Why does American history have to suck so bad? Last night I saw this tweet, and it led to all kinds of horrifying crap.
PUT YOUR TIN FOIL HATS ON, we are about to go on a VERY wild ride.
I haven't been this excited since I first found out about the incredibly strange world of quicksand porn.
— Robyn Pennacchia (@RobynElyse) December 7, 2017
You’ll have to look elsewhere to find out about quicksand porn*. The subject this tweet prefaces is…square dancing.
I do not have fond memories of square dancing. In my grade school years, whenever it rained (and this was Seattle, it rained all year long), our physical education classes would immediately devolve into a) dodge ball, or institutionalized, state-endorsed bullying of all the scrawny nerds, like myself, or b) square dancing. Square dancing was horrible and pointless. First, there was all the trauma of the boys and girls being separated and then told they had to pick a partner, which effectively meant both sides would stand paralyzed and motionless, doing nothing, until the instructor got fed up and started pairing us off arbitrarily. Then the horror began.
We had to go through these dance steps — “do-si-do”, “allemande left”, etc. — while listening to annoyingly bad music played on scratchy records. The thing was, no one listened to this kind of music outside of this class. It was the 70s. It was Elton John, Cher, Janis Joplin…jesus, at the school dances they would play “Smoke on the Water” and we were somehow supposed to dance to it. We didn’t do-si-do. We didn’t form lines. There was no choreography. Dancing was The Hustle, The Funky Chicken, The Bump, and the most coordination we engaged in was to know the motions for YMCA.
Square dancing was this alien, inorganic, antiquated assortment of sterile moves that had no part in our lives and never would. So why were all our schools united in foisting it off on us?
It was all Henry Ford’s fault.
Around 1928, Boards of Education all over the United States endorsed their square dancing program. Almost half the public schools in America began teaching square dancing and other old fashion dancing. Not only was this great exercise, but Ford and Lovett felt square dancing corrected the missing fun and teamwork that one-on-one dance lacked. Ford and Lovett felt that having square dancing in schools would help train children in manners, courtesy, and social training, a quality Henry Ford wanted to see excel in people.
It was state-mandated social engineering. Worse…it was social engineering by capitalists and industrialists. Under the influence of Captains of Industry, artifical organizations sprang up to convince state legislatures to declare that this was “American folk dancing”. Never mind that my “folk”, Scandinavian immigrants and other North European rascals, didn’t do much dancing, and what there was involved lots of alcohol (my father’s side) or Lawrence Welk (my mother’s side). It’s an incredibly fake attempt to invent a wholesome united American culture by a terrible, awful, no-good racist.
Yeah, that’s the dismaying bit. Sure, if this was a fake culture that was as authentic as Velveeta cheese, I could just roll my eyes and ignore it. But this is America! We have to imbed an uncomfortable amount of hate in everything. The reason Henry Ford was so keen to contrive a bland American folk tradition was that he hated jungle music and Jews.
Despite being progressive in paying blacks equal pay to whites, Ford sponsored country music events for his workers to keep them away from the supposed detrimental effects of ‘Negro’ music.
Why did Ford hate jazz music so much? Not only was he fearful of “urban, negro” entertainment, he also blamed the Jews for it. No doubt you’ve heard of Ford’s tome “The International Jew,” the anti-Semitic rants that sometimes get lost in history while we keep buying Mustangs. In Ford’s own words:
Many people have wondered whence come the waves upon waves of musical slush that invade decent homes and set the young people of this generation imitating the drivel of morons. Popular music is a Jewish monopoly. Jazz is a Jewish creation. The mush, slush, the sly suggestion, the abandoned sensuousness of sliding notes, are of Jewish origin.
Monkey talk, jungle squeals, grunts and squeaks and gasps suggestive of calf love are camouflaged by a few feverish notes and admitted in homes where the thing itself, unaided by scanned music,” would be stamped out in horror. The fluttering music sheets disclose expressions taken directly from the cesspools of modern capitals, to be made the daily slang, the thoughtlessly hummed remarks of school boys and girls.
I have two bits of good news though.
Obviously, Ford failed. We all grew up on the “abandoned sensuosness of sliding notes” and “jungle squeals, grunts and squeaks”, and we liked it. Urban rhythms rule. Square dancing drools.
The alt-right are going to declare square dancing the official dance of neo-Nazism. We’re going to have another reason to point and laugh.
Of course, if you happen to enjoy square dancing as a hobby and form of exercise, that’s fine, go ahead. Just don’t pretend it’s authentic or especially American.
Except in the sense that it’s rooted in racism, like so many American traditions.
*No, don’t google it! Your search history will be forever poisoned with stuff you don’t want to know!