Maryland State Folk Dance

Square Dance

Maryland State Folk Dance - Square Dance

Adopted in 1994.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the legislation on April 9, 1994. The bill was approved by the House of Delegates and the Senate and forwarded to Governor William Donald Schaeffer for his signature. On May 27, 1994, he signed the legislation designating square dancing as the official state folk dance of Maryland.

Maryland State Folk Dance: Square Dance

What happened in Maryland

Maryland State Folk Dance - Square DanceEarly in 1994, a bill, sponsored by State Senator Leo Green, was introduced in to the Maryland Assembly declaring square dance the state folk dance of Maryland. The bill described square dancing as representing the American melting pot by blending the Morris and Maypole dances of England, the ballroom dances of France, the Church dances of Spain, and the folk dances of countless other countries. The bill also invoked the symbols of family values, wholesomeness, and benefits to the handicapped and elderly, and used these to justify square dancing as representative of the state of Maryland.

The only individual to testify against the bill at the hearings in Annapolis was Stan Fowler. Stan manages the dance program at the Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland, which includes contras & squares, Cajun, zydeco, big band, and swing. Stan testified as a concerned citizen and dancer of the state of Maryland, and not as a representative of the National Park Service, which runs the park.

Stan's testimony pointed out the importance of state symbols. Choosing the same state folk dance as nearly two dozen other states defeats the purpose of a state symbol to distinguish that state from others. There is nothing about club square dancing that represents Maryland. You can go to a mainstream modern Western square dance club in Maryland and then to one in Minnesota or Arizona and find little or no difference in their dancing. Stan also offered the exclusionary nature of club square dancing as another reason that the bill was inappropriate for the state of Maryland. He quoted an article in the Washington Post from February 6, 1987, in which a historian for a local modern Western square dance association said, "We kind of look down our nose at square dancing over at Glen Echo. It's totally open to the public, and they don't meet our criteria for being a member of the Washington Area Square Dance Cooperative Association."

Most important, Stan Fowler's testimony brought up the issue of cultural diversity. "Frankly, I do not see the need for Maryland to select a state dance. It would be hard to select a truly representative one because of the rich variety of dances done in Maryland and because of the diversity of Maryland's population."

A vote was taken immediately after the hearing at which Stan Fowler testified. The measure was defeated unanimously. The club square dancers, however, would not give up so easily. Within days, a letter was sent to Mr. Howard Rawlings, the chairman of the committee which held the March 29 hearing. Richard Peterson, of the Washington Area Square Dance Cooperative Association, implored the committee to reconsider its vote, and included a reference to the national square dance convention: "We had intended to bid for the national square dance convention again...this June. In 1984, we had the national in Baltimore and attracted over 25,000 square dancers. With the negative vote we received from the House Appropriations Committee, this makes our bid rather useless. The conventions have been going to other states that have passed the legislation." On April 9, the committee voted again on the bill and it passed.

On May 27, Governor William Donald Schaeffer signed a bill designating square dance (as defined by modern Western square dancers) the state folk dance of Maryland. This was despite petitions, phone calls, and letters of opposition from dancers who participate in the dances sponsored by the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, the Baltimore Folk Music Society, the Mid- Maryland Folk Arts Council, and the Annapolis Traditional Dance Society.

It appears that the politicians sold out to the economic benefit of a national square dance convention being held in Maryland. One can only wonder what is the value of a state symbol. For Maryland, it seems to be a convention that has yet to be actually scheduled in Maryland. Even if one is scheduled for Maryland, it will be a convention that is not likely to be scheduled more than once every twenty years. Club square dancers in every state are likely to use the same ploy on their legislatures.

Exerpt from

The State Folk Dance Conspiracy: Fabricating a National Folk Dance

by Julie Mangin
Originally published in the Old-Time Herald, v.4(7) p.9-12, Spring 1995

Maryland Law

The law designating square dancing as the official Maryland state folk dance is found in the Maryland Statutes, Title 13, Section 13-314.

SECTION 13-314.

§13-314. Folk Dance. Square dancing is the State folk dance.

[1994, ch. 707.]

State Dances
State Dances
At least there are currently 31 states that have designated square dancing as their State Folk Dance.