natural proving ground of the cattle range, the last American frontier, where virile youth wanted an hilarious good time, the cowboy dance proved to be the survival of the fittest of the American folk dance forms, and may be this great American dance.
It would shock my New England friends to hear an old Colorado rancher ask me if I ever danced Hell's Victory. From his description I was sure of the dance and told him
it was Hull's Victory, not "Hell's"------"Hull's Victory with
his famous ship The Constitution." "No, no!" he says, "it's Hell's Victory! Called it that ever since I was a boy!" The waves chop back and forth. And it won't be long until a Western docey-doe will feel quite at home in a New England parlor.
The Music
It is often asked if it is not almost impossible for a modern group to try these dances because it would be so-difficult to find an old fiddler who could give the calls. And there is always surprise at the answer that very seldom does the fiddler do the calling. All you need is floor space, a piano, and anyone who knows the call—and the dance can start without any special music. The cowboy dance is not bound to the tradition of any unusual set of musical instru­ments. Every saloon and every dance hall had its honky-tonk piano. The piano is part of its authentic tradition.
For beginners any of the old standard, monownous, rhythmic tunes, played on the piano in 2/4 or 6/8 time, such as "Turkey in the Straw," "Arkansas Traveler," or the famous old jigs and reels will do. To be any fun the dances have to be held up to a good tempo, and I prefer the 2/4 time. The 6/8 time is apt to be rather fatiguing to your musician, repeating itself indefinitely through the long figure of the dance. It is very apt to become slow with a little rocking-horse repetition. And yet I must admit some of the best old fiddlers seem to prefer this slower 6/8 rhythm.
I have asked some of my fiddler friends to list for me their favorite tunes for square dancing. They have each listed ten personal favorites which I have grouped as "a"; then the ten that they play frequently but not so often as "b"; and finally, the ten that they play only occasionally.