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The most popular sense of the term is associated with Americans in rural or southeastern parts of the country, particularly Appalachia. It is a dance in quick movement most likely related to the jig, reel or clog dance. According to the website "Streetswing", a hoedown was a virtuoso display of footwork, where a succession of dancers each tried to outdo the previous dancers. This meant that if the last dancer was the best one the audience would cheer wildly. The implied meaning of "improvised jam" has found its way into other contexts. For example a rollerblading hoedown is a similar competitive display.
In contest fiddling, a hoedown is a tune in fast 2/4 time. In many contests, fiddlers are required to play a waltz, a hoedown, and a "tune of choice," which must not be a waltz or a hoedown (typically it is a jig or a schottische).
In modern Western square dance, a hoedown is a piece of music used for a patter call (a call that is spoken or chanted, rather than sung to the tune of a popular song), or the recording that contains this piece of music. In the early days of the Western square dance revival (the 1940s and early 1950s), most hoedowns were traditional fiddle tunes; since the late 1950s, recordings of simple chord progressions, with no discernible melody, have also been sold to callers under the name "hoedown." In the 1940s and early 1950s, the term "hoedown" was sometimes used to mean a call made up of parts of other calls. "Hoedown" was, and occasionally still is, also used to mean a dance jointly sponsored by several dance clubs or by a federation of clubs.
The most famous hoedown in classical music is the section entitled "Hoe-Down" from the Rodeo ballet by Aaron Copland (1942). The most frequently heard version is from the Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, which Copland extracted from the ballet shortly after its premiere; the dance episodes were first performed in 1943 by the Boston Pops conducted by Arthur Fiedler. Copland's "Hoe-Down" became even more famous through television advertisements by America's Beef Producers with the slogan "Beef. It's What's For Dinner". "Hoe-Down" has been covered by Emerson, Lake & Palmer on their album Trilogy and by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones on their albums Outbound and Live at the Quick. Additionally, the jazz musician Oliver Nelson performed a jazz-infused variation written by himself entitled "Hoe-Down" on his album The Blues and the Abstract Truth.
- "Hoedown", "Aaron Copland", in Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed August 7, 2005), (subscription access)