Barn dances originated in the rural areas of America and became popular in Britain in the late 19th and early 20th century. Early American immigrants brought their traditional European folk dances to the new country. Such dances were performed at local celebrations that were frequently held in barns. The country and western-style music genres may be said to have developed from the fiddle music played for barn dances.
Barn dances arose out of a need to socialize. A barn is a large structure that can hold many people, so it was a natural venue to hold social events, such as parties, weddings and dances. In the country, barns were common, since almost everyone had cows and families needed barns to hold them. Barn dances were often held as a celebration after a "barn raising," wherein members of the community helped to build a newcomer's barn. Usually anyone was welcomed to the barn dance, regardless of whether they helped build the barn or not.
Barn dancing is more sociable than line dancing. People have partners and the genders mingle. People usually dance with different partners during the evening, so guests can show up without a partner and still be able to participate. Barn dancing served as a way for new neighbors to meet and for the rest of the community to create closer bonds.
The two basic forms of barn dances are contra dancing, in which couples face each other in two lines and then interact with the partner opposite them or beside them, and square dancing, in which dancers start out in a large circle and then break off into "squares" of four couples, all facing into the center of the square. The "caller" plays an important role in organizing the dancing sequences. He literally "calls out" the next dance move of each sequence, such as "do-si-do," in which dancers pass each other on the right and circle back to back and return to their original position. Often before the barn dance starts, a demonstration will be given of the basic moves and dancers will have a chance to practice them.
Fiddlers commonly provided the musical accompaniment for barn dances. One of the most popular early radio shows was "National Barn Dance," which started broadcasts from Chicago in 1924; another version of the show aired from Nashville in 1925 and developed into the "Grand Ole Opry" program.
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