Monday, September 18, 2017


I am certain many of you are familiar with Square dances, the Virginia Reel, and even today’s Line Dance and two step and so I know most of you are familiar with the dance caller who calls out the next move the dancers are to take. I recall doing this type of dance as part of the history class back in grade school.
The dances were often referred to by the cowboys in their own special lingo as “hoe-dig”, “shin-dig”, or “stomp”, and if anything was important to a cowboy, these dances were, indeed, of extreme importance. There were no invitations sent out or big announcements made, just word of mouth to let everyone know a dance is coming up. Everyone considered themselves invited to these affairs and they intended to be there even if they had to ride 60 miles to get there. Apparently, when a cowboy decides he wants to do something, no obstacle is too big to stop them.

Whoever gave one of these affairs, had to prepare in advance because there was a whole lot of work to be done. There were mountains of beef to barbecue and the women pitched in making dozens and dozens of pies, cakes, bread, and dough-nuts which they fried by the bucketfuls.

The cowboys dug deep to find their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ outfits to “slick-up” for the dance. They laundered their clothes and “greased” their boots, cut each other’s hair and shaved. None thought about the dusty trail to get there that was certain to discount their preening efforts. The women who lived a bit closer would bring their “party clothes” in a “go-Easter” to change into before the party started.

The first guests to arrive, whether it was by horse, buggy, or wagon, helped with the final preparations. By the time dinner was announced up to a hundred guests might be present. Most of the food was consumed at that meal, but there always seemed to be sandwiches, pies, dough-nuts and cake left throughout the festivities. Coffee was constantly available in a pot on the stove.

Once supper was finished, the furniture was removed and planks and boxes were lined along one wall for the convenience of the women folk. Since there weren’t as many women as men, there was no such thing as a wall flower. Women barely had a chance to get a rest between dances. Women were so scarce, some of the men tied a bandanna around their upper arms to indicate that they would take the place of a woman for dancing.

The old fiddler would fire up his fiddle to announce that the dancing was about to begin. The fiddler was usually a unique individual who was considered lazy, shiftless, and a person who rarely refused a drink of spirits. In the special language of cowboys these fiddlers were often referred to by their shortcomings with statements such as “He had more friends than fiddlers in Hell”, or perhaps they would say, “Lazy ‘nough to be a good fiddler” or “Drunk as a fiddler’s clerk.”  No matter how little the cowboys thought of fiddlers on a daily basis, at a cowboy dance, the fiddler was king.

Another important person at the dance was the “caller”. The cowboys referred to this person as “leather-lunged” and “loud-mouthed.” He was usually a carefree fellow and unassuming. He often invented special new calls and they could be picturesque calls which he called out in a monotone voice in time to the music.
Here are a few examples of the colorful calls:

First couple to the right,
Cage the bird, three hands ‘round,
Birdie hop out an’ crane hop in,
Three hands ‘round an’ go it again.

All men left; back to partner,
An’ grand right an’ left;
Come to yo’ partner once an’ a half,
Yallerhammer right an’ Jaybird left,
Meet yo’ partner an all chew hay,
You know where an’ I don’t care,
Seat yo’ partner in the old arm chair.

The shyness of some of the cowboys who hadn’t been in the presence of the opposite sex for quite some time was soon forgotten in the noise and excitement. Self-consciousness was tossed aside as the men began to “jine” in the dancing. It was often said of these cowboys, “He danced himself out of church” and had to “be saved for the next revival.”

The dance usually lasted until dawn. The caller would leave hoarse and the fiddler worn out. Exhausted and sleepy, the guests would ride back to their ranches as the music and calls ran over and over in their heads and produced smiles on their faces until the next dance.

 Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Sarah, what a sweet, simpler time this post reminds us of. To think of a dance being that important to EVERYONE--something so looked forward to, thought about, and anticipated compared to today's world just shows the differences in the times as maybe nothing else could. Excellent post--I really enjoyed it. (I remember doing square dancing in grade school PE. We had records that played the music and a guy's voice calling the dances. 'ALLEMANDE...LEFT!" LOL At one point I thought I might name one of my kids Allemande...) LOL

    1. Cheryl, these days everything DOES seem complicated. Going to a dance or a community party is seldom held in such high regard and excitement as it used to generate.
      The only time I ever square danced was when I was in elementary school. I do, however, remember school "sock hops" which I loved. I don't know that they have those anymore.
      I have no idea what the calls all meant, but I liked what your plans were for the ALLEMANDE command. I think it would have made a good name. A nickname could be Al or Ally. Maybe a pet could be Allemande.
      Thank you so much for coming, Cheryl.

  2. Sarah, really enjoyed reading your post about the popular dances of yesteryear. Although while living in Waynesville, North Carolina, square dancing, two-step and clogging groups are still popular and seen at many street dances and festivals.

    1. Cheri, I forgot you lived in the same state as me.
      I haven't seen any square dances in a very long time, but I haven't been to the state or county fair in years either.
      In those olden days everyone from far and near did their level best to get to those dances because that's the best chance they had to socialize--and maybe even find their future spouse. Now it's just cell phones and the internet.
      Thank you for coming, Cheri. I really do appreciate it.

  3. Oh, I love this post. Square dancing is still fairly popular here in Texas, and Clubs abound around the state. Jim and I joined the Wheels and Deals club here in San Marcos decades ago, when we were both younger and I did not have such horrible arthritis problems. We took lessons first, and in truth, we enjoyed the lessons in a way instead of the actual dances.
    During lessons, we wore regular clothing, but as a members we had regulation outfits. A new friend who could sew like a pro told me one day, "Celia, we're going to make our club dresses in one day." I said, Oh, no we're not." She said, sure we are. I have the black and red broadcloth bought for both of us, I have the sissy pants marked in a catalog..we order those, and I also marked the red petticoats."
    I thought I'd be so embarrassed, but when all dressed up and dancing, I loved to twirl , showing off my petticoats..and yes, my sissy pants.
    I added a square dance scene in one book, with the caller calling familiar moves.
    What fun, and yes, the old west did have these.

    1. Celia, I can just imagine you and your husband going to all those square dances having such fun. I didn't know how much Texans loved to square dance, but I don't doubt it because Texans love to live full and large. I found Texans so friendly when I lived there.
      When you talked about those petticoats all I could think of was those starched crinolines we used to wear under our felt poodle skirts. Those things were brutal to wear--scratchy and hot, but I thought they made those skirts beautiful. So, what the heck are those "sissy pants"?
      It's such fun reading your comments. Thank you, Celia, for coming by and making me smile.

    2. Ha! The petticoats were multi-layered and yes, a bit stiff..this held the dress skirt out nicely.
      Sissy pants..much like panties with a slightly longer leg. The "butt" of the pants showed off rows and rows of gathered red lace. Very sexy, my dear, when one twirled and everyone saw the sissy pants. In those days, I had nice legs, so I didn't mind twirling and showing off. Now. Heavens, no!!!!

  4. Sarah, sorry I'm late getting here. I love your article! I'm blogging about Danish Texans, who also loved to dance, especially their traditional polkas. I guess all settlers and cowboys needed to "let off steam" once in a while.

    1. Good luck with your upcoming blog "Danish Texas", Lyn. Thanks for coming.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.