line dancing is associated with country-western music and dance, it has a similarities to folk dancing. Many folk dances are danced in unison with dancers arranged in one or more rows and often connected with the dancers next to them; while these rows are described as “lines,” they may curve, corner, or otherwise be nonlinear in the geometric sense. The Balkan countries, among others, have a rich tradition of line dance surviving to the present. These folk line dances are also performed in the international folk dance movement. Folk line dances have many forms: pairs of lines in which the dancers face each other, or a line formed into a circle, or the line follows around the dance floor. The dancers may hold hands with their neighbors, or use an arm-on-shoulder hold, or hold their neighbor’s belts.
The absence of a physical connection between dancers is, however, a distinguishing feature of country western line dance. Line dances have accompanied many popular music styles since the early 1970s including pop, swing, rock and roll, disco, Latin (Salsa Suelta), and Jazz.
The Madison was a popular line dance in the late 1950s. The 1961 “San Francisco Stomp” meets the definition of a line dance. At least five line dances that are strongly associated with country-western music were written in the 1970s, two of which are dated to 1972: “Walkin’ Wazi” and “Cowboy Boogie”, five years before the disco craze created by the release of Saturday Night Fever in 1977, the same (approximate) year the “Tush Push” was created. The “L.A. Hustle” began in a small Los Angeles disco in the Summer of 1975, and hit the East Coast (with modified steps) in Spring of ’76 as the “Bus Stop. Another 70s line dance is the “NutBush”.
Over a dozen line dances were created during the 1980s for country songs. The 1980 film Urban Cowboy reflected the blurring of lines between country music and pop, and spurred renewed interest in country culture, and western fashion, music, and dance. Many early line dances, though, were adaptations of disco line dances.“Boot Scootin’ Boogie” was choreographed by Bill Bader in October 1990 for the original Asleep at the Wheel recording of the song of the same name. The Brooks and Dunn version of the song has resulted in there being at least 16 line dances with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” in the title, including one by Tom Maddox and Skippy Blair under contract to the recording company.
Billy Ray Cyrus‘ 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart“, helped catapult western line dancing into the mainstream public consciousness. In 1994 choreographer Max Perry had a worldwide dance hit with “Swamp Thang” for the song “Swamp Thing” by The Grid. This was a techno song that fused banjo sounds in the melody line and helped to start a trend of dancing to forms of music other than country. In this mid 1990s period country western music was influenced by the popularity of line dancing. This influence was so great that Chet Atkins was quoted as saying “The music has gotten pretty bad, I think. It’s all that damn line dancing.”
Max Perry, along with Jo Thompson, Scott Blevins and several others, began to use ballroom rhythms and technique to take line dancing to the next level. In 1998, the band Steps created further interest outside of the U.S. with the techno dance song “5,6,7,8“. In 1999 the Gap retailer debuted the “Khaki Country” ad on the Academy Awards ceremony. Line dancers performed to the 1999 version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Dwight Yoakam.
Line dance now has very traditional dances to country music, and not so traditional dances to non country music. It now uses more than just the “stereotypical” country music, in fact line dancers dance to most styles of music: country as well as modern pop, Irish, Latin just to name a few.’
Line dancing is practiced and learned in country-western dance bars, social clubs, dance clubs and ballrooms worldwide. It avoids the problem of imbalance of male/female partners that plagues ballroom/swing/salsa dancing clubs. It is sometimes combined on dance programs with other forms of country-western dance, such as two-step, and western promenade dances, as well as western-style variants of the waltz, polka and swing.