Why did Maryland lawmakers select a state folk dance? Was it a bow to cultural extortion? The letter "Who Needs an Official Dance?" {June 11} mentioned the dubious economic benefits to Maryland of having the square dance as our state folk dance. In March I was the sole witness who testified before the State House Appropriations Committee in opposition to the state folk dance bill. (This bill had passed the Maryland Senate in February.) In April the bill failed to pass the House committee.

But two days later, the regional square dance association sent the committee chair a letter stating: "With the negative vote we received from the House Appropriations Committee, this makes our bid {for the 1998 convention} rather useless. The conventions have been going to the other 18 states that have passed this legislation."

I was amazed to find that the same committee that had voted 23 to 0 against the bill voted 23 to 0 for the bill two days later and sent it to the full House of Delegates. I also understand that in the House of Delegates, someone asked if anyone had testified in opposition to the bill and offered an alternative dance for the state. The reply from the floor was "no," after which the House passed the bill and sent it to the governor.

The governor was informed by several folks that this was a form of cultural extortion, and at the current rate that this dance is being shoved down the throats of all our states, we may get a square dance convention once every 40 or 50 years. So much for economic benefits.

Just imagine that if every convention held in Baltimore and Ocean City required that our state legislatures make their avocation, profession or service one of our state symbols. We could have a state hammer from the hardware association, a state public servant -- the police, fire and rescue and teachers could fight it out for the honor -- and even a state hairdo. The NRA could learn from this tiny, vocal, well-organized group and give Maryland the AK-47 as our state assault weapon.


Takoma Park

As state chairman for Maryland for the American folk dance bill, I would like to reply to "Who Needs an Official Dance?" When we were giving our testimony in the Maryland House of Representatives, these same people came up with the same lame arguments. Square dancing is known all over the world as the "American Folk Dance." It is called, cued, prompted and taught in English all over the world. Square dancing represents a part of our colonial heritage since 1651, and it has attained a lofty status as a significant part of our country's folklore.

Square dancing is a grass-roots activity in the purest sense, and no other type of American folk dance has as broad an appeal or represents such a blending of various folk dance traditions. It evolved as an amalgamation of the morris and maypole dances of England, the ballroom dances of France and the church dances of Spain.

Later, as immigrants from all over the world flocked to our country, they incorporated the folk dances of nations such as Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Australia, Russia and Mexico, thus forming the origin of the "American Square Dance." The term "square dance" is a generic name that includes round dancing (ballroom dancing), contra, clogging, Texas two-step and heritage dances that have been designated as American folk dances that are completely American in origin.

Twenty-two states have now recognized square dancing as their state folk dance. A folk dance, in Webster's Dictionary, is defined as "a traditional dance originating among the common people of a nation or region. A social gathering at which such dances are performed."

In the 1920s Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford set up a foundation in Detroit to standardize the form of the modern square dance. You see, now we had electricity, phonographs, records and speakers. One caller could now reach an entire group that assembled to dance. Before, you had several callers or prompters in a room, because they could not be heard without our modern conveniences. Thus was born the "Modern Square Dance," which is as much American as apple pie and the American flag. I would like to thank Sen. Leo Green for the foresight of sponsoring our legislation and Gov. William Donald Schaefer for signing our bill.

The State of Maryland was the seventh colony of our great nation and one of the melting pots for the beginning of the traditions that we revere today in square dancing. We represent more than 200 square dance clubs and 10,000 dancers in Maryland, which do not ask for any government financial assistance. We dance in schools, churches and recreation centers. We promote family values and do not do our dances in bars or nightclubs. We are self-supporting, and we give much in time and support back to our communities. If we don't begin to preserve our true American heritage now, what will we have to leave our children?



The writer is chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Washington Area Square Dancers Cooperative Association.