Cowboy Dance (1923 article)
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This description of dances on the Texas frontier was included in a 1923 collection, Coffee in the Gourd, edited by J. Frank Dobie for the Texas Folk-Lore Society. The author paints a vivid picture of social customs at such an event, and includes examples of the caller's patter. Some excerpts:
• The fiddler was usually a unique character. He was in most cases a lazy, shiftless individual who never was known to refuse a drink. He had an "improvised" vocabulary, he "opined" and "calculated" and considered his own judgment as final and infallible on all subjects. For a long time he would tune his fiddle before the admiring crowd. With startling skill he would fasten his knife to the bridge of it to intensify the sound. He had a rattlesnake rattler always on the inside of his fiddle as a charm against dampness. When the fiddler started playing, all signs of his habitual laziness vanished, and he became strangely animated. He "kept time" with his head and his foot simultaneously, moving and tilting his head to the variation of his music while he patted his foot. The fiddlers all learned to play without instruction; therefore each of them had a different interpretation for the tunes they knew.
• The caller was always some person who was forward and "loud-mouthed." He had a care-free way about him that was evident even in dress. ... The caller sometimes led in the dance and called for it at the same time. Sometimes calling from memory, filling in forgotten parts with new words, and often inventing entirely new calls, he chanted the calls in a rhythmic monotone that fitted well with the music of the fiddle. The performance of the dancers varied with the calls of the caller.
• The swinging formed the major part of the dance. One way of swinging was by grasping the hands as the couple passed, another was by the interlocking of the elbows as the dancers met, followed by a quick turn and a release. The dancers moved with a kind of shuffle that was timed to the music. The feet of the dancers as they pounded the floor in unison stirred up the dust from between the boards, and several times during the night the dance was halted until the dirt could be swept out into the yard. It was not an unusual thing for a girl to dance her shoe soles through in one night. The "punchers'" thick-soled boots of course lasted longer.