The Old-Time Herald Volume 8, Number 4

Dance Beat
The Old Folks Danced the Do-Si-Do
By Phil Jamison

Perhaps the most parodied square dance figure is the Do-si-do. Ask people to imitate square dancing and they will invariably cross their arms and dance around each other passing back-to-back. This cliché is an indelible image in the minds of the American non-dancing public, and it often appears whenever square dancing is portrayed in the media; on television, in cartoons, and in Hollywood films. You may recall images of Jed Clampett, Bugs Bunny, or possibly even Scarlett O’Hara, with arms crossed as they Do-si-doed. This is not the way it is done at community dances throughout the country; veteran dancers do not dance this way. Seeing dancers with their arms crossed is an easy way to identify the inexperienced dancers out on the dance floor.

Over the years I have become increasingly interested in the origins of the figures that I dance and call, and I have discovered that the Do-si-do, as simple as it may seem, has a story behind it. In fact there are as many stories and hypotheses as there are different versions of dance figures known by this name, only one of which is the clich’d bad back-to-back version that most people would associate with square dancing.    (continued....)

Phil Jamison is an old-time musician, dance caller, and flatfoot dancer. He is assistant director of the Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC.

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