Category Archives: International

“Town Square” Dancing vs. Square Dancing

“Synchronized dancing in the town square” is not the same as square dancing. Apparently China is clamping down on noisy “square dancers” and this has been in the news lately, but many people, including the author of this article are confusing “dancing in the town square” with what has historically been known as “square dancing” in the West. They are quite different, and the only reason they are being confused is because of lazy translating.

The following article equates what the ladies in China are doing with square dancing that the royal family of Great Britain have done on visits to the US and Canada in the past. While I would LOVE to see the Queen and Prince Charles doing synchronized dancing in the town square, this is not what they were doing.

Sloppy reporting based on sloppy translating:

Square dancing unruly? Don’t tell the Queen

Jesse Cosby: African American Square Dance Caller in the 1950s

An article about the Jesse Cosby Neighbourhood Center in Iowa and how it is struggling to stay afloat included a biography of Jessy Cosby that indicates that he was a popular square dance caller in the 1950s.


Jesse Lee Cosby was born Feb. 8, 1907, in Jefferson County, Ala.

At one time during his early life, he was so poor he had to scrounge for food out of garbage cans. He swore he’d better himself someday.

He arrived in Waterloo in 1945 after serving 3 1/2 years with the U.S. Army’s 389th Engineer Service Regiment in Europe during World War II, at the urging of his niece, Phyllis Henderson — mother of Jesse Henderson, the center’s current director. Cosby’s first job was shining shoes in an East Fourth Street barber shop.

At the same time, Cosby organized and directed a junior-senior a cappella choir that performed spirituals, gaining recognition throughout the Midwest.

“He wanted white people to understand the black people better,” a niece, Odie Smith, explained.

One of his regular customers was director of the Waterloo Recreation Commission, who was so impressed by Cosby he offered him a job on the commission.

Talented at many activities, Cosby found himself well suited to the task.

He picked up many new interests, including square dancing. Cosby became a nationally-known square dance caller. Ebony magazine did a feature on his square dance calling. He built a lighted patio in his backyard for spontaneous square dances.

He was so well-respected for his work with youths that, in 1950 he was appointed by Gov. William S. Beardsley to the National White House Conference on Children and Youth in Washington, D.C.

Cosby also directed the a cappella choir of Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church, of which he was a member.

When he died of cancer in 1957, he had been working toward realizing his dream for a neighborhood center in the north part of Waterloo.

In 1966, the Jesse Cosby Neighborhood Center opened. Its longtime home, at 1112 Mobile St., is the former St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. That church, sponsored by neighboring St. Mary’s Catholic Church, had served black Catholics for 25 years until that congregation was merged into St. Mary’s in 1965.

In 1973, Jesse Cosby’s niece, Mary Berdell, became the first African-American to serve on the Waterloo City Council.

I would have loved to hear him call! I wonder if any recordings were ever made, or if the Ebony article can be found and reprinted. I will start to took for it!

Edit 1: The Ebony article appears in the June 1954 issue (Vol. 9 Issue 8, pp. 55, 57-8, 61). I have written to Ebony to see if I can get a copy of the article.

“Mandatory Square Dancing” at Fordlandia in Brazil

In response to the article on Quadrilha, a form of square dancing popular in Brazil, reader Nick says:

“…in order to reduce his dependency on British-controlled rubber from southeast Asian plantations, [Henry] Ford attempted to establish his own rubber plantations in Brazil’s Amazon River basin. The company town for the plantation, creatively named Fordlandia, featured a dance hall, and square dancing was required.”

Gizmodo has this to say:

Local [Brazilian] workers were expected to adopt a suburban Michigan lifestyle, too—along with a healthy dose of Ford’s own morals, which meant that both booze and ladies were outlawed within the town. According to a terrific podcast from How Things Work, the transplant town even hosted mandatory square dancing. Hamburgers and other American fare featured in the cafeteria.

Source: On Henry Ford’s 150th Birthday, a Look Inside His Failed Utopia

This is taking “mandatory square dancing in PE class” a step too far!

Quadrilha: Brazilian Square Dancing!

So, apparently Modern Western Square Dancing has a cousin called “Quadrilha” in Brazil.

The quadrilha (square dance) originated in Holland and was introduced in Brazil during the Regency period. It was very popular at the 19th century balls of the Brazilian elite, especially in Rio de Janeiro, where the royal court was located. Later, it descended the palace steps and gained popularity among the general public, who added new steps and changed the music.

Today, the quadrilha is a tradition at the June Festivals. As the name says, these lively celebrations occur in June, but often extend into the following months. The events are led by an announcer who calls out the dance steps.

The dancers, usually couples, dress in peasant outfits with straw hats and checkered shirts. The traditional quadrilha dance represents a wedding party; the “bride and groom” open the dance, followed by their “guests”, with a lively dance that includes many different steps and moves.

The quadrilha is accompanied by an accordion, triangle and drum, as well as a 4-string and 6-string guitar.

Source: Quadrilha (Square Dance)

It’s a bit different from Modern Western Square Dancing, but you can clearly see that they come from the same roots. Here is a video that shows one quadrilha dance being performed for an audience. (That is one major difference between the two. MWSD is rarely performed for an audience.)