How to Teach School Children to Barn Dance

By Shellie Braeuner
Square dancing is a traditional part of American life.
Square dancing is a traditional part of American life.

Barn dances date back to the early 1600s in the United States, when settler families relied on the entire community to build a barn. The men would build the barn while the women cooked a feast. In the evening, men, women and children would gather and dance in celebration. Today, these dances live on but are known by various names such as country dancing, square dancing or barn dancing. To teach your child all the steps of barn dancing, you may need to borrow some neighbor children. Traditional barn dances need four boys and four girls.

Line up your children in boy-girl pairs. The girl should be to the boy’s right. Arrange the pairs in a circle so that all the children are facing the center of the circle.

Start with a simple circle step. The children all join hands to make a circle. To circle left, everyone walks to their left or clockwise. To circle right, everyone walks to their right or counter-clockwise.

Show the children the do-si-do. Every child crosses his or her arms across the chest. Each couple turns to each other. Walking forward, each child walks past the right shoulder of his partner. He then steps to the right and walks backward, passing the left shoulder of his partner.

Tell the boys to stand next to the girls and hold out their hands. Each girl takes a boy’s right hand in her own right hand and joins left hands with him as well. To promenade left, each couple walks around the circle to the left or clockwise. To promenade right the couples walk around the circle to the right or counter-clockwise.

Ask the boys to face the girls for the grand right-left. The girl grasps the right hand of her partner, then the left hand of the next boy in the circle. She continues moving clockwise until she returns to her partner. The boys move counter-clockwise around the circle ending where he began.

Practice the swing. In this step, both the boy and the girl link elbows and swing around each other. To swing right, the couple links right elbows and turns clockwise in their place in the circle. To swing left, each couple joins left elbows and turns counter-clockwise.

Play some traditional country music such as the Virginia Reel. Call out the different steps slowly while the music is playing. As your child becomes more confident in his dancing, call the steps faster.


As your child becomes more adept at the simple steps, you can add more complex steps such as the allemande, chains and turns.


Warn the children ahead of time that each of them will be holding hands with the opposite sex. Don’t allow any child to embarrass another by refusing to hold hands or behaving in a negative manner.

About the Author

Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.