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.
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 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.