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What Is a Hoedown?

Bethney Foster
Bethney Foster

A hoedown is a type of party that involves a particular style of dancing and music that have their roots in America’s rural past. Originating as a type of barn dance, the music usually involves country and bluegrass, especially folk-style playing and singing originating in Appalachia and being influenced by early settlers' Scottish and Irish heritage. The traditional music of these social gatherings is usually made using fiddles, banjos, and other stringed instruments.

The traditional dances of these parties are generally square or contra dances. A caller guides dancers through moves in a fashion similar to, but distinct from, what is typical of square dancing. The caller at a hoedown doesn’t sing the moves as in square dancing, but calls the moves out in spoken or chanted rhythms. Callers use a pattern of calling known as patter that is done with the beats of the music. Traditional calls that might fit into a caller’s patter include “allemande left” and “do-se-do,” which give the dancers instructions on what their next move is to be.

Hoedown music typically involves the country and bluegrass genres.
Hoedown music typically involves the country and bluegrass genres.

The origins of the term hoedown are believed to simply be derived from putting the hoe down or stopping work in the fields. This is what the hardworking farmer would do to attend an evening of dancing and merrymaking. Many of these farmers also played musical instruments and would pick up their fiddles on the night of the hoedown.

Today hoedowns are still sometimes held in barns, but may also be held in a bar, hotel conference room, or gymnasium, among other venues. These parties may still be conducted as a night of fun following a hard day’s work, but are more likely to be a corporate function, a fundraising event, or a themed birthday party. Hoedowns are not only found in America’s countryside, but are now events in cities, towns, and even outside the U.S.

Modern hoedowns usually follow a country western theme, and attendees dress accordingly. Denim, plaid, and boots are appropriate attire for the party. A cowboy hat and a bandana complete the ensemble for some musicians, dancers, and party-goers.

A Western belt buckle is a great accessory to wear to a Western-themed party.
A Western belt buckle is a great accessory to wear to a Western-themed party.

A hoedown is similar to another gathering that has its roots in Appalachia. While a hoedown is usually a planned gathering and focuses more on dancing, it is closely related to a hootenanny, and sometimes the words are used interchangeably. The word hootenanny, however, is usually used to describe a gathering that is more informal than a hoedown and that focuses more on music than on dancing.

Discussion Comments


The closest I have come to a hoedown was a big square dancing event. This was done at a convention for teens who would never be caught dead square dancing in most situations.

All they were told was to wear their cowboy attire, so most everybody showed up in some kind of costume. Some only had a cowboy hat or bandanna, but most people participated.

When they heard they were going to square dance, you could hear the groans go through the crowd. The announcer started explaining the moves and began making calls.

Once they got in to it, you could tell they were really having a lot of fun. I doubt many of them went home and said they were at a hoedown, but I can see how enjoyable these could be.

For most of them, even the style of music was something they don't usually listen to, so it was a real experience for them.

It was hard not to have a smile on your face as everyone was moving to the calls and wondering what they were doing.

It gave me a little glimpse of what a real hoedown would be like, and I think they would be a lot of fun.


If you have ever been to a real hoedown, you know how much fun they are. Growing up in the South, I have been to many of them.

There was one particular barn in our community that would host these hoedowns - usually about once a month.

There was always a large turnout, and you knew you were in for a good time. These events also included a big pot luck ahead of time, so between the food, music and dancing, it was a full evening.

It has been years since I have been to a real, country hoedown. It was a welcome break from the mundane everyday living and hard work.

This was a different way of socializing and entertaining than many people are used to today. Another great thing about them, was that the whole family could go and have a good time.


@OeKc05 – I wonder the same thing. Back then, farmers worked six days a week, unlike today, where people generally have two days off. Since they usually believed in keeping Sunday holy, you know that these dances had to be held on days that they worked.

I'm just glad that I have Saturday off, so I can attend a modern hoedown that night without working all day first. I live in the country, and once a month, the neighborhood has a Saturday night hoedown in the community center.

I have some fringe boots and a fringe jacket that I only wear to these hoedowns. They are very country western in style, and I generally don't dress this way, except to fit in at the party. They are comfortable yet stylish.


I imagine that back in the day when everyone basically worked on a farm every day, hoedowns were quite the reward. Nothing is as tiring as hacking away at weeds and hard ground with a hoe, especially in the hot sun. It must have been great to do something fun for a change.

The only thing I wonder is how these people had the energy after working so hard to take part in these dances? I know that when I do yard work, my legs quiver with soreness from overuse!

Since I work in an office, I guess for me this type of celebration would be called a “mousedown.” I would love to take a break from my computer work to attend a festive dance with music. I usually have plenty of pent-up energy after work, since I sit at a desk all day.


I hate bluegrass music, but hoedowns were the only type of dances held in my tiny little town when I was a teenager. I needed something to do on Friday nights, so I went to the barn, where everyone else seemed to be.

I just don't have a country bone in my body. I went there because there were a few cute guys who might dance with me, but before long, I stopped going. The music and ambiance were just too unbearable.

I'm sure it would be fun for someone who loves this type of music and doesn't mind feeling silly while dancing. I fit in more at a dance club, though.


I live in the South, but the first hoedown I went to was actually up North. They view Southern things as a novelty up there, and their take on the party was entertaining.

The funniest part was listening to a man with a proper Northern accent calling out instructions for country dances. It just seemed so wrong!

They danced differently, also. Something about their steps just seemed too proper and delicate. A hoedown is supposed to be rough and sloppy!

Years later, I went to a Southern hoedown. It felt much more natural.


My grandma and grandpa actually met at a hoedown. They both came with other people but by the end of the night they were dancing with each other. That was over 60 years ago.

They love to tell the story. I have probably heard it a dozen times but I never get sick of it. I think its pretty charming and the way they tell it it sounds the the big final scene in a romantic comedy.


A really good friend of mine got married last year in Iowa. The ceremony and the reception were held in a huge old barn in the Amanna colonies which are a former Amish settlement. Today it is mostly a tourist destination and they rent out this huge barn for events.

Thinking back it was a text book hoedown. They had a bluegrass band play and there was a person who called out square dancing steps. This was the music and entertainment in lieu of a DJ.

It was so much fun! Since the the leader of the square dance called out all the steps everyone could get into it. There was no self consciousness about being able to dance because everyone knew what to do. It was a big, loud sweaty and honestly drunken time and one of the best weddings I've ever been to. If only more people go married in barns.

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    • Hoedown music typically involves the country and bluegrass genres.
      By: Scott Griessel
      Hoedown music typically involves the country and bluegrass genres.
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      A Western belt buckle is a great accessory to wear to a Western-themed party.
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